First Fruits and Seder Night: Giving and Gratitude
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
Go and learn what Lavan the Aramean wanted to do to our father Ya’akov. For Pharaoh had issued a decree only against the male children, but Lavan wanted to uproot everyone…
Why do we expound on verses from Devarim (Chapter 26) and not from Shemot?
At first glance, it would seem that the book of Shemot would be the best way to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The editor of the Haggadah, though, chose four verses in Parashat Ki Tavo in Devarim, which tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt in a much shorter form. Had we wanted to use the verses from Shemot, it would have made the Haggadah much longer and we might have been obliged to skip certain verses. When we use the verses that were chosen, dealing with bikkurim, the first fruits, we can cover the complete story with a relatively short passage. One can fulfill the exposition, in the words of Mishnah, that “He expounds… until he completes the whole section.”
Another reason for choosing these verses is that the verses in Devarim are part of the commandment of bringing in one’s first fruits, whereby each person is required to bring his first fruits and to tell others about the Exodus from Egypt. This is a description of the past and a demonstration of how to properly tell the Exodus story as more than just a description of events that took place.
One can add another reason: the commandment of bringing one’s first fruits to Yerushalayim expresses the attribute of gratitude. The person goes down to his field, looks at his crop, and knows that everything is from G-d: “You shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem your G-d 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 – nun, tav, nun – to give. “Gives to you” appears twice, as well as phrases like “to give to you,” and “who gave you the Land,” “G-d gave me,” “Hashem your G-d gave you.” By being personally grateful and able to identify with G-d’s abundant generosity, a person learns to thank G-d 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 Haggadah 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 those 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 is also a look backwards and begins the description of the redemption from the time of Ya’akov. One thanks G-d 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 our forefathers to the present day. Our thanks are not only for the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus from Egypt is only an example of how G-d has helped Israel historically throughout the generations, and we thank Him on Seder night for all of His help.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.