Arami Oved Avi: The Haggada and The Bikkurim
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
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
One can add another reason: the commandment of bringing the first fruits to the
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
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
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
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
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
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
g) The proclamation over the first fruits is made within the
Translated by Rabbi Dr.