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Shabbat Commentary

8/9 Sept: Shabbat Ki Tavo comes in 7:17 pm, goes out 8:17 pm

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with a description of the ceremony of first fruits, which the Israelites are to perform yearly when they have settled the land.  Each person was to present the first fruits of the crop with the words:

“My father was a fugitive Aramean.  He went down to Egypt and sojourned there for a time, but became there a great and populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt with us harshly and afflicted us, and impressed upon us heavy labour.  And we cried out to Hashem the God of our fathers; and Hashem heard our voices and saw our affliction and our misery and our oppression.  And Hashem freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with awesome power, signs and wonders.  And God brought us to this place, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And now, behold, I bring the first fruits of the land which Hashem has given me” (Deut. 26:5-10).

These words are used as the Maggid portion of the Passover Seder, during which we tell our story as a people.  Rabbi David Silber, in his book “A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn” (JPS 2011), notes that this passage “highlights the significance of the storytelling act in contrast to simple remembering…  Remembering is an activity that can be done privately, whereas narrating…is an activity that requires the presence of another, i.e., the Kohen before whom the basket is placed and God, to whom the pilgrim’s statement is directed”.  In a society whose traditions were oral, narrative and performance were key to remembering.

As Rabbi Silber notes, “Deuteronomy is the book that addresses the Jew who, despite the historical divide, is able to say: ‘And the Egyptians did evil to us and abused us’; but [also] ‘I have come into the land’.  The farmer bringing first fruits to the Temple was thanking God not only for the crops, but for this gift of perspective.

Text by Rabbi Paul Arberman

September 7, 2017