Bikurim and Parashas Vayeira

Vayedaber Moshe kein el b’nei Yisrael v’lo sham’u el Moshe mikotzer ruach ume’avodah kashah (Shemos 6:9)

Parashas Vayeira opens with Hashem responding to Moshe’s concerns by reassuring him that his mission will succeed, and instructing him to encourage the people through four languages of redemption that He will free them from slavery and bring them to the promised land of Israel. However, when Moshe conveys this message to the Jewish people, they did not accept it on account of their “kotzer ruach” and “avodah kashah” shortness of breath and hard work.

Although they should have trusted Moshe’s prophecy, the Meshech Chochmah explains that when people are in the midst of intense personal anguish, they are only able to focus on obtaining immediate relief from their suffering and are unable to contemplate lofty long-term concepts such as having their own land.

Parashas Ki Savo begins (Devarim 26:1-11) with the mitzvah of bikurim, which requires a farmer to bring his first ripened fruits to the Beis Hamikdash, where he presents them to a Kohen as a sign of gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest.

He then recites a declaration of appreciation for Hashem’s role in Jewish history that includes a lengthy discussion of the Exodus from Egypt, verses with which we are all familiar due to their prominent placement in the Haggadah. What is the connection between the mitzvah of bikurim and Pesach, and why was this expression of gratitude for the Exodus specifically placed here?

In his sefer Pachad Yitzchok (Pesach 6), Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, explains that although there were mitigating circumstances that partially justified the Jewish People’s inability to accept Moshe’s message, there was also a component