D’var Torah for June 21, 2019

In this week’s Torah portion, Be’haalotecha, “Moses instructed the Israelites to offer the Passover sacrifice” (Num. 9:4). On the surface, this makes sense as Moses gave many mitzvot to the Israelites during their time in the wilderness. However, Moses also made the very same commandment in Exodus 12:25, making the instruction redundant. However, the rabbis do not believe in the idea of redundancy in the Torah. Instead, every repetition was always intended to teach us something new, which leads to multiple possible interpretations.
According to the Plaut Torah Commentary, the repetition was simply because when the laws were given, the Israelites were in Egypt. However, now they are in the wilderness with the Tabernacle, hence they need to relearn the rituals and customs for a new setting.
That being said, there is another interpretation as well. According to Rabbi Bradley Artson[1], “But the midrash Sifrei Bamidbar objects that, in this case, the information he conveys is redundant. Didn’t the Torah already relate in the Book of Leviticus that “Moses declared the festival seasons of the Lord to the people of Israel?” So why does he have to repeat himself now? Sifrei goes on by answering its own question. “This teaches that he heard the passage of the festival seasons at Sinai and stated it to Israel, and then went and repeated it to them when the time had actually arrived to keep the rules … He stated to the people the laws for Passover at Passover, the laws for Shavuot at Shavuot, and the laws for Sukkot at that season.”
Why does Moses repeat the same injunction twice? Because he knows just how forgetful people can be. Recognizing that even the most intelligent, learned, and scholarly people forget much of what they learn, Moses knew that the Jews would have to be reminded of the appropriate mitzvot (commandments) just before the time of their observance.
Thus, the Torah is reminding us that acquired knowledge needs to constantly be refreshed. Just because we learn something once does not mean we know it for all time. This is in part why we read through the Torah every year. This is in part why we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at our Passover seders. And this is in part why we are members of a congregational family and community, and why we dedicate so much of our energy and resources to the education of our children.
Judaism is meant to be constantly engaged with and struggled with, because it can be and should be a constant wellspring of insight and knowledge. What was learned once, so many years ago, can certainly be learned again. And once learned, can then be the foundation for the next step towards greater knowledge and insight.
Being a Beit Knesset, a house of assembly means we are also a house of prayer and also a house of learning. Many opportunities for study abound.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff