Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations may derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Bekurim (First fruit)…Tithe Declaration…Conclusion of Moshe’s Address…Instructions upon crossing Jordan River (setting huge stones on which to write the Torah; building Altar out of whole stones)…Blessings and Curses at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Aival…Blessings for observing the Torah…Painful consequences of failing to observe the Mitzvos (Tochacha)…Moshe again urges guarding and observing the Covenant with Hashem in order to succeed. On Bekurim
The Torah describes the ritual in the Temple that accompanies the bringing of the first fruit with which the Land Of Israel is blessed—wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The fruits are presented to the Cohen in a basket; the individual identifies himself historically by describing his early roots (Arami Ovaid Avi), the Egypt slavery experience, the Exodus, and finally being brought to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. This background leads up to his offering thanks …”and now ,behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the fruit of the land which YOU, HASHEM HAS GIVEN ME.”
Rabbi B.S. Jacobson in his Meditations on the Torah raises the question of why is it that for only this Mitzva the Torah prescribes the exact words to be recited, when in Biblical times prayers were spontaneous , reflecting the unique style and wording of the individual.
Aaron Halevy (Sefer Hachinukh) stresses the educational importance of the words which arouse thoughts and stir the heart to realize Hashem’s loving-kindness. Both speaking and praying aloud influence our behavior.
Rambam views the Mitzva as a way of creating humility in us by making us remember those times in our history filled with trouble and distress even (or especially) in times of bounty and complacency.
Martin Buber’s approach pays attention to the style and structure of the text-- particularly the recurrence of certain words and phrases-- to get at the key underlying themes.
The text repeats variations of “to give” seven times and variations of “coming/bring” five times. Gifts and giving; coming to the land; and demonstrating appreciation by bringing gifts are the keys to this Mitzva.
The individual announces that he is bringing/giving to Hashem a token of his appreciation for the Land that Hashem has given (and continues to give) both him and the Israelites. The presenter attempts to feel as if he had just come(entered) into the land for the first time. Every Bekurim offering provides the opportunity to acknowledge and declare anew his thanks; to capture the experience of entry into the land; and to identify with the nation of Israel, now and in the past. The Mitzva is collective (Ta-voo-u--you shall come, in the plural) but the duty is individual (Ta-vee--you shall bring, in the singular).The acquisition of, and the entry into, the Land promised in the Covenant with Avraham is a gift from Hashem that He is constantly renewing.
The significance of these prescribed words (Arami Oved Avi) is evident in their inclusion in the Passover Seder when we begin the recollection of our history beginning with disgrace and ultimately concluding in praise. “In every generation, a person is obligated to perceive himself as if he, too, was there to experience the historic event …” is the essence of the Bikurim and Seder ceremonies.
On Arami Ovayd Avi
The meaning of this opening phrase is somewhat ambiguous.Arami usually means Aramean; Ovayd could mean lost or losing or cause to be lost; Avi means my father or ancestor.
The usual explanation for “ Laban the Aramean sought to do to my father ” in the Haggadah (when the Magid section begins in earnest) is that “Laban the Aramean sought to harm my forefather Jacob” or “Laban the Armean tried to cause my father to be lost (i.e., destroyed)”. Avi is the direct object (and refers to Jacob) and ovayd is a transitive verb.
Nechama Leibowitz in Studies in Devarim provides alternate translations:
Ibn Ezra arguing that ovayd is intransitive, avi is the subject, and Arami refers to Jacob, translates the phrase to mean: “When my father was in Aram, he was ready to perish”…and ultimately Hashem took his offspring out of Egypt and made us into a great nation.
Rashbam’s translation is “A wandering Aramean was my father ”. Avi, my father, refers to Avraham who was born in, lived in and wandered in the land of Aram.
Wolf Heidenheim, a 19th century philologist, notes that ovaydis a specific form of the verb that means continuous past action which did not succeed.
Benno Jacob thinks that the word arami does not refer to a country but to an occupation as a shepherd. The phrase means “my father (Abraham?Jacob?) worked as a shepherd.”