"And it shall be that when you come to the Land that Hashem your Lord gives to you as an inheritance ... and you shall take from the first of all the fruit of the ground that you will bring from your Land that Hashem your Lord gives to you and you shall place [the fruits] in a basket and you shall go to the place that Hashem your Lord will choose to dwell His name there (Devarim 26:1-2)."

These opening verses are describing the mitzvah of bikurim, bringing the first fruits to the kohein in the Beis Ha'Mikdash.

The verses that follow describe the declaration one must articulate upon bringing the bikurim. "And you shall come to the kohein that will be in those days, and you shall say to him, 'I have said today to Hashem your Lord that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our fathers to give to us.' And the kohein shall take the basket from your hand, and he shall place it before the altar of Hashem your Lord. And you shall declare, and you shall say before Hashem your Lord, 'An Aramean [wanted to] destroy my father, and he went down to Egypt, and he dwelt there in few numbers, and there he became a great nation - powerful and numerous. And the Egyptians did evil to us, and they afflicted us, and they put upon us hard labor. And we cried out to Hashem the Lord of our fathers, and Hashem heard our voice, and He saw our poverty, and our toil, and our strain. And Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awe, and with signs, and with wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this Land - a Land flowing milk and honey. And now I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground that you have given me, Hashem,' and he shall place it before Hashem your Lord, and you shall prostrate before Hashem your Lord. And you shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your Lord has given to you and your household - you and the Levi and the convert that is in your midst (26:3-11)."

The act of bringing the first of one's hard earned fruits to the kohein in the Beis Ha'Mikdash coupled with this special declaration certainly must serve as a powerful reminder that it is not "my strength and the power of my hand that has done for me this success,"[1] rather, "it is Hashem your Lord [who] gives you the strength to amass wealth."[2]

Why, though, is it not enough to simply state that Hashem brought us into the Land, gave it to us, and through it continually provides us with bountiful produce? Why is that not enough to bring the point home that we are beholden to Hashem for all of His gracious beneficence? Why is it necessary to speak of the bondage in Egypt, and how Hashem saved us from it?

Perhaps that question is not so difficult to answer. Reflecting upon the contrast between the hardship in Egypt and the gift of Eretz Yisrael certainly would aid one to that much more appreciate what Hashem has given him.

However, why do we need to speak about how Yaakov Avinu lived in the house of his uncle Lavan, and how Lavan wanted to kill him? Obviously we are not required to track the entire chain of events that ultimately lead to our descending to Egypt, etc. because if that were the case, why stop at Yaakov having to escape from Lavan? Why are we not enjoined to also mention how Yaakov had to flee to the house of Lavan in the first place because of his brother Eisav's jealous hatred? Or, for that matter, why not go all the way back to when Hashem first spoke to Avraham Avinu, or even to the very beginning when Hashem first created the world and Adam Ha'Rishon?

Obviously, then, there must be some specific connection between Yaakov's flight from the house of Lavan and this mitzvah of bringing the bikurim to the kohein in the Beis Ha'Mikdash.

The truth is that there is yet another question to ask before we can venture to find a resolution.

The verse seems to imply that Yaakov descending to Egypt was a result of Lavan having wanted to destroy him. Now, this certainly seems like news! If we go back to Seifer Breishis for a moment, we will be reminded of the fact that Yaakov and his family did not go straight from the house of Lavan down to Egypt. They first returned to what was then the Land of Canaan. After having been there for some time, Yosef was sold as a slave down to Egypt by his brothers as a result of their jealousy and hatred toward him. Then, when Yosef ultimately became the second in command in Mitzrayim and there was a terrible famine throughout the world, Yaakov brought his whole family down to Egypt where Yosef could best care for them. So, Lavan having wanted to kill Yaakov would seem to be a highly indirect influence on the ultimate descent to Egypt, at best.

