Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, Arami Oved Avi: Why is the Bikkurim Proclamation Recited in the Haggada?
Why did the rabbis choose to relate the Exodus from Egypt [in the Hagaddah] by analyzing verses which appear in the Torah as a proclamation recited when bringing bikkurim, the first fruits?
Why do we expound on verses from Devarim and not from Shemot?
At first blush, it would seem that the book of Shemot would be the best way to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In the Haggada, though, we recite four verses in Parashat Ki Tavo in Devarim (26:5-8), which tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt in a much shorter form.
[...]Another reason for choosing these verses is related to the fact that the verses in Devarim are recited as part of the ceremony of bringing one’s first fruits to the Temple. In this context, the telling of the Exodus from Egypt is a description of the past as well as a demonstration of how to properly tell over the Exodus from Egypt in an experiential way, as more than just a description of events that took place.
One can add another reason: the commandment of bringing the first fruits to the Temple expresses the attribute of gratitude. The person goes down to his field, looks at his crop, and recognizes that everything he has comes from God, as stated there in the summary verse: “You shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, 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 – the root nun-tav-nun – to give. These are: “Gives to you” which appears twice, “to give to you,” and “who gave you the land,” “God gave me,” and “the Lord your God gave you.” By being personally grateful and identifying with God’s abundant generosity, a person learns to thank God 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 Haggada 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 that 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 also looks backwards, beginning the description of the redemption from the time of Yaakov. One thanks God 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 the period of our forefathers down to the present day. As such, our thanks are not only for the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus from Egypt serves as the paradigm of how God has helped Israel historically throughout the generations, and we thank Him on the seder night for all of His help throughout time.
This principle of the importance of reviewing the past in order to thank God at present, is manifest not only in the proclamation recited on bringing the first fruits, but it is indeed implicit in the very notion of the first fruits. The first fruits are the first crops, “the first fruits of the land.” The first fruits return the person to his beginnings, to the source. The person takes the first fruit which reminds him to think about his primary principles, his foundation, and he thus begins to think of the beginnings of the Nation of Israel, the forefathers of our nation, and the good which God granted to them and to us.
One may combine the last two ideas mentioned in the verses about the first fruits: the thankfulness brought out in this commandment, and our examination of the past. Thankfulness causes us to thank God for all the good He is giving us right now, but at the same time, when we look back to the past we are grateful to Him for all that He has done for the Nation of Israel, from its founding until now. This emerges from the word of the Sefer Ha-chinukh (mitzvah 606).
In the entire section in the Torah about the first fruits, the description of the slavery in Egypt and of the Exodus from Egypt are formulated in language which includes the entire nation, throughout all the generations – particularly the time of the person making the declaration at the time. Thus, one who brings first fruits states: “the Egyptians treated us cruelly,” “and afflicted us,” “we cried out to the Lord,” and “the Lord brought us out from Egypt.” This style teaches us that every single person in the Nation of Israel is an integral component of the entire nation, and must feel a partner in the fate of all the events involving the nation. Every Jew must know that his personal successes are all part of the contemporary community, as well as a part of the historical process of the entire Jewish People. It is possible that that is the source for the statement of our Sages that “In every generation, it is one’s duty to see himself as though he had personally come out from Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). The Torah teaches us that even when we are in the Land of Israel, we must feel that the Egyptians oppressed us personally, and that we personally left Egypt. The Nation of Israel is a single body, one organic unit, and is part of the course of our entire history.
Rav Hirsch, Commentary on Devarim 26:5-9
וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜- He holds in his hand the basket of fruits which, by the act of tenufah, he has already dedicated to endeavors on behalf of God and mankind; and he has already stated that he brings them in order to express his awareness that he possesses the Land only because God has fulfilled his oath to the patriarchs. Now, he looks back to these early beginnings of the Jewish people, and he stresses the historical facts that attest for all time to come that, at the establishment of Jewish national experience, only God's Will and almighty power were active; no other factor participated in creating Jewish nationhood.
אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י- אֹבֵ֣ד in the kal is always intransitive, and means "to go to ruin." אֹבֵ֣ד, then, means going to ruin, close to ruin. Thus, אֲרַמִּי֙ and אֹבֵ֣ד are both predicates of אָבִ֔י, and the disjunctive accent on אֲרַמִּי֙ calls attention toאֲרַמִּי first, after which אֹבֵ֣ד is added as a second predicate: "An Aramean, close to ruin, was my father."
The fruits in the basket attest that their owner achieved blessed independence in his own land, and the antithesis of this is best expressed by the predicate "אֲרַמִּי", by which the bringer describes his forefather.
Canaan was not the birthplace of the patriarchs. Avraham was born in Aram; it was Aram he called "eretz molad'ti," "my country and birthplace." In Canaan he had no native rights to bequeath to his descendants. The father of the nation was without a homeland in the land that is now the homeland of our nation, and it was only by a special favor that he was permitted to acquire, on the soil that is now the homeland of his descendants, a burial plot for his wife. As for his first grandson, Yaakov-Yisrael, whose name the nation now bears--when he returned as a refugee to the Aramean homeland and by hard labor gained a living there, the Aramean homeland, too, would not tolerate him. Threatened by physical destruction, he fled from him scheming father-in-law and, to and, together with his wives and children, returned to Canaan as a refugee. However, there, too, he found no peace, and finally he was forced to leave, to escape famine. He was still an אֲרַמִּי, still without a homeland, and, in addition, had until then suffered bitter blows of fate, he was judged by people to be אֹבֵ֣ד, without prospects of ever attaining independence. Thus, as an אֲרַמִּי and as an אֹבֵ֣ד, he went down to Egypt, a foreign land even more alien to him in its language, its customs, and its outlook on life.
The patriarchs has been promised a future as an independent nation in the land of Canaan, yet it was a family without a future, with rights of domicile only in Aram, that they went down to Egypt: אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה, and the Haggadah adds: anus al pi hadibbur. By any human reckoning, the move of Yaakov's family down to Egypt removed them even further from the realization of the future that had been promised to them. Notwithstanding the momentary splendor from which they came, their migration was a yeridah, a descent, in the fullest sense of the term. hence the need for words of encouragement: אַל־תִּירָא֙ מֵרְדָ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יְמָה (Genesis 46:3). Hence Yosef, too, in all the splendor of his high office, departed this world convinced that a special pekidah, a special intervention of Divine providence, would be required to bring the people out of Egypt and up to the promised land, only that he was fully confident that this pekidah would surely come. However, they went "down," seemingly "close to ruin," "forced" by the pressure of circumstances and al pi hadibbur, in obedience to the Divine Word.
וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם- and there, against all reasonable expectations, they became a ג֥וֹי, a separate national entity. For they preserved their spiritual and moral uniqueness, which distinguished them from the rest of the population. Thus, they were metzuyanim sham, "they stood out (from among the others)," a great national entity; and by God's blessing, they became strong and numerous.
וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה- He brought us to this place, which He chose as the site of the Sanctuary of His Torah. And for the sake of this Torah, for the fulfillment of the Torah, which rests here, He gave us the blessed Land which encompasses the Sanctuary, its center. Our possession of this Land gave us the homeland we never had before.