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Joshua 5:2 talks about the moment in which Yehoshua is commanded to circumcise the children of Israel a second time. The reason to do so is that all the people that came forth out of Egypt, that were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came forth out of Egypt. For all the people that came out were circumcised; but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the nation, the men of war that came forth out of Egypt, were consumed, because they hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD; unto whom the LORD swore that He would not let them see the land which the LORD swore unto their fathers that He would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. And He raised up their children in their stead; them did Joshua circumcise; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised by the way.

I always assumed that because all the males had to be circumcised all these circumcised men that left Egypt died on their way, and all that were born during their trip were uncircumcised. But that's because my bible translation reads: 'even all the men of war'. But this word 'even' was added to verse 4 and 6 and is not shown in the literal Hebrew.

So without this it seems to be about all males who were men of war that died in the wilderness. Then I found Bamidbar 32:11, 13 confirming this teaching that the males within the age of 20 and above wouldn't see the land, for He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed except for Kalev and Yehoshua (see also Bamidbar 26:64-65, Devarim 2:14).

But then again I looked at Bamidbar 14 were it all started: The spies came back and made the whole edat rebel and say that it would have been better to have died in Egypt or even on this way trough the wilderness. And so HaShem punishes them by letting them die exactly as they wanted in the wilderness.

So here are my questions:

  • 1) Which group of males exactly needed to be circumcised here? and which group died?

  • 2) Why did HaShem held only the males from the age of 20 and above responsible? (Bamidbar 14:29).


(Subquestions: Does this means that the group in the age under 20 which was circumcised at the moment of Bamidbar, didn't needed to be circumcised at the time of Yehoshua? And didn't their children needed to replace their parents? And does this command given to Yoshua only refered to the children of these men of war? or also to the children of other men within the congregation which were 20 or above at the moment of Bamidbar?).

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    I recommend separating your questions, as they are unrelated. The 2nd one - Why only age 20 and above, I think has an answer on this site. Check before you post it as a separate question. – DanF Mar 29 '18 at 16:56
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I would definitely suggest splitting up your questions.

To answer the first question(s), Radak (here) explains that "all the man of war" does not mean all of the men who actually went to war, but rather, it means all those men 20 and above, who were of "warring age" when they left Egypt. This seems to be the understanding of many of the commentaries, including Rashi (verses 4-8), although they do not say it as explicitly.

Therefore, we can conclude that

  1. All those who were 20 and older (when the nation left Egypt) died in the desert (verse 4)
  2. All those that were younger than 20 when they left Egypt were already circumcised (beginning of verse 5)
  3. Those who were born on the way (in the desert) needed to be circumcised now (verse 5 and 7)

In his words:

כל אנשי המלחמה – ר״ל מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה כי אותם הם הפקודים ואותם מתו שהיו מולים זהו שאמר כי מולים היו והטעם להודיע כי זה שלא מלו לא בעבור שנשתכחה מהם מצות מילה במצרים או התרשלו עליה כי מולים היו כל העם היוצאים ואפילו לדברי בעל הדרש שאומר שהתרשלו במילה במצרים וסמך לפסוק גם את בדם בריתך שלחתי אסיריך מבור אין מים בו וכן מה שאמר בדמיך חיי פעמיים ר״ל שתי דמים דם פסח ודם מילה אעפ״כ בצאתם מלו כלם קודם שעשו הפסח וזהו שאמר כי מולים היו כל העם היוצאים והנה אותם שהיו מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה מתו במדבר ומבן עשרים שנה ומטה נשארו מולים ולא הוצרך יהושע למול אלא הילודים במדבר שלא היו יכולים למול בדרך כמו שפירשנו ופירוש לא מלו לא מלו אותם כי הוא פעל יוצא.‏

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    Lovely and well presented answer, thank you, I would like to ask you if you think the Erev Rav, the mixed multitude, that went up with the Israelites were also included in the group of males which were 20 and older? – Levi Mar 29 '18 at 19:45

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