The Bringing of the First Fruits

  • Rav Michael Hattin

 

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

 


The Bringing of the First Fruits

By Rav Michael Hattin

 

 

THE TORAH'S ACCOUNT

 

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a description of one of the most poignant and dramatic ceremonies of Temple times, namely, the presentation of the "Bikkurim" or "First Fruits."  First profiled in the Book of Shemot in terse and non-descriptive terms (Shemot 23:19, 34:26), the ritual is here elaborated upon and spelled out at some length.  In this shiur, we shall examine some of the laws associated with the bringing of the First Fruits; we shall discover that this mitzva presents us with the exceptional opportunity to understand and to observe how a fundamental, underlying theme finds expression in every aspect and detail of a mitzva's fulfillment.

 

The outline of the rite seems straightforward enough, and can be conveniently broken down into three discrete elements: 1) the bringing of the first fruits and their presentation; 2) the proclamation; 3) the joyous aftermath. 

 

When you enter the land that God your Lord gives to you, and you shall possess it and dwell in it, then you shall take from the first of all the fruits of the earth that you shall bring from the land that God your Lord gives you, and you shall place them in a basket.  You shall go to the place that God will choose to cause His name to dwell there.  You shall approach the Cohen who shall be there at that time, and shall say to him: "I declare this day before God your Lord that I have come into the land that God swore unto our ancestors to give us."  The Cohen shall take the basket from your hands and place it down before the altar of God your Lord. 

 

You shall proclaim before God your Lord: "A wandering Aramean was my father.  He went down to Egypt and sojourned there few in number, and there became a great, powerful and populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and afflicted us, and put upon us difficult labor.  We cried out to God the Lord of our ancestors, and God heard our voice, saw our affliction, our burden, and our distress.  God took us out of Egypt with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, awesome acts, signs and wonders.  He brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And now I have brought the first fruits of the earth that you have given me God," and you shall put them down before God your Lord and prostrate yourself before God your Lord. 

 

You shall rejoice in all the good that God your Lord has given to you and to your household, you and the Levite, and the convert that dwells in your midst. (Devarim 26:1-11)

 

We should take note of the fact that the Torah's account is described from the perspective of the individual, who brings the fruits to God's House, and subsequently rejoices with family and a close circle of associated individuals.  The declaration, however, is phrased in the plural, and provides a very concise outline of Jewish national history, placing particular emphasis on the experience of the enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus, and the entry into the land.  The themes of the declaration pivot around contrasts: few ancestors becoming a multitude, oppressed slaves achieving freedom, and homeless people acquiring a land "flowing with milk and honey."

 

Although the text speaks of "first fruits of the earth," it does not delineate specifically which species of fruits are to be brought. Are the first fruits to be brought from all species, or only from a select few?  Also, the passage is ambiguous concerning the placing of the fruits in a basket.  Is this a purely utilitarian means of conveying them to the Temple, or does it perhaps represent an indispensable part of the rite?  Significantly, the Biblical word here employed for basket, "TeNEh," is an unusual usage that occurs only four times in the entire Scriptures, all of those from Parashat Ki Tavo:

 

1)         "…you shall place them in a basket (TeNEh)" [26:2],

2)         "The Cohen shall take the basket (TeNEh) from your hands" [26:4],

3)         "Blessed be your basket (TaNAkha) and your kneading trough" [28:6],

4)         "Cursed be your basket (TaNAkha) and your kneading trough" [28:17]. 

 

In contrast, the much more common word for basket, "SaL," occurs fifteen times in Tanakh.

 

Clearly, the emotional thrust of the account in the Torah is to foster and to inculcate gratitude on the part of the individual who offers the first fruits.  He is to express thankfulness to God for having merited enjoying the fruits of his labor, and this he does by presenting the choicest of those before Him at His abode.

 

THE ACCOUNT OF THE MISHNA

 

One of the tractates of the Mishna, the final section of "Agricultural Laws" (the Mishnaic Order Zera'im), is Massekhet Bikkurim.  It is in the main devoted to the laws concerning the ceremony of the First Fruits.  Compiled in the aftermath of the Second Temple's destruction, it provides a rare glimpse of how the people observed this commandment while the Temple stood at Jerusalem.  We shall quote from some of the relevant mishnayot, especially those of chapter three, and shall then compare and contrast them to the text from the Parasha of Ki Tavo.

 

Mishna 1: How are the first fruits designated?  A person goes down to his field and when he notices that a fig or grape cluster has started to appear, he marks it with a band and says, "These shall be for first fruits…"

 

Mishna 2: How were the first fruits brought?  All of the people dwelling in the villages of a region would gather in the regional capital, and would sleep in the streets rather than in the houses.  Early the next morning, the appointed leader would exclaim: "Arise and let us go up to Zion, to the House of God our Lord!"

 

Mishna 3: The nearby villagers would bring fresh figs and grapes, and the outlying ones would bring dried figs and raisins.  An ox with gilded horns and a wreath of olive leaves would go before them.  The flute would play until the procession neared Jerusalem.  When they came close to Jerusalem, they would beautify and ornament their first fruits.  The governors, officials and treasurers of the city would go out to greet them, in accordance with the importance of the arrivals.  All of the craftsmen of Jerusalem would stop their work and stand to greet them: "Our people of such and such a place, enter in peace!"

 

Mishna 4: The flute would play before the procession until they reached the Temple Mount.  When they reached the Temple Mount, even Agrippa the King would take the basket upon his shoulder, and proceed until he entered the forecourt.  When he entered the forecourt, the Levites would burst into song: "I praise You, God, for You have raised me up and have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me!"

 

Mishna 6: While the basket was still upon his shoulder, he would recite from "I declare this day," until he finished the entire passage.  Rabbi Yehuda says: Until he reached "A wandering Aramean was my father."  When he reached that passage, he would remove the basket from his shoulder and hold it by its rim.  The Cohen would place his hand under the basket and ceremoniously wave it.  The presenter would then recite "A wandering Aramean was my father" and complete the passage.  The basket would be placed down beside the altar, and the presenter would prostrate and exit.

 

CONSIDERING THE MISHNA'S ACCOUNT – GENERAL CONTRASTS

 

Before analyzing the specific matters enumerated in the Mishna, a number of general observations are in order.  First of all, we note that the structure of each of the Mishnayot is the same: there is a description of a particular action, and this is followed by some sort of pertinent affirmation.  Thus, the first fruits are set apart, and then are VERBALLY designated as such by the field owner.  The villagers would sleep in the streets, and next morning the procession leader would exclaim: "ARISE!"  The people would arrive in Jerusalem, and the inhabitants would GREET them.  The Presenter would enter the forecourt, and the Levites would SING.  All of these preliminary acts are evidently modeled on the formal presentation itself, which, as we have seen, combines a specific act of offering the first fruits, with an associated declaration.  To again quote from the above Mishna: "The Cohen would place his hand under the basket and ceremoniously wave it.  The presenter would then RECITE 'A wandering Aramean was my father' and complete the passage."  By adopting this textual structure, the Mishna is indicating to us that the two aspects of ceremonial act and formal declaration, first indicated by the text of Torah itself, are inextricably bound up with the essence of the First Fruits. Thus, their binary effects are felt at every stage of the ceremony's fulfillment.

 

Secondly, we notice that, in contrast to the description of Ki Tavo, the portrayal of the Mishna is decidedly collective.  We experience the ceremony from the perspective of the people.  They gather and go up to Jerusalem not as individuals, but as an aggregate.  The officials and people of Jerusalem greet them in accordance with their number.  The King, in a seeming act of democratic identification, joins the masses and offers his own basket like them.  The forecourt of the Temple would no doubt be filled with a joyous throng as the Levites would sing. 

 

All of these details suggest that the ceremony of the First Fruits would be an important vehicle for fostering unity among the villagers themselves as well as among the various villages of a region.  Also, the harmony between the capital of Jerusalem and the outlying villages, as well between the King and his subjects, are other significant objectives of the proceedings. 

 

Thirdly, in contrast to the solemn and serious tone of the Torah text, the Mishna is preoccupied with joy and exaltation.  The passage in Ki Tavo mentioned happiness in generic terms, as the climactic consequence of the entire ceremony: "You shall rejoice in all the good that God your Lord has given to you and to your household…"  But it contains no description of music, singing, or celebration as part of the rite. 

 

The tone of the critical declaration is in fact dignified but almost somber.  It constitutes the main body of the Torah's account of this mitzva.  In the Mishna, on the other hand, one reads of a parade led by "floats" (the crowned ox with the gilded horns), musical accompaniment of the flute, and an exuberance of joyous song.  The pensive declaration is mentioned only briefly and does not appear to be the focus of the Mishna's account.

 

CONSIDERING THE MISHNA'S ACCOUNT – SPECIFICS

 

The Mishna's description raises a number of issues that require explanation.  In Mishna 2, we saw that the villagers would gather in the regional capital but would sleep in the streets rather than entering the houses.  Seemingly, this was a function of large crowds and inadequate lodgings, but perhaps other considerations were at work. 

