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Nation Building

In the context of a discussion of the dateline for vegetables, we hear that the Children of Israel brought the omer sacrifice already in the first year that they were in the land:

“From where is it known that the Jewish people actually brought an omer offering that year? Perhaps they did not offer it at all. It should not enter your mind to say this, as it is written: “And they did eat of the produce of the land on the next day after Passover” (Joshua 5:11), which teaches: Only on the next day after Passover did they eat from the new grain, but initially they did not eat from it. Why? It is because they first brought the omer offering, and only afterward did they eat from the new grain.” (Rosh HaShanah 13a)

The assumption here is that it is not possible that the Children of Israel would have eaten the new grain of the land without bringing the omer offering first, as that is the halacha. The verse that the Gemara is building its assumptions on is in the book of Joshua 5:11.

“On the day after the Passover offering, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain.”

The Gemara questions how could the barley have grown so quickly, after all they were only in the land for five days. The answer, that the land of Israel is called the land of the deer ארץ צבי, and that fruit ripens quickly here, is not fully satisfying but the question provides a good jumping off point for learning about those first few days of the people in the land.

What is the chronology of the entrance to the land? Everything is tied to an explicit date given slightly earlier:

“The people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.” (Joshua 4:19)

Kasr al Yahud, where the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan (Wikipedia)

As we know from a few pages ago, the first month in the Torah is the month of Nisan. So the date of entrance is the tenth of Nisan, exactly forty years after the beginning of the Exodus. Once we know the date of entering the land,  we can work backwards. This chronology was figured out by the Vilna Gaon and is cited in the Daat Mikra commentary on the book of Joshua:

7 Adar  Moses dies, people mourn for thirty days (Devarim 34:8)

6 Nisan  Children of Israel are camped in Shittim (about 10 kilometers east of the Jordan)

End of the 30-day mourning period for Moses.

Joshua tells officers to warn people of 3-day preparation period before crossing  the Jordan (to begin tomorrow)

Joshua sends the spies to Jericho

7-9 Nisan   Preparation period for Children of Israel to enter the land

6-8 Nisan Spies hide in mountains after escaping Jericho

9 Nisan eve Spies return to the camp

9 Nisan Children of Israel travel from Shittim to Jordan

10 Nisan Children of Israel cross Jordan and enter the land, set up two monuments of twelve stones, one in the Jordan and one in Gilgal and they camp in Gilgal

Joshua circumcises the people

14 Nisan First Passover celebrated in the land of Israel

16 Nisan Manna stops falling, Children of Israel begin to eat the produce of the land

One of the most fascinating details about this schedule is that the first steps in the land are not military ones. In fact, they are the very last thing an army bent on conquest would do. Instead of choosing the first site to attack, or besieging a city; preparing the troops or sheltering the women and children, the entire fighting force of the nation incapacitates itself! The men, aged forty and under, are all circumcised since they did not practice this mitzvah in the desert:

“Now, whereas all the people who came out of Egypt had been circumcised, none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised.” (Joshua 5:5)

Egyptian ceremonial flint knife (Wikipedia)

After the men heal from their operation, the next thing the people do is a big celebration – Passover. Only once all these ritual activities are finished, do we hear about the siege and conquest of Jericho. What is going on here? The entrance into the land is clearly not done in the way that a “normal” nation about to conquer would do. Despite sending clandestine spies, their entry could not have been more public. The entire nation crosses the Jordan together, in miraculous fashion. Perhaps already that day they establish a covenant by Mount Gerizim and Eival. They camp and make themselves vulnerable. The choices made here are ones that show that the main point of coming into the land is to become a nation under God. They cross the Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant leading them. Then their first acts in the land are covenantal ones – having a brit milah and bringing the Passover sacrifice show you are part of the Jewish nation and they are the only positive commandments that you receive karet for violating. By doing these acts, they are showing the other residents of Canaan (as well as themselves) that they are here to serve God, that is the purpose of this conquest. Rabbi Israel Rosenson goes so far as to say that their choice not to do brit milah in the desert was a positive one- they wanted to “save” that renewing of the covenant for their entry into the land.

And what of the omer and eating the produce of the land? It is interesting that the book of Joshua tells us that when they start to eat the land’s produce, the manna stops falling; the two are connected:

“On the next day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna; that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.” (Joshua 5:12)

Couldn’t they have eaten from the local food while they were still in Arvot Moav, on the other side of the Jordan? That was also settled land and not desert. However, there they still ate miraculously. But now that they have entered the land, the time has come for them to begin to live naturally, albeit with God’s help. So the official end of manna consumption, and the beginning of eating real food must begin after they have entered the land, renewed the covenant, and are ready to embark on the journey of becoming a nation.

Barley field (Wikipedia)


Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the “Darkaynu” program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at
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