In Deuteronomy chapter 26, we find a significant ritual: the offering of the first fruits to the priest in the Jerusalem temple. The text states, “and he came to the Cohen (priest) that will be in those days and you shall say to him… ‘I declare today to the LORD your God (לה’ אלהיך) that I came into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.'” (Deuteronomy 26:3-5)
However, a closer reading presents an interesting conundrum. The individual, when offering the first fruits, refers to God as the priest’s God (“אלהיך”), seemingly distancing himself from the Almighty. This stands in stark contrast with Exodus 13:8, where God’s intervention is remembered as an act done “for me.” Moreover, in Deuteronomy 26:14, when discussing tithes for the Levites, orphans, and widows, the donor refers to God as “my Lord” (ה’ אלהי). Why this linguistic shift from “your Lord” to “my Lord”?
I offer this interpretation: There’s another linguistic distinction between the narratives of tithes and the first fruit. With the first fruits, the term “telling” (והגתי) is utilized. In contrast, “said” (אמר) pertains to the tithes. This difference accentuates the deeper declaration made during the presentation of the first fruits, going beyond a simple statement.
The verb “הגד” (hagad), meaning “to tell” or “to declare,” is profoundly significant in Jewish tradition. Telling isn’t merely about relaying information; it’s about bearing witness, emphasizing an intimate connection or realization.
The related term “והגדת” (vehagadata) is seen in Exodus 13:8, referring to the act of recounting the Exodus to one’s child: “and you should tell your son on that day, saying because of what the LORD did for me when I exited Egypt.” This echoes the importance of declaration in Jewish tradition.
The Pesach (Passover) Seder night, where the הגדה (Hagadah) is recited, showcases the obligation to narrate this story. The root “הגד” is consistent, representing a declaration or proclamation crucial to preserving faith.
Telling is an active engagement with memory and understanding. When the Passover story is “told,” it’s not merely a recounting of events but a renewal of our connection to a shared history. The Mishnah states: “In every generation, one must see oneself as personally having left Egypt” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5). This underscores that “הגד” isn’t just about recounting but re-experiencing.
The differentiation between “telling” (הגד) for first fruits and “said” (אמר) for tithes provides insight. “Telling” or “הגד” signifies a deeper, active declaration, more profound than mere saying or אמר. The farmer’s act of “הגד” with the first fruits is a deep connection to faith and the Divine, which he emphasizes to the priest as “LORD your God” (לה’ אלהיך).
I posit that this emphasizes the differing perceptions of the Divine between priest and farmer. While a priest might become ritualistic in temple service, possibly losing sight of God’s blessings, a farmer, witnessing nature’s wonders, may feel a closer bond to the Divine. Thus, by offering the first fruits, the farmer reminds the priest: “Acknowledge this as a gift from your God.”
This understanding contrasts with tithing. Those who receive tithes, like the farmer, directly witness divine providence, feeling a bond with “my God” (ה’ אלהי).
The lesson in these verses is both timeless and pertinent: Proximity to the divine doesn’t guarantee recognition. One might be enveloped in religious practices yet overlook God’s palpable presence. Sometimes, it might be outsiders, like farmers, who remind us of God’s tangible blessings. This serves as a reminder of the paramountcy of genuine spiritual connections over mere ritualistic practices.