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12 Iyar 5762 - April 24, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Pesach Rishon and Pesach Sheini: When did the Bnei Yisroel Bring the First Korbon Pesach?

by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Men who were tomei approached Moshe Rabbenu, saying: "We are impure . . . why should we lose out, by not offering the Korbon Hashem?" (Bamidbar 9:7) There is an obvious difficulty: they knew that one who is tomei could not bring a korbon. Why then were they complaining? Were they insinuating that the halacha was unfair?

Let us examine the very first korbon Pesach that Bnei Yisroel brought.

The Torah records two instances in which Bnei Yisroel ate the Pesach offering. The first is discussed in parshas Bo, and was before we left Mitzrayim (Shemos 12). The second was during the following year in the wilderness, mentioned in Beha'alosecho (Bamidbar 9). Not only was the Pesach Mitzrayim the first korbon Pesach that Bnei Yisroel brought, indeed it was their first offering of any kind.

Interestingly, a review of the Torah's discussion of the Pesach in parshas Bo reveals that although the Torah lists all the mitzvos and halochos pertaining to the Pesach in parshas Bo, nonetheless, the Torah never actually refers to the Pesach Mitzrayim as a korbon! It is only the following year, when Bnei Yisroel were already in the midbar, that the Torah calls the Pesach, "korbon laHashem" (Ibid. 9:7) Accordingly, it appears that Pesach Mitzrayim was not considered a korbon; and the first time that Bnei Yisroel offered a korbon Pesach was in the midbar.

So what was the difference between the Pesach Mitzrayim and the Pesach that Bnei Yisroel brought in the wilderness?

One difference can be derived from this question posed by the gemora in Pesochim 96a. Since we do not find, says the gemara, that Bnei Yisroel had an altar in Mitzrayim, how did they burn the fats of the Pesach Mitzrayim? Abayei answers rhetorically: "Who says they did not roast them on a spit?" The gemara continues: They had three altars that year: two doorposts and the lintel upon which they placed the blood. However, there was no other altar in Mitzrayim. The fats were therefore not burnt, but rather were eaten by Bnei Yisroel (Rabbeinu Chananel; Aruch; see Rashi; cf. Meiri).

The Chasam Sofer writes that for this reason the Pesach Mitzrayim cannot be considered a korbon. Furthermore, he adds, even the reference by the gemara to the doorposts as a mizbeiach was only meant figuratively. The doorposts did not have the halachic status of a mizbeiach (Chasam Sofer ,Teshuvos Yoreh Deah 235).

Even in the Beis Hamikdash, korbonos may not be offered if there is no mizbeiach. If the altar was damaged and rendered posul, any korbon that was slaughtered before it is repaired is also posul (Zevochim 59a). These korbonos remained posul, even if the mizbeiach was repaired the same day. Furthermore, until the mizbeiach was fixed, it was forbidden to partake of any korbon (Zevochim 60a, See Tosafos ibid. 61b and Bovo Metzia 53b). It appears that the very kedusha of the Beis Hamikdash was dependent on the mizbeiach. See on this Sefer Hamitzvos LehoRambam, shoresh 12 and mitzvas asei 20; 33 with Hasogos HaRamban. Also see Sefer Hachinuch mitzva 95 with Minchas Chinuch.

The Or HaChaim (Bamidbar 19:2) raises the following question: Why, when delineating the laws of Pesach Mitzrayim, does the Torah not mention that one who is tomei cannot participate in the Pesach? It is only in the following year, in the desert, that the Torah excludes those who were tomei from offering the Pesach. The Or HaChaim responds that one could not become tomei before Matan Torah. The Brisker Rov however demonstrates that the Jews did indeed contract tumah before Matan Torah (Chiddushei HaGriz al Hatorah, Bamidbar 9:6).

Since halachically the Pesach Mitzrayim was not considered a korbon, we can understand why the restriction on tumah did not apply. Only after the Mishkan was erected and it became a korbon like every other and they were commanded to offer the fats of the Pesach on the Mizbeiach, did a tomei nefesh become prohibited from participating in the Pesach.

Let us return now to the tomei men who appeared before Moshe. Given our explanation that the first Pesach did not possess the halachic status of a korbon, we can understand their complaint better. The main mitzvah of the korbon Pesach is to eat its meat, as Pesach Mitzrayim demonstrates since there that was the only thing they did.

Another indication of this principle is that although an individual who is tomei cannot offer any korbon, if the majority of the nation is impure, or if a pure Kohen is not available, then all the korbonos that are part of the daily, Shabbos, and festival services can be brought in a tuma-state. This is known as tumah hutroh betzibbur (Yoma 6b).

This, however, applies only to the avoda, the ritual service involved with the korbon: Its blood may be sprinkled on the side of the Mizbeiach and the fats may be burnt on the altar. Nevertheless, it remains forbidden for anyone impure to eat the meat of the offering. Even though there is a mitzva to eat the meat of a korbon, since atonement can be achieved without eating the korbon meat, it is forbidden to do so betumah. The korbon Pesach, however, is an exception to this rule since the main reason that it was brought was in order to eat it (Pesochim 62b).

This was their argument! The men told Moshe that since they saw that mitzva of the first Pesach was to eat from it (there was no avodas mizbeiach) they understood that eating the Pesach remains the main focus of the mitzva even after there is a mizbeiach. That being the case, tumah should not prevent one from participating in the Pesach offering, just as it did not in Mitzrayim.

Although now they possessed the Mishkan and they were therefore obligated to offer the Pesach on the Mizbeiach, they reasoned that the mitzva in essence remained the same. Hence they said to Moshe: Why should we be left out from the korbon Hashem? Why should we lose out on our mitzva, now that the Pesach is a korbon that must be consumed on the Mizbeiach for Hashem?

It should be noted that until these men approached Moshe, there is no mention in the Torah that one who is tomei cannot specifically bring a Pesach. This was just understood from the general rule that a korbon cannot be brought betumah.

Rabbi Levinson is a member of the Melbourne Kollel and editor of its journal "Moadim Uzmanim."

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