Saturday, September 13, 2008

Arami Oveid Ani:
A Ki-Teitzei’~Ki-Tavo’ DvarTorah

(a dvar Torah for The Third Meal of Shabbat parashat Ki-Teitzei’
right after reading the first alíya of Ki-Tavo’ at minhha)

It's not even ראש השנה yet
and I already feel like פסח.

At מנחה, we just read the first alíya of this coming week's פרשה,
also known as the ביכורים text —
step-by-step instructions
for the Israelite farmer,
how to present their first produce
to the כהנים and to God.

The ביכורים text is one of the centerpieces
of the Passover Seder —
much of the מגיד section of the הגדה
is devoted to an extended דרש,
taking this short summary
of Israelite history
and filling in the details
by connecting the verses here in כי־תבוא in דברים
to the story of the Exodus back in שמות.

And it all begins
אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵֿדֿ אָבִֿי.

The מדרשים on which the הגדה is based
understand this to mean
"an Aramean attempted to destroy my father" —
our ancestor יעקב and his entire family
were almost annihilated
by his uncle and father-in-law, לבן,
when he chased after them
in search of his missing idols.

The medieval פשטנים, on the other hand —
those first commentators to concentrate exclusively
on the straightforward contextual meaning of Scripture —
insisted that ארמי אובד אבי cannot be talking about לבן.
The grammar is all wrong.

It actually means, they said,
"my father was a wandering, or literally ‘lost’, Aramean" —
and explained that it refers
to either אברהם
who moved from ארם to כנען,
following God to “the land that I will show you”
or to יעקב
who built his family there, in exile from that land.

This week, though,
I discovered another option.
There's a מדרש in ספרי,
quoted in the midrashic collection תורה תמימה,
that understands ארמי אובד אבי differently:
מלמד שלא ירד יעקב לארם אלא להיאבד
ומעלה על לבן הארמי כאלו איבדו
This teaches us, it says,
that יעקב only went to ארם to get lost,
and therefore לבן is regarded
as if he lost or destroyed him.

Our ancestor יעקב ran away from home.
His mother sent him away to save his life
since his brother wanted to kill him.
He was alone.
He had no camels loaded with treasure
as אברהם's servant had
when he went back to ארם
to find a wife for יצחק,
one generation before.

And לבן took advantage of him.
He tricked him into marrying the wrong woman,
he tried to cheat him out of his salary,
and he changed the terms of their contract multiple times.
It was only God's help
that enabled יעקב to succeed
and to return home to כנען.
And then it was God
who rescued יעקב's descendents from Egypt.

And so the ביכורים text goes on
to talk about Egypt, and the Exodus,
and settling the Land,
and it gives instructions for depositing the first fruits
and worshipping God —
and then it ends with one final instruction:
וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל הַטּוֹב אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לְךָ י' אֱ-ֹהֶיךָ, וּלְבֵיתֶךָ
אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ
And you shall rejoice in all the good
that God gave you and your house —
together with the Levite and the stranger who are among you.

The bringing of the ביכורים must be celebrated
with the weak and vulnerable of Israelite society —
the לויים and the strangers,
who — unlike our prototypical farmer —
lack the security of ancestral territory.

Unlike לבן,
who took advantage of יעקב when he was lost and lacking,
we are obligated to emulate God,
who protected יעקב, and then saved us from Egypt,
and brought us into the Land.
The ritual of the ביכורים teaches us
that we each individually
need to continue the cycle of justice and kindness —
and if I don't, then ארמי אובד אני
I'd be the one who has lost my way.


Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

Have a happy, healthy sweet new year + all generic as well as brand name borchas - hatzlacha in your studies, whatever, and parnosah, whatever, and if you're single (as i suspect) than stay so (unless you think getting married is a good thing, in which case I wish you do get married) and happy and successful in all your endeavors (and bicurim. And divrei Torah) etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. Col Tuv.

9/24/2008 9:54 PM  
Blogger Daniel Saunders said...

I really like this dvar Torah.

A question that I've been pondering for a while: the way you lay out your divrei Torah always reminds me of free verse poetry. Is this deliberate?

9/25/2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

thanks to both of you!

re: free verse poetry

Yeah, i lay it out that way on purpose. In speech-giving mode i tend to think in terms of poetry rather than prose. It also makes it easier to glance down at the words while speaking, without spending too much time trying to find where i was.

9/25/2008 9:34 AM  
Blogger rivkayael said...

I like this layout a lot.

Ktiva v'chatima tova.

9/25/2008 10:22 AM  
Anonymous sister miryam said...


happy new year!

9/25/2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

thanks, y'all too!

9/25/2008 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought it was a very nice devar Torah.


9/25/2008 5:23 PM  
Blogger Beisrunner said...

"Yeah, i lay it out that way on purpose. In speech-giving mode i tend to think in terms of poetry rather than prose."

That's a great idea. I find I have a hard time translating a good written dvar torah into a good oral one. Maybe this method will help.

9/26/2008 7:43 AM  

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