by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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And Hashem spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the second year of their exodus from the Land of Egypt in the first month saying."
In the first month: Rashi: The chapter at the beginning of this book [of Bamidbar] was not said until Iyar (the second month). You learn [from this] that there is no earlier or later (i.e. chronological order) in the Torah. And why did He not begin with this [chapter]? Because it is to Israel's discredit, that throughout the forty years that Israel was in the wilderness they offered no other Pascal offering except for this one.
What Is Rashi Saying ?
The first verse in the book of Numbers (1:1) says that Hashem spoke to Moses on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt. Our verse (nine chapters later) speaks of Hashem speaking to Moses on the first month of the second year after the Exodus. Clearly, the events described in our verse took place before the events described in the beginning of the book. The events are not recorded in chronological order.
"There is No Earlier or Later in the Torah"
While the Torah generally follows a chronological order, there are instances when it does not. Rashi points this out several times in his Torah commentary (for some examples see Rashi on: Genesis 6:3, Exodus 4:20, and Leviticus 8:2) But in each of those instances no dates are mentioned in the Torah, thus it is not readily apparent that the events are not in chronological sequence. Our verse, on the other hand, is a unambiguous example of non-chronological order, since the Torah explicitly records the dates in these two verses. And, as Rashi points out here, the earlier date (our verse) is recorded later in the Torah than is the later date, (verse 1:1).
This principle of "there is no earlier or later in the Torah" is understood differently by different Torah commentators. Rashi, not infrequently, calls upon this principle to explain verses. The Ramban, on the other hand, is strongly opposed to the wholesale application of this principle. He exclaims in protest ( in his comment to Leviticus 8:2) "Why should we turn upside down the words of the Living G-d." However, because of the explicit dates in our verses, all commentators agree that our verse is most certainly out of place chronologically.
Why an event is written in the Torah not in chronological order must be understood in each case.
"To Israel's Discredit"
In our case Rashi gives us a reason why the Book of Bamidbar did not begin with our verse which took place earliest and thus it would be in chronological sequence. He says that this was the only time that the Israelites brought the Passover offering during the entire forty years they were in the wilderness. And that is a black mark on the people. But on this point, we can ask a question.
Hint: One question can be gleaned when we see Exodus 12:25 and Rashi ad loc. There it says "And it shall be when you come to the Land that Hashem will give you …you shall observe this service. (The service is the Pascal offering.)
A Question: We see that the mitzva of the Pascal offering was reserved for the time when the Israelites enter the Land of Israel. So the fact that they didn't offer it in the Wilderness of Sinai is no sin. Why then is it considered a "discredit"?
Can you think of an answer? Look at Rashi's words.
An Answer: True, while they were in the wilderness there was no obligation to bring the Passover offering. But the fact that they remained in the wilderness for forty years was to the Israelites' discredit. Had the spies not sinned, which caused the nation to be punished with forty year wandering in the wilderness, the people would have entered Israel the very same year. This is what Rashi is stressing when he says "throughout the forty years that Israel was in the wilderness" - it is the forty year delay that was the result of a grievous sin that is to the discredit of Israel.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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