 

Also, it is important to note that the leader's exclamation the next morning is actually a quote from Yirmiyahu 31:5, and in its larger context describes the bright future of the redeemed and restored people of Israel:

 

Thus says God: the nation that was a remnant from the sword have found grace in the wilderness, and Israel has sought rest.  God has appeared to me from afar, saying: I have loved my people with an everlasting love and have therefore drawn you to Me in compassion.  I will again build you and you shall be built, Virgin of Israel; you shall again be adorned with your timbrels and go out to joyously dance.  You shall again plant vineyards on the hills of Shomron; the planters shall plant and enjoy the fruit.  For there shall come a day when the watchmen on Mount Ephraim shall exclaim: "Arise and let us go up to Zion, to the House of God our Lord!" 

 

Although there is the obvious connection with our ceremony of enjoying the fruit of one's labor, we must ponder if there are not other grounds for the inclusion of this passage in the rite of the First Fruits.

 

In Mishna 3, we were treated to a description of the festive parade that the villages staged en route to Jerusalem.  The inclusion of the ox is, in all probability, an expression of its centrality to the agrarian economy of antiquity, for the ox was the most important beast of burden and especially helpful for plowing.  The closest modern-day parallel might be the role of the tractor in kibbutz celebrations of the bringing in of the harvest.

 

Mishna 4 described the arrival at the Temple Mount.  Here, we are told, "Even Agrippa the King would take the basket upon his shoulder, and proceed until he entered the forecourt."  Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, is known to us as one of the final kings of the Second Temple period, and his all-too-brief reign is fondly recalled in Jewish sources as one of stability and peace.  Caligula, with whom he had been brought up at the Roman court, first appointed him as king, and Caligula's successor, the Emperor Claudius, gave him dominion over all of the Roman province of Palestine.  Agrippa was a beloved monarch who combined political acumen with intense sensitivity to Jewish tradition, but his three-year reign ended suddenly in 44 C.E. when he died at Caesarea.  We can therefore pinpoint the Mishna's description of the ceremony of the First Fruits as referring to the final decades of the Jewish State, for the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

 

Curiously, the selection sung by the Levites as the First Fruits were brought into the forecourt of the Temple is not one of joyous celebration or praise, as one might have expected given the other features of the procession.  Rather, it is one of perseverance: "I praise You, God, for You have raised me up and have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me!"  Taken from the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Psalms, the hymn was composed by David on the occasion of the "Dedication of the House."  Its imagery speaks of being rescued from certain death, of being preserved by God from "descending to the pit" and "everlasting doom."  In it, David praises God, who has saved him from the clutches of his foes and has turned his mourning into rejoicing.  It is not immediately clear why this psalm was chosen to be chanted at the rite, for its mood seems jarringly out of place.

 

Finally, Mishna 6 describes the actual conferral of the Bikkurim.  The basket would be removed from the shoulder and ritually waved, indicating the presentation of an offering, and the declaration would then be made.  Soon afterward, the basket would be put down next to the altar and the supplicant would take his leave.  Again, we are left to ponder the significance of the basket and its seeming centrality to the entire affair.

 

THE DESCRIPTION OF RAMBAM – MORE PIECES OF THE PUZZLE

 

The Rambam, in his Hilkhot Bikkurim, codifies the statutes of the Torah, Mishna, Talmud and associated texts on the matter, and we shall make mention only of those elements that we have not yet seen elsewhere. However, bear in mind that, unless otherwise indicated, the rulings of the Rambam have as their source the appropriate Mishnaic, Talmudic and Midrashic passages scattered throughout the vast corpus of the traditional literature.

 

Chapter 2:1 – It is a positive command to bring first fruits to the Temple, and they are brought only as long as the Temple stands and within the Land of Israel, as the verse states, "The first fruits of your earth you shall bring to the House of God your Lord…" (Shemot 23:19, 34:26).

 

Chapter 2:2 – One does not bring first fruits except from the seven species enumerated in the "praise of the Land."  These are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.  If one presents first fruits from other species, they are not sanctified.

