Personal Narrative and Collective Destiny: A Tribute to the Dee Family
BY MALKA HUBSCHER
The Torah calls Shavuot the “Chag HaBikkurim,” referring to the special offerings brought in the Temple during the festival. But what, exactly, is the mitzvah of bikkurim? Interestingly, there are two entirely separate offerings referred to as bikkurim in the Torah, and both are offered in the Temple on Shavuot.
“You shall bring out of your dwellings two wave-loaves of two-tenth parts of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, baked with leaven, as bikkurim for Hashem” (Vayikra 23:17). The first bikkurim offering is what is known as the Shtei HaLechem, the only offering on the altar that consists of leavened bread. As there is a prohibition against bringing chametz on the altar, these loaves of bread are only waved by the kohanim, and not actually offered on the altar. This is a communal offering paid for by public funds and is baked from the first flour from the new crop of wheat, harvested just before Shavuot. It is a proclamation of gratitude to Hashem for another year of bounty and prosperity on behalf of all of Israel.
But there is also a second bikkurim offering: “You shall take the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring from the Land Hashem your G-d gives you, and put it in a basket and go to the place Hashem your G-d will choose…” (Devarim 26:2). At harvest time, each individual farmer enters his own field and marks the first fruits from that year’s yield. On Shavuot, he makes a pilgrimage to the Temple and offers a basket of the first fruits to the kohen. Unlike the communal Shtei HaLechem, this offering is brought by each individual. As he presents his basket, each farmer recites a text called “Arami Oved Avi,” “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Devarim 26:5), describing the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus and the conquest of Israel.
Interestingly, the farmers do not offer praise to G-d for the winter rains and their successful crops, as you might expect. Instead, the farmers recite a Jewish history lesson! Why are there two bikkurim sacrifices on Shavuot, and why must farmers recite Arami Oved Avi?
As Jews, we must find a balance between our identity as singular individuals connecting to our Creator in our own unique way, while simultaneously identifying with the collective Jewish narrative that transcends our own personal experience. On Shavuot, the day of Matan Torah, we accept the Torah both as individuals and as members of the Jewish nation.
This is why we bring two bikkurim sacrifices on Shavuot. The two offerings represent the duality of our identity. The communal Shtei HaLechem represents the story of our nation, while the first fruit offering represents each individual’s part in this story. But it is not enough to bring these two offerings separately; they must be intertwined. And so every farmer must recite “Arami Oved Avi,” the history of our people, to remember that his personal fate is intrinsically bound up with our national destiny.
For this reason, we recite the very same passage on Seder night, 50 days earlier. The goal of Seder night is for each and every Jew, in every generation, to feel like he left Egypt – that he is part of Am Yisrael! The Exodus is not ancient history, but rather our story, a story that continues to this very day. This theme begins on Seder night, continues through the seven weeks of the Omer, and culminates on Shavuot. Yes, we are all unique individuals, but we are also part of something far greater – the glorious destiny of Klal Yisrael!
Since the brutal murder of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee hy”d on Chol Hamoed Pesach, the Dee family has shown our community in Efrat and the entire world that every Jew’s personal destiny is bound up together with the destiny of our people. From the depths of their horrific personal pain and suffering, they have inspired us all to take pride in our heritage and in our Land, encouraging us to unite and hope for better times.
As we celebrate Shavuot, we must commit to keeping the beautiful memories of Lucy, Maia and Rina alive. They were taken from us on Pesach, but they remain in our hearts as we march forward to Mount Sinai. As Leo Dee has taught us, our people are not only united by common suffering, but also כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, “as one person with one heart,” united by our national love, mission and determination.
Malka Hubscher has taught in seminaries and women’s learning programs in Israel since 2000.