At the beginning of this week’s Parashah, Ki Tavo, Moshe repeats the command to bring Bikurim once we enter Eretz Yisrael which is first recorded in Shemot 23:19. In summary, this Mitzvah requires the bringing of the first fruits of a farmer’s crop to the Beit HaMikdash as a sign of gratitude to Hashem. Ki Tavo’s recording of this Mitzvah adds that the farmer must recite a few Pesukim upon giving the produce to a Kohein. The Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot: Mitzvah 132) codifies the Pesukim’s proclamation as a separate Mitzvah from the bringing of Bikurim. The farmer who was carrying the Bikurim would give his fruit basket to a Kohein and then recite the seemingly strange declaration of “Arami Oveid Avi VaYeired Mitzrayima,” “My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down into Egypt" (Devarim 26:5). Rashi says this is referring to Lavan who sought to destroy Yaakov. At a time of great celebration, such as the bringing of Bikurim, we would expect a proclamation of gratitude. Instead, we find that the farmer is giving a brief summary of Jewish history. Why is this?
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 606) answers that when one says these words with his mouth, he thinks about the concept of being rescued from peril (as Yaakov was), and applies it to his life; thus, the farmer feels gratitude towards his Savior, Hashem. We can understand why a declaration is important, but why must we recite this declaration which includes seemingly irrelevant pieces of Jewish history if it does not appear to relate to Bikurim? When one understands the underlying principle behind the Mitzvah of Bikurim, the answer becomes clear. The purpose of Bikurim is to show our gratitude towards Hashem for His help. By giving our first fruits, we represent that we are willing to dedicate everything we have to the service of Hashem. When the farmer recites this paragraph, he recognizes that without Hashem, he would have nothing.
Rav Dr. Avraham Twerski, in his Sefer Living Each Day, comments that we must be grateful for everything, and therefore we even recount the suffering that we first endured, even though it seems irrelevant. We cannot be hateful towards Hashem for such sad instances, but instead, we must be thankful, and realize that after we toiled in Egypt we became a nation—Hashem’s chosen people—which led to our receiving the Torah and Eretz Yisrael. We can also learn from the Bikurim declaration that in the future, we might suffer through hard times; still, we need to realize that there will be a constructive aspect that we will appreciate afterwards.
A comparable instance in recent times was the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Without this tragedy it is very likely that the United Nations would not have voted to create a Jewish state. We learn from the Bikurim declaration the need to show gratitude towards Hashem not only in the good times, when we are living in Eretz Yisrael and enjoying its crops, but also the bad times, such as when we suffered in Egypt. Rav Twerski asked why Shavuot is known as Chag HaBikurim, and is it not named for the seemingly more important event of Matan Torah. He then quoted the famous expression of “Derech Eretz Kadmah LaTorah,” “Good behavior is a prerequisite to Torah.” Showing gratitude through the Bikurim is necessary before one can learn Torah and is therefore an important aspect on Shavuot. The declaration of Bikurim teaches us that the small two words of “Thank You” can go a long way.