 

Chapter 3:10 – It is a positive commandment to offer an affirming declaration at the time that the first fruits are presented at the Temple… and it can only be recited in the Holy Language of Hebrew…

 

Chapter 3:11 – One who brings first fruits may give them to his servant or relative to convey en route, until they reach the Temple Mount.  When they reach the Temple Mount, however, he himself must take them upon his shoulder, even if he is an exalted king in Israel… He recites the passage of "a wandering Aramean" and puts down the fruits on the south western corner of the altar…

 

Chapter 3:14 – First fruits require an overnight stay.  How so?  One who has presented his first fruits at the Temple, recited the proclamation and offered his sacrifices, may not leave Jerusalem on that day to return home, but rather must remain overnight and return home to his own town only on the morrow… Thus, First Fruits require seven things: bringing to the Place, a vessel, the declaration, sacrifice, song, ceremonial waving, and overnight stay.

 

CONSIDERING THE RAMBAM'S WORDS

 

Reflecting on the Rambam's formulation, we notice that he includes a number of new and important details.  The First Fruits can only be brought from the Land of Israel, and only from the so-called "Seven Species" that are cryptically referred to as "the praise of the land," and only as long as the Temple stands.  Presumably, these seven types of fruit express the fertility and bounty of the land more so than other varieties, for the Torah itself refers to them in just such a context:

 

God your Lord is bringing you to a good land, a land of streams of water, springs and aquifers in valley and mountain; a land of wheat and barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, of olives and dates; a land in which you shall consume bread not in scarcity nor lack anything; a land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you shall hew copper.  You shall eat and be satisfied, and bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you… (Devarim 8:7-10)

 

Based upon these criteria, we might reasonably assume that in our times the seven species have been usurped by the ubiquitous Jaffa orange, the modern-day symbol of barren tracts blossoming with bounty, but the sources provide no such provision!  Why not?  

 

Rambam relates that the First Fruits can be conveyed in any manner, but upon reaching the Temple Mount, the presenter must himself carry the basket on his shoulder.  He understands the precedent of Agrippa as not simply a poignant expression of monarchy mingling with the masses, but as an exemplar of a halakhic requirement. Thus, the basket and its conveyance both turn out to be necessary features, although their significance is still unclear. 

 

Rambam also indicates that the declaration must be recited in Hebrew.  In other words, it is not sufficient to make mention of the themes of the passage such as the descent to Egypt, the enslavement, or the exodus.  Rather, the passage is a FORMULA that must be recited verbatim in its original language.  In contrast, we might consider other mitzvot of the Torah that require some sort of verbalization or statement, such as Grace after Meals (Devarim 8:10), prayer (Devarim 11:13), recitation of the Shema (Devarim 6:4), or even the confession concerning tithes (Devarim 26:12-15) that immediately succeeds our section.  In all of these cases, as well as in the vast majority of other mitzvot requiring recitation, there is NO requirement at all that the text be recited word for word in Hebrew.

 

Finally, Rambam makes mention of an overnight stay.  Why must the presenter not return home immediately?  Is there any deeper significance to this provision other than its positive impact on the local hotel industry?

 

THE FUNDAMENTAL AXIOM

 

Thus far, we have seen a wealth of texts pertaining to Bikkurim and have raised a large number of perplexing queries.  It would be possible to leave the subject at this point with a general appreciation of the mitzva's scope and to not be overly troubled by some of the questions.  Nevertheless, by considering the meaning of a single, central feature, we will be able to shed a brilliant light on the entire matter.  Recall that the Torah spoke of a "TeNEh," or basket.  We wondered about the almost singular usage of the term and if or how it differed from a "SaL."  We later discovered that the carrying of the basket "ON ONE'S SHOULDER" was a critical rite that even the king was expected to perform, and also learned that at the conclusion of the declaration, the basket was to be put down at the side of the altar.

 

Considering the action of "carrying on the shoulder" in broad terms, a number of Biblical examples come to mind.  Recall that Rivka, ascending from the well with "her pitcher upon her shoulder" (Bereishit 24:15), graciously offered water to Eliezer and the camels.  When the Israelite camp broke up and moved to a new location, the Levites of the clan of Kehat conveyed the holy vessels "upon their shoulders" (Bemidbar 7:9).  Most striking of all, at the time of the Exodus, the people left in such great haste that they "took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs bound up in their garments upon their shoulders" (Shemot 12:34).  In all of these cases, the expression to "carry upon one's shoulder" indicates the action of conveying an object from point A to point B, while in the interim it CANNOT BE PUT DOWN.  In other words, when the Torah describes the act of carrying on the shoulder, it invariably associates it with a situation in which the object in question must be borne aloft until a suitable resting-place is found.

