Parashat Ki Tavo 5765/ September 24, 2005
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
“You Shall Then Recite As Follows”
Menahem Ben Yashar
Institute for the History of Jewish Bible Study
This week’s reading opens with two formal “speeches” that
are to be recited when performing two commandments that are integrally related
Both these commandments –a formulaic text on bringing first
fruits, and reciting an avowal on bringing one’s tithe – are also based on the
motif of the covenant. The second
of them, the tithe text, concludes with a request that the Lord bless the
Recitation in Hebrew
Chapter 7 of Mishnah Sotah lists those formulations which must be recited in the holy tongue, i.e., in Hebrew, and according to the wording in the Torah. Among them is the passage on first fruits. In contrast, the avowal of the tithe is one of the things that may be said in any language. The amoraim explained this difference on the basis of a midrash halakha derived from the specific wording of the biblical texts,  but one can also think of pragmatic reasons for this:  the text for first fruits is a religious proclamation, and such a declaration ought to be made in the holy tongue; the avowal of the tithe, although also a religious declaration, nevertheless contains details of halakhah on tithes: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house” ((26:13), especially the second tithe (ma’aser sheni ), and the person who says it ought to understand what he is saying and therefore must be permitted to say it in any language that he understands.
practice, however, during the later generations of the
The subject matter of the Avowal of the Tithe is clear, and was summarized by the Sages in the following words: “We have performed that which You decreed on us; You fulfill your promise to us.”  The thrust of the formulation of first fruits is less self-evident. We might expect that here, too, the person bringing the first fruits would say: I have fulfilled the commandment, I thank You, my Lord G-d, for the blessing of these crops; please continue in this fashion to bless my soil, my people and my land. However, none of this is written in verses 5-10. What does appear there is an overview of Israelite history, from the days of the patriarchs through the conquest of the land.
Philosophy of History
historical account lies a bias; every historiography has its
historiosophy. Let us examine what
the historical account in the formulation of first fruits seeks to say.
It begins with Arami oved avi
– “My father was a fugitive
[alternative rendering: wandering] Aramean” (Deut.
26:5). My first ancestor (whether
referring to Jacob, the father of the tribes or to all our patriarchs
collectively) came to Canaan from
“The Land He Gave to Us”
Thus this proclamation can be summarized as follows: we did not become a nation in a natural, organic way as other nations, rather by miracles; we became populous miraculously while in bondage, and we were delivered from bondage miraculously. We are not indigenous to our land, nor did we inherit it from our patriarchs, for they were foreigners without landed property. We did not conquer the land by force of arms; rather the Lord gave it to us. This historiosophic summation naturally leads to the conclusion uttered by the person bringing first fruits: “Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me” (26:10). Since everything that we have, all our land and its fruits, comes from the Lord, it is fitting that we return all the produce to the Lord, for it is His. But that is not the Lord’s will; it is His will that we eat and satisfy our hunger on the good produce of the land. Therefore, symbolically we bring to the Lord’s altar the first of our fruit, as a portion representing the whole, just as a tenant farmer brings the owner of the farm the beginning and choicest of his crops.
Since the land and its produce belong to the Lord, each generation necessarily receives them anew from the Creator. This is indeed what the person bringing first fruits declares; when he appears at the entrance of the Temple court he says to the priest: “I acknowledge [higgadeti ] this day before the Lord your G-d that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us” (26:3), meaning: in bringing my first fruits I hereby declare that it is as if I myself have come to the land and received it from the Lord. Thus, in every generation a person must view himself and comport himself as if he himself has come to the land and received it from the Lord, just as in every generation a person must demonstrably view himself as if he came out of Egypt, according to the similar verse to the one cited above: “And you shall explain [ve-higgadeta ] to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8).
In both of these statements a person from a later generation identifies himself with an earlier generation: with the generation that was brought out of Egypt, as if to say: The Lord brought me out of bondage to Pharaoh and therefore I am now His servant; and with the generation of the conquest of Canaan, as if to say: The Lord gave me this land, therefore I must thank Him and serve him, so that I can continue to dwell on the land and enjoy its produce.
Motif of the Covenant
Returning now to
the motif of the covenant, we observe that both the formulation of first fruits
and the Avowal of the Tithe are rooted in the covenant between the Lord and
proclamations that appear in the beginning of this week’s reading express the
reciprocity in the covenant: we,
The Passover Haggadah
The commandment of
bringing first fruits (bikkurim
) to the
account of the bondage and redemption covers approximately the first third of
the book of Exodus, from chapter 1 thru chapter 13 (or 15), and this would have
been too long a passage, especially as it is aimed primarily at “your son,” at
children. Therefore it is fitting
to read a synopsis of the story of the exodus from
In view of all this the
Sages established the practice of reciting the formulation of first fruits at
the Seder for several reasons:
1) It is a passage from the
Torah itself. 2)
In the time of the
stresses, “and he explains ... until he concludes the whole portion,” i.e.,
including the last verse. Indeed,
the midrash halakhah
mentioned above explains:
“‘He brought us to this place’ (Deut. 26:9),
 Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 7.1; 21a-b; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 32b-33b. The Tosefot, 33a take issue with this, see s.v. ve-anita. Also see Maharsha on the same.
 Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 7.1, end of 21b.
 On him and his conquests, cf. M. Stern, “Johanan Hyrcanus,” in Encyclopedia Ivrit 19 (1968), pp. 353-354.
 Sifre on Deuteronomy, end of par. 303.
 In the context of the Passover Haggadah, which has no territorial interest, but only a personal-national interest, “My father was a wandering Armean” is interpreted as follows: Laban the Aramean sought to wipe out my ancestor Jacob [playing on the root a-b-d which in context means “wandering” but in the Piel stem means “to wipe out”].
similar direction is taken by the interpretations of Rashbam, Sforno and
Abarbanel. Among the newer
commentators, cf. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.
Also cf. Martin Buber, “Bikkurim,”
in Darko shel Mikra,
beginning of this speech by Joshua, which summarizes the story of the
patriarchs (Josh. 24:2-4) was inserted into the Passover Haggadah as an
introduction to the interpretation of the formulation of first fruits.
In antiquity it might have been
customary to read the entire passage, verses 2-7 or even more, on Passover
eve. See Haggadah shel Pesah,
D. Goldsmith, ed.,
 All the extant versions of Sifre Deuteronomy, including manuscripts and printed editions (see Horowitz-Finkelstein ed., p. 319) shorten the formulation, only presenting explanations of the words through the middle of verse 7, and at that only partially. In copying the text was shortened, relying on what is written in the Passover Haggadah.