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Day Twenty Five of the Omer


We have celebrated Pesach – the anniversary of the day we left Egypt. The date is known. 15th. of Nissan. But when did we enter the Promised Land? And why do we not celebrate that too?

I am prepared to bet that hardly anyone knows the answer to the question – it is to be found in Joshua chapter... Following their initially-unplanned forty years of wandering the Israelites have reached the River Jordan, from the eastern side, under Joshua. We are told that all those who were adults at the Exodus have now died (Joshua is of course an exception) and that none of those born in that time had been circumcised – so this needs to be carried out fairly urgently because – it is now almost Pesach and only those males who have been circumcised may take part in this first Seder to be held in the Land. Manna ceases and they have to live off the land itself.

The Book of Joshua is barely read and this is a pity because it forms a part of the symmetrical whole. Having passed through water to leave Egypt the Israelites must pass through water to enter the Land. But the Rabbis who decided upon the sequence of Torah readings decided that we should terminate the cycle at the end of Deuteronomy with the death of Moses on Pisgah and not continue into the stirring tale of conquest that follows. Why? Perhaps because the Land had since been lost again – twice – and the memory would be too bitter. Perhaps to ensure that, theologically at least, Judaism remains ''in the wilderness'', practiced and to be practiced not only in one specific land; to be more universal, less geographically circumscribed.

So we celebrate annually Liberation, not Conquest. Although – let us make no mistake about this – both are parts of the same story. Ours.

Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild


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