 

In the context of the First Fruits, the significance of carrying the basket is not simply to convey it from one's field to the Temple, but to actually RELIVE THE JOURNEY FROM HOMELESSNESS TO SETTLEMENT!  We must carry the Bikkurim because we are symbolically re-experiencing the homelessness of our ancestors who had no land.  We bear the basket on our shoulder because we are recalling the anxious destitution associated with having meager possessions and nowhere to rest them.  Etymologically, the word TeNEh is connected to the Aramaic TuNA, meaning a burden or load, and the TeNEh therefore differs from the basket in that it is used not as a receptacle but rather as a container for conveyance of goods and possessions.  One may still see it in use among the Arab peasants of the Judean and Samarian Hills, who carry their produce in baskets borne upon their heads or shoulders.

 

RE-EVALUATING THE TEXTS – BIBLICAL

 

Returning to the Biblical text, the focus of the declaration recalls the descent to Egypt, the enslavement, the exodus, and the entry into the land, for this national experience more than any other commemorates the dynamic movement from rootlessness to possession.  It is precisely because we were homeless sojourners in the land of Egypt that we were vulnerable to the whims of our hosts.  The Pharaoh who welcomed the family of Joseph with open arms could so easily be succeeded by the cruel Pharaoh of the oppression, and how quickly were our national fortunes transformed by the alteration! 

 

It is therefore not surprising that the Biblical ceremony concludes with the basket being gently put down. After reliving the desperation of exile by laboriously transferring that basket from place to place, we can sincerely appreciate God's gift of the Land.  Having recognized His bounty, we then put down the basket next to the altar.  This is to suggest the state of national "rest" that is the antithesis of exile and wandering, as if to say, "Now I have a home in which I can place down my possessions, and that home is God's precious gift of a land." 

 

The connection with the Temple is now obvious, for the state of the Jews as well as the Jewish State, the national framework that the Bikkurim come to celebrate, are incomplete without it.  If the First Fruits are about the people of Israel achieving a settled and secure status, then the Temple must be standing at Jerusalem.  If it lies in ruins, then one cannot perform a ceremony celebrating domestic tranquility and national permanence, for the Temple edifice is the barometer of the intensity of our connection to God.

 

RE-EVALUATING THE TEXTS – MISHNAIC

 

The account of the Mishna began with the villagers sleeping in the streets.  Rather than being an expression of insufficient housing or a mechanism for fostering camaraderie, we can now see that it is the most appropriate means of beginning the procession.  If the First Fruits are evocative of nomadic and unsettled wandering, then let their consignment commence with a physical act of sleeping in the unsheltered open.

 

The rousing words of the procession leader, in actuality a quote from Yirmiyahu, the prophet of the destruction, remind the people that separation from homeland is not only a historical event from the dim and distant past, but also a recurring theme.  The enslavement of Egypt was followed by the Babylonian exile and later still by the domination of Rome, and the ideal state of national equilibrium and corresponding reconciliation with God remained - and still remain - a distant hope.  "I will again build you and you shall be built, Virgin of Israel; you shall again be adorned with your timbrels and go out to joyously dance.  You shall again plant vineyards on the hills of Shomron; the planters shall plant and enjoy the fruit.  For there shall come a day when the watchmen on Mount Ephraim shall exclaim: Arise and let us go up to Zion, to the House of God our Lord!"

 

The song of the Levites, passionate and pained, speaks not of joyous celebration and unmitigated happiness, but rather of struggle and eventual triumph.  "I praise You, God, for You have raised me up and have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me!" describes not sentiments of complacency and comfort, but rather those of endeavor and exertion.  Settling the land is no easy task, and remaining cognizant of the efforts invested to achieve national rest as well as of the Divine assistance that makes it at all possible are critical elements in maintaining that hold.

 

RE-EVALUATING THE TEXTS – RAMBAM

 

Rambam records the tradition that the First Fruits are to be brought only from the so-called seven species.  These particular fruits are referred to as the "praise of the Land" and seem to be expressions of its bounty and beauty.  In light of the above analysis, however, a more startling fact emerges: these seven fruits, to the exclusion of the proverbial Jaffa orange and its ilk, are INDIGENOUS to this land.  In other words, if the ritual of the Bikkurim addresses the themes of taking root in the land and becoming integrally connected to it, it naturally follows that the choice of fruits should highlight species that from time immemorial have been regarded as native to its shores.  It is not exclusivity that the Torah seeks, for some of these seven may thrive in other locales as well.  Rather, it is the idea of connection to a place and deep attachment to its earth that these seven species so eloquently express. 