Upon reflection, we can note a striking similarity between the situation of Yaakov Avinu in the house of Lavan and the Jewish People in Egypt. Yaakov arrived at Lavan's house as a lone, penniless pauper.[3] It is in the house of Lavan that Yaakov marries his two wives Rachel and Leah and builds his large, illustrious family. It is also there that Yaakov ultimately amasses great wealth through a special kindness by Heaven.[4] First, though, Yaakov had to work many years of intense labor for Lavan, he had to suffer sleep deprivation, scorching temperatures by day, and the bitter coldness at night.[5] Even after Yaakov had finally managed, by the kindness of Hashem, to circumvent the trickery and backhandedness of his wicked uncle and build for himself family and fortune; still, he came within a hairsbreadth of utter annihilation. The pesukim there recount how Lavan was fully capable of utterly destroying Yaakov and his entire family (and in this week's parsha we learn how he indeed intended to do so!), and the only reason he didn't is that he received a prophecy from Hashem warning him to not harm Yaakov and his family.[6] So, then, the history of Yaakov in the house of Lavan was a process of intense suffering, familial and financial success, and salvation from near, total destruction.

The parallel is now abundantly clear. As we all know, the Jews suffered horribly for many years at the merciless hands of the Egyptians. All the while, though, their numbers increased greatly to the point that they became a great nation. Finally, after all ten Makos were carried out, the Jews were freed and given all the wealth of Egypt. Then, as they were standing in front of the Yam Suf, Pharaoh with his terrifying army was approaching to overtake them. Certainly, by the normal laws of nature, they could have utterly destroyed the hapless Jews. But, as we all know, Hashem made the neis of Krias Yam Suf, brought us through it on dry land, and simultaneously drowned our oppressors in the water.

Intense suffering, success in population and wealth, and salvation from near, total destruction.

Perhaps we can now come to the beginning of a resolution. Not only did we as a people go through this process of bondage and redemption, but our forefather Yaakov also went through it. This suggests that this was not simply a one-time event that Hashem decided we needed to undergo, rather it is basic to who we are - it is part of our makeup as a nation.

Avraham and Sarah were naturally barren. By nature, they could not have children; but Hashem told Avraham to go out - exit your mazal, your predestined limitations.[7] Indeed, as the Torah, describes, the birth of Yitzchak was completely miraculous. And it doesn't stop there. The Vilna Gaon elaborates that, by nature, the Jewish People have no existence whatsoever. We do not exist within the structure of and/or as a part of the natural order that Hashem created and directs with a specific set of rules and regulations on an ongoing basis. Rather, we exist as a result of, and by the direct providence of Hashem for the realization of the purpose of existence. A Jewish People that brings the light of Hashem into the world must exist within an ongoing direct, relationship with the Creator - a relationship that manifests itself in a way that shows the world what the purpose of creation is.

For us, then, it is of the utmost, vital importance to realize that even when we are living off the fat of the Land, even when all is wonderful, and we are powerful, successful, wealthy - truly enjoying the full goodness that the corporeal world can offer - we more than anyone else must be completely and totally aware that our efforts would not only amount to nothing without the direct kindness of Hashem, our efforts would not even exist if not for the direct kindness of Hashem.

We exist and function exclusively within this relationship of worshipping the Creator and being directly and intimately guided by Him on a very unique path. As such, awareness of our unique form of existence, acknowledging the special relationship that we have with the Creator, and acknowledging the ongoing, complete kindness that we receive from Him as a result of that relationship is key to who and what we are.

We express this by bringing the first of our hard-earned produce to the kohein in the Beis Ha'Mikdash, and declare our awareness of the uniqueness of our existence and relationship with Hashem as expressed most powerfully in the history of slavery and redemption of Yaakov from the house of Lavan and Bnei Yisrael from Egypt.

NOTES

1. Eikev 8:17.

2. Eikev 8:18.

3. Vayishlach 32:11, Rashi on Vayeitzei 29:11.

4. Vayeitzei 30:43, 31:9-12, Rashi on 31:10, and 31:42.

5. Vayeitzei 31:38-42.

6. Vayeitzei 31:22-29.

7. Rashi Lech Lecha 15:5.