And G-d spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert in the second year of the exodus from Egypt in the first month" (9:1). The story and laws of pesach sheni (the second pesach) to which the above verse refers is the chronological opening to the book of Bamidbar. Bamidbar actually opens one month earlier "on the first day of the second month in the second year of the exodus" (1:1) with the taking of the census.
Pesach sheni seems a most logical opening to Bamidbar. It demonstrates the love for mitzvot of the people of Israel . Those who were ritually impure on the eve of Passover and exempt from bringing the paschal lamb nonetheless requested an opportunity to do so; "Why should we lose out and not be able to present G-d's offering at the right time" (9:7). Furthermore pesach sheni serves as a natural link from sefer shemot , which chronicles the struggle for freedom for the Jewish people to sefer bamidbar which details our journey to the land of Israel ; reminding us that the exodus culminates with entry into the land of Israel .
Yet we have to wait until chapter nine until we get to the "beginning". Rashi, echoing a rabbinic tradition, one absent from the Biblical text, notes that it was only on this particular year that the Jewish people offered the paschal sacrifice. Thus the Torah preferred to downplay this fact by burying the story of pesach in the "back pages" where it presumably would be less noticeable and less embarrassing to the Jewish people.
This comment is rather difficult to say the least. The Torah is not a book of apologetics, defending the Jewish people at every turn. It is a guidebook for life and must expound the negative as well as the positive so we can derive the appropriate lessons from each. Why try and hide the mistakes of the Jewish people?
In any event, rather than obscuring, Rashi has actually highlighted the fact that the Jewish people neglected this mitzvah. Had sefer Bamidbar begun with this story of yearning for mitzvot there would be little reason to question whether this was a one time event. The Torah, save for the first and last year, is silent regarding the activities in the desert. And even had we come to the conclusion that they did not offer further sacrifices would we see that as a great failing? Considering their food fell from heaven can one expect that they would have millions of lambs to offer as sacrifices?
Most perplexing is the entire thrust of the comment. Sefer Bamidbar in full detail clearly notes how time and time again the Jewish people disregarded the word of G-d, how they complained at every opportunity (and then some). In the hierarchy of sins in the desert not bringing the korban pesach was the least of their misdeeds.
The korban pesach symbolizes the great faith of the Jewish people. They publicly slaughtered a god of Egypt , courageously putting the blood on their doorposts in an act of defiance towards their taskmasters. Yet ultimately this is not the message of Bamidbar and thus can not serve as its opening. The korban pesach represents the supernatural, the hand of G-d miraculously protecting us while we remain safely inside our homes. The Jewish people rejected such a close relationship with G-d preferring to live a life within a natural framework (see the introduction of the Netziv to Sefer Bamidbar). They were afraid of the ongoing presence of G-d, of constantly having to be on their "best behavior" fearful that they could not bear the closeness of the Divine presence. Slowly the Jews were to be weaned from dependence on G-d to one in which G-d would have to be discovered; His presence only obvious to those who seek it. It is, perhaps, this "shame" of rejection of G-d's constant closeness, which is the basis of Rashi's comment.
And yet it is precisely because the Jewish people rejected the supernatural life that sefer Bamidbar begins with the taking of a proper census as we prepare for military conquest. The Jewish nation would live within the laws of nature, no longer relying on miracles to sustain them. Thus the need for spies to be sent to the land of Israel on a fact finding mission. Tragically the nation saddled by doubt and lacking initiative failed to display the minimum faith and courage necessary, even within the natural order, to conquer the land.
Sefer Bamidbar is the tragic story of the failure of the generation that left Egypt to complete their designated mission. They were unable to place their complete trust in G-d. Yet the sefer ends with the seeds of redemption. It recounts the story of the daughters of Tzelofchad and their desire for a portion of the land of Israel . " Tzelofchad's daughters did exactly as G-d had commanded Moshe" (36:10). May we merit to follow in their footsteps.