 

Rambam's curious assertion that the declaration be recited in Hebrew is now comprehensible.  What could be more appropriate than the national language of the Jewish people for conveying our profound emotional bond to the Land, as well as our gratitude for God for His precious gift?  Although we might succeed in capturing the outline of those themes in other tongues, their sublimity would be lost in the translation.

 

As for the overnight stay, it forms the perfect conclusion to the rite.  The ceremony began with sleeping outdoors in the open countryside, as if bereft of home and hearth.  The ritual concludes by staying overnight in the national capital of Jerusalem, to emphatically proclaim that now the people of Israel have "somewhere" to rest their weary heads, that "somewhere" being none other than the "place that God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there."

 

CONCLUSION

 

We began with a quotation from Parashat Ki Tavo delineating a particular mitzva that, at first glance, appeared to be straightforward and uncomplicated.  We quickly saw how that initial reading was impetuous, for the sources turned out to be quite lengthy and complex.  Having deciphered the underlying theme of the mitzva, however, the seemingly unrelated and arbitrary details began to fall into place, revealing an intricately interwoven ceremony with profound themes and many layers of meaning.  Let us conclude by returning to the structure of the main Biblical text, this time singling out the recurring Hebrew words that together constitute the "equation" for which we have been searching.

 

When you enter (taVO) the land that God your Lord gives (NoTeN) to you as an inheritance, and you shall possess it and dwell in it.  Then you shall take from the first of all the fruits of the earth that you shall bring (taVI) from the land that God your Lord gives (NoTeN) you, and you shall place them in a basket.  You shall go to the place that God will choose to cause His name to dwell there.  You shall approach (uVAta) the Cohen who shall be there at that time, and shall say to him: "I declare this day before God your Lord that I have come (VAti) into the land, that God swore unto our ancestors to give (laTet) us."  The Cohen shall take the basket from your hands and place it down (vehiNiCHo) before the altar of God your Lord. 

 

You shall proclaim before God your Lord: "A wandering Aramean was my father.  He went down to Egypt and sojourned there few in number, and there became a great, powerful and populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and afflicted us, and put upon us (vayiTNu) difficult labor.  We cried out to God the Lord of our ancestors, and God heard our voice, saw our affliction, our burden, and our distress.  God took us out of Egypt with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, awesome acts, signs and wonders.  He brought us (vayiVeAInu) to this place, and gave us (vayiTeN) this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And now I have brought (heVEti) the first fruits of the earth that you have given (NaTata) me God," and you shall put them down (vehiNaCHto) before God your Lord and prostrate yourself before God your Lord. 

 

You shall rejoice in all the good that God your Lord has given (NaTaN) to you and to your household, you and the Levite, and the convert that dwells in your midst. (Devarim 26:1-11)

 

It is clear that the passage pivots around three recurring verbs: laVO (six occurrences), laTet/NaTan (seven occurrences), and laNUaCh/NoaCH (two occurrences).  They mean to enter, to give and to be at rest, respectively.  The equation is clear: to enter the land and to recognize it as God's gift, with all of the responsibilities that are entailed by that recognition, is to be able to achieve the state of national rest for which we so long.  Failure to fulfill one of the conditions is to forfeit that rest, and to experience a "gift" of another sort.   As Nechama Leibovitz points out, the pivotal occurrence of the verb "to give," the seventh usage that seems to upset the perfect balance that would otherwise exist with the six occurrences of entry, is credited to the Egyptians who "put upon us (vayiTNu) hard labor."  In other words, the Egyptians also bestowed a "gift" upon us, but it was not the precious bounty of a fruitful land.  It was the backbreaking experience of the brick pits.

 

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

 

Consider that the Declaration of the First Fruits constitutes the central passage of the "Maggid" section of the Haggada (see Rambam, Hilkhot Chametz uMatza 7:4).  The critical phrase "Arami oved Avi" is variously translated as "a wandering Aramean was my father" (Rashbam understood it as a reference to Abraham, who hailed from Aram and wandered far from home to the Land of Canaan), or "an indigent dweller in Aram was my father" (Ibn Ezra saw it as a reference to Jacob, who fled from his brother's wrath empty-handed to Aram).  The Mishnaic authors of the Haggada, however, explain it as a reference to Lavan the Aramean, "who sought to destroy my father."  This reading is difficult both grammatically and contextually (see commentary of Ibn Ezra).  For the sake of what more important lesson did our Sages nevertheless choose to overlook grammatical precision and thematic consistency, and how is this lesson directly related to our discussion of Bikkurim above?