Arami Oved Avi: Why is the Bikkurim Proclamation Recited in the Haggada?

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Arami Oved Avi:

Why is the Bikkurim Proclamation Recited in the Haggada?

 

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

 

 

Why did the rabbis choose to relate the Exodus from Egypt by analyzing verses which appear in the Torah as a proclamation recited when bringing bikkurim, the first fruits?

 

Why do we expound on verses from Devarim and not from Shemot?

 

At first blush, it would seem that the book of Shemot would be the best way to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In the Haggada, though, we recite four verses in Parashat Ki Tavo in Devarim (26:5-8), which tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt in a much shorter form.

 

A technical answer to why this was chosen is that had we utilized the verses in the book of Shemot, it would have made the Haggada much longer and we might have been obliged to skip certain verses. When we use the verses that were chosen, dealing with the first fruits, we can cover the complete story with a relatively short passage. Thus by reciting this passage, one can more readily fulfill the exposition, in the words of the Mishna, that “He expounds... until he completes the whole section.”

 

Another reason for choosing these verses is related to the fact that the verses in Devarim are recited as part of the ceremony of bringing one’s first fruits to the Temple. In this context, the telling of the Exodus from Egypt is a description of the past as well as a demonstration of how to properly tell over the Exodus from Egypt in an experiential way, as more than just a description of events that took place.

 

One can add another reason: the commandment of bringing the first fruits to the Temple expresses the attribute of gratitude. The person goes down to his field, looks at his crop, and recognizes that everything he has comes from God, as stated there in the summary verse: “You shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household” (Devarim 26:11). In this section, there is one major operative verb that is repeated time and time again – the root nun-tav-nun – to give. These are: “Gives to you” which appears twice, “to give to you,” and “who gave you the land,” “God gave me,” and “the Lord your God gave you.” By being personally grateful and identifying with God’s abundant generosity, a person learns to thank God for all that He has done for the Nation of Israel, for its deliverance, and for its redemption.

 

We can offer yet another reason why the Haggada uses the verses in Devarim instead of those in Shemot. While it is true that the text regarding the first fruits is much shorter than that in Shemot, the former text does not look only at the Exodus from Egypt by itself like the latter one does. The recitation upon bringing one’s first fruits also looks backwards, beginning the description of the redemption from the time of Yaakov. One thanks God by examining the course of history of the Nation of Israel. This way, we understand that there is a Divine plan that leads our nation, from the beginning of the period of our forefathers down to the present day. As such, our thanks are not only for the Exodus from Egypt.  The Exodus from Egypt serves as the paradigm of how God has helped Israel historically throughout the generations, and we thank Him on the seder night for all of His help throughout time.

 

This principle of the importance of reviewing the past in order to thank God at present, is manifest not only in the proclamation recited on bringing the first fruits, but it is indeed implicit in the very notion of the first fruits. The first fruits are the first crops, “the first fruits of the land.” The first fruits return the person to his beginnings, to the source. The person takes the first fruit which reminds him to think about his primary principles, his foundation, and he thus begins to think of the beginnings of the Nation of Israel, the forefathers of our nation, and the good which God granted to them and to us.

One may combine the last two ideas mentioned in the verses about the first fruits: the thankfulness brought out in this commandment, and our examination of the past. Thankfulness causes us to thank God for all the good He is giving us right now, but at the same time, when we look back to the past we are grateful to Him for all that He has done for the Nation of Israel, from its founding until now. This emerges from the word of the Sefer Ha-chinukh (mitzva 606):

An underlying principle [behind the commandment of the first fruits] is for a person to turn his thoughts to arrive at the truth in his heart and actualize it verbally. Thus when God has helped him and has blessed him and his land by bearing fruits, and he has merited to bring the fruits to the House of our God, it is fitting for him to think and verbally express that everything came to him from the Master of the Universe, and he should speak of His kindness to us and to all of Israel in general. That is why the declaration begins with our forefather Yaakov, whom God rescued from Lavan, and from our servitude to the Egyptians, with God saving us from their hands. After the praise, the person asks God to perpetuate the blessing upon him.

