Our Parashah begins with a description of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim which is celebrated with a ceremony of handing the basket of one’s first fruits of the Shiv’at HaMinim to a Kohein and reciting the well-known paragraph of Arami Oveid Avi (Devarim 26:5-10). The paragraph is a brief summary of Jewish history from Ya’akov (or Avraham according to Rashbam) until the eventual Bi’at HaAretz, entrance into the Land of Israel.
Prior to this ceremony, the farmer states the following: “Higadti HaYom LaHashem Elokecha Ki Vati El HaAretz Asher Nishba Hashem LaAvoteinu Lateit Lanu,” “I have told today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land which Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us” (26:3). Many commentaries are puzzled by the ambiguous phrase, “Higadti HaYom LaHashem;” what does “Higadti” refer to?
Ibn Ezra (ad loc. s.v. Higadti) follows the Yerushalmi and Targum Yonatan, explaining that in this context, “Higadti” means “I express my gratitude.” The Yerushalmi adds “Udinan VeShavchinan,” “I thank and I praise.” Alternatively, the Ibn Ezra suggests Higadti actually means “I told” or “I am telling,” similar to, “VeHigadeta LeVincha,” “And you shall tell your son” (Shemot 13:8). The children of the man bringing the Bikkurim will hear his expression of thanks for Eretz Yisrael and the fact that Hashem has enabled him to bring his first fruits.
However, this does not seem relevant for a native Israelite. It is sensible that a Jew in the days of Yehoshua who is bringing his first fruits in Eretz Yisrael should declare, “Ki Vati El HaAretz,” “behold I have just come to Eretz Yisrael,” but why should this Jew’s descendants who bring the first fruits to the Mikdash declare this? This question is furthered by the following Sifri written about the Mitzvah of Bikkurim: “Asei Mitzvah HaAmurah BeInyan SheBeSacharah Tikaneis LaAretz,” “Perform this Mitzvah of Bikkurim so that through its merit you will enter Eretz Yisrael” (Sifri Devarim 297). However, it is axiomatic that Bikkurim is a Mitzvah that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. Is it not paradoxical for the Sifri to write that if we perform the Mitzvah of Bikkurim we will merit the entrance into Eretz Yisrael?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab resolves both difficulties by explaining that Eretz Yisrael is fundamentally different from all other lands. With respect to all other countries, one is considered to have entered the land completely when one has crossed its borders. On the other hand, as the Mishnah in Masechet Keilim (1:6) teaches, the land of Eretz Yisrael has gradations of Kedushah, holiness. To a certain extent, one has not completely entered the land until one has experienced the Beit HaMikdash. Thus, the Beit HaMikdash must be visited regularly to remind someone of the levels of Kedushah that he can ascend spiritually.
The Sifri therefore informs us that if someone performs the Mitzvah of Bikkurim and thereby demonstrates his commitment to Kedushat HaMikdash and the Kohanim, he will merit entering the Land in the complete sense. According to the Sifri, this is the true essence of Bi’at HaAretz.
We can also explain the farmer’s statement of, “Higadti HaYom LaHashem Elokecha Ki Vati El HaAretz,” as “my arrival today at the Mikdash demonstates that I have truly arrived in Eretz Yisrael and understand the importance of ascending in Kedushah.” It’s not sufficient that he entered the Holy Land; he must realize and internalize what God expects of me as a spiritual being in the land of spirituality.
A parallel message can be appreciated with respect to our Mikdashei Me’at. Our entrance into our Shuls does not constitute a true arrival and entrance unless we have entered to grow in Kedushah. The people who walk through the doors have not truly entered unless they have come to grow to greater spiritual heights. Hashem expects us to commit to a respectful Davening without profaning the Shul with idle talk and that we dedicate ourselves to Tefillah with Kavanah.
How appropriate is Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of “Higadti HaYom” as being akin to “VeHigadeta LeVincha.” Let our children witness our growth in the Beit HaKenesset so that one day they will also declare “Ki Vati El HaAretz”—I too know what is to be considered a true arrival and entrance into our Mikdash Me’at.