Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of bikurim; to bring a basket of one’s first fruits to the priest at the Temple, and to say Arami Oved Avi, the litany that we know the beginning of from the Passover seder:

My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt, and sojourned there…. (Devarim 26:5-10)

In this litany, the land of Israel, the people Israel, and the God of Israel are all connected. We were brought out of slavery in Egypt so that we may serve God as a free people in the land between the Jordan River and the Red Sea. It is because of that salvation from oppression as an enslaved ethnic minority into spiritual and national self-actualization that we are able to grow our first fruits in the land, and so in acknowledgment that our physical sustenance comes from the same source as our spirituality, and our nature as a people. 

How can we access the spiritual benefit of Arami Oved Avi in the absence of the three things upon which it depended: the land of Israel, the priests, and our first fruits?

Without priests to whom we may bring our first fruits, and especially as urban Jews with no crops to bring, and even more so as Diaspora Jews, the litany of Arami Oved Avi survives in the Jewish holiday cycle. We read the first half of it in the Passover seder, and we remember it on Shavuot through the holiday’s name Yom Habikurim

But something that is only recited once a year, and hinted at another time of the year, is not a full-fledged spiritual practice that can cultivate our gratitude to God for our lives as individuals and our sense of the sacredness of the path of Torah that guides and characterizes our community. A spiritual exercise requires regular practice to be effective. 

We have brachot; we say blessings before and after everything that we do to sustain our physical selves. Meals are followed by birkat hamazon that recalls the land of Israel, as well as being saved from slavery in Egypt. Snacks carry shorter blessings. The practice of brachot turns eating into a spiritual activity. We acknowledge God before and after we eat. Kashrut also turns eating into a religious act. In Israel, the shmitah cycle is observed. Today’s Judaism does have ways of turning the act of eating into a means of reminding us who we are, what we are, and that our having been brought into being is a gift.


Shabbat Shalom!

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