 

By being grateful to God for all the good He has done for us throughout the generations, we will internalize within ourselves that everything is from God: “because everything came to him from the Master of the Universe” (ibid.).

 

General thanks: In the entire section in the Torah about the first fruits, the description of the slavery in Egypt and of the Exodus from Egypt are formulated in language which includes the entire nation, throughout all the generations – particularly the time of the person making the declaration at the time. Thus, one who brings first fruits states: “the Egyptians treated us cruelly,” “and afflicted us,” “we cried out to the Lord,” and “the Lord brought us out from Egypt.” This style teaches us that every single person in the Nation of Israel is an integral component of the entire nation, and must feel a partner in the fate of all the events involving the nation. Every Jew must know that his personal successes are all part of the contemporary community, as well as a part of the historical process of the entire Jewish People. It is possible that that is the source for the statement of our Sages that “In every generation, it is one’s duty to see himself as though he had personally come out from Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). The Torah teaches us that even when we are in the Land of Israel, we must feel that the Egyptians oppressed us personally, and that we personally left Egypt. The Nation of Israel is a single body, one organic unit, and is part of the course of our entire history.

 

Giving thanks in the Land of Israel: The first fruits ceremony is especially uplifting, as the Torah tells the Nation of Israel how to thank God for the Exodus from Egypt when they entered the Land of Israel. Entering the land (using the root bet-yud-alef) is stressed four times in the section of the first fruits: “when you come (tavo) to the land,” “you shall bring (tavi) from your land,” “I came (ba’ti) to the land,” “He brought us (va-yevi’einu) to this place.” Also, the bringing of the first fruits themselves is described in terms of bringing, “I have brought (heiveiti) the first fruits of the land.”

 

We are privileged to have come to the land, and to bring our first fruits from it. When we finally come to our land and can live peacefully and in harmony, we must always remember, by bringing the first fruits, our roots and origin, namely, to remember the Exodus from Egypt and God’s kindness to us in all generations. Furthermore, it is the sanctity of the Land of Israel which enables us to see the entire course of history in greater depth. It is only in the Land of Israel, only when we live a normal and healthy life in the Holy Land, that we can fully appreciate the significance of both slavery and freedom, and of the purpose of the pattern of events throughout our history. These understandings will infuse into our hearts that we have entered the land to fulfill a purpose, to carry out a mission - to fulfill God’s wishes in the world.

 

To summarize:

 

What is uniquely appropriate about the proclamation of the first fruits for the Haggada?

a) It is a complete unit, which we can learn completely at one time and succinctly.

b) In these verses, the Torah teaches us how to tell the Exodus from Egypt.

c) The section on the first fruits deals with gratitude (it uses a number of different constructs with the root nun-tav-nun related to “giving”), and from our own personal gratitude we will learn to thank God for all of the good which He does.

d) The section on the first fruits describes not only the Exodus from Egypt but also a part of the historical sequence. The redemption of the Nation of Israel is constructed from a Divine plan which spans all the generations.

e) The first fruits themselves are “first,” which reminds us to look and give thanks for the roots from which we came.

f) The proclamation over the first fruits is recited in the plural, including the entire Nation of Israel, throughout all the generations, including all the difficulties which it has faced and its redemption ever since it was founded. Each individual knows that his success, too, is part of the community! In every generation - a person must regard himself as if he had left Egypt.

g) The proclamation over the first fruits is made within the Land of Israel (the word for “entering” appears four times). Even when we live in peace and tranquility, we do not forget to show our appreciation for the entire historical sequence which brought us to the present. Within the holiness of the land, within our natural lives within the Holy Land, we are able to see history in greater depth. We remember, and thereby understand, our task and mission in this world.

 

Translated by Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Himelstein and adapted by Yonatan Shai Freedman Rabbi Dov Karoll from Haggadah for Pesach: Shirat Miriam, Haggadah from the Sources by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon and its companion volume.  To purchase the haggada, please contact the Halacha Educational Center, [email protected] or [011-972-] 52-977-6009.