Commentary for First Days of Passover

7 Apr

In this week’s maftir we read about the special holiday sacrifice for Passover. After first commanding the Israelites to bring the festival offering for Passover, then listing exactly what is to be part of that offering, the Torah in Numbers 28:16 tells us that this is all to be “aside from the daily elevation offering, its grain offering and its libations.” The rabbis naturally wonder why this phrase was necessary at all. Shouldn’t it be obvious that the daily offering is brought every day?


The rabbis argue that one might say “because today is a special day with a special offering, that special offering should take the place of the daily offering,” and thus this phrase teaches us that this is not the case. Even if there is another offering going on as well, the daily offering is always brought as well. The Mishnah in Zevachim 10:1 uses this to introduce the idea commonly known in Halachic thought as “Tadir v’she’ayno tadir; tadir kodem– (if you have two mitzvot that both need to be performed at the same time,) if one is common and the other isn’t (as) common, the common one goes first.” For example, if Rosh Chodesh for the month of Tevet (which always falls during Chanukah), falls on Shabbat, then we first do the Torah reading for Shabbat, then the Torah reading for Rosh Chodesh, and then the Torah reading for Chanukah because there are many Shabboses during the year, twelve Rosh Chodeshes, and only one Chanukah.


Based on the rabbis reasoning, the principle of Tadir v’she’ayno tadir; tadir kodem seems to be intended to remind us not to forget the small, common things in our lives. Strangely it is Passover, the very holiday whose sacrifice this principle is derived from, which seems to be the one that most shifts our attention from the little things to the big things. Our diet undergoes a drastic change that makes it completely impossible for us to forget that it is Passover, and the seder is filled with songs, stories, foods that we only sing, tell, and eat during the seder.

Perhaps the most famous of these Passover songs is Dayeinu, a long list of fifteen wonderful and in some cases miraculous “favors” that God did for our ancestors during their exodus from Egypt and their journey into the Promised Land that we thank God for by saying that if God had just done one of these things, it would have been enough for us.


Dayeinu is often seen is the climax of the retelling of the story of the exodus, but it also serves another important function. The fifteen grandiose favors we thank God for late at night during our special twice-a-year gathering call us back to the way we started our day- the way we start every day: by saying the fifteen blessings of Birchot Hashachar. In these blessings, which we are said every single morning, we thank God for the simplest of things: the clothes on our backs, bodies that work, for even creating us at all and for making us who we are. By singing dayeinu and giving thanks to God for the big things, we are also reminding ourselves that God deserves thanks for the small things, without which we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the great gifts that God has given us.

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