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Today I want to talk to you about two curiosities at the beginning of this week’s Parsha. In one of the stories having to do with the law of bikkurim, the first fruits, the Torah declares that once a year farmers should ascend to the temple with a basket of their first fruits and it gives a procedure of what is to happen next. The procedure at face value is very straightforward, when you look at it a little bit more carefully, it becomes rather mystifying. Let me show you what I mean. So here is the farmer, he shows up at the temple, u’bata el-hakohen asher yihyeh bayamim hahem, he comes to the priest that’s there. V’amarta elav, and he says to him, higadti hayom laHashem Elokeicha, ‘I have declared today, before God, your God’, ki-vati el-haaretz asher nisba Hashem La’avoteinu latet lanu, ‘that I have indeed come to the land that God has sworn to give to my forefathers.
Well, sounds pretty straightforward. Until you begin to take a closer look at the grammar. Higadti hayom laHashem Elokeicha, he says, ‘I have declared today, before God.’ What’s that supposed to mean? He didn’t already declare that, I mean he is standing there and now he is talking, he is making a declaration but doesn’t say ‘I am declaring, I hereby declare.’ ‘I have already declared,’ but he didn’t declare anything, he didn’t say anything, how could he have declared this already? That’s disconnect number one.
Here is disconnect number two, look what happens next. V’lakach hakohen hatene miyadecha, takes the basket from his hands and places it before the alter of God. V’anita v’amarta, the farmer should then answer and should say before God, the following, arami oved avi, ‘My father was wondering Aramean’, vayired Mitzrayimah, ‘he eventually wondered and came down to Egypt’, vayadar sham, ‘he sojourned there for a while and became a great nation in Egypt’, vayareu otanu haMitzrim, ‘Egyptians mistreated us and they oppressed us and then God heard our voice when we cried out to him and then he took us from the land’. And the farmer goes and continues and gives this really mini summery of Jewish history and the disconnect here I think comes from one word, this introductory word, v’anita v’amarta, ‘and he shall answer and say.’ What do you mean answer, did anyone ask him a question? I mean he was the last one talking, it is really just a continuation of his first declaration, ‘I have declared to you today that I have come before you…to this land’, I mean if so, he is continuing talking why we call this an answer? He is not answering anything, no one talked to him. No one asked him anything.
It seems to me, that the Torah is intentionally setting up the soliloquy of the farmer as something other than a soliloquy, a kind of dialogue. There are breaks in this dialogue which are silences but they are not really silences at all. Something is happening in that silence.
Let’s try to figure out what it is. Think about that and I will meet you in a couple of days.
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2. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
3. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
4. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
5. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
6. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
7. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Jacob's Deceit
8. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
9. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
10. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
11. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
12. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
13. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
14. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
15. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
16. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
17. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
18. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
19. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
20. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
21. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
22. Ki Tisa: Epilogue
23. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
24. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
25. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
26. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
27. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
28. Metzora: Living Within the Community
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Emor: What Sabbath Is All About
31. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
32. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
33. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
34. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
35. Korach: Can We Influence God?
36. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
37. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
38. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
39. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
40. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
41. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
42. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
43. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 1/2
44. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 2/2
45. Re'eh: The Strange Laws Of Jewish Slavery
46. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
47. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
48. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
49. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 1/2
50. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 2/2
51. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 1/2
52. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 2/2
53. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
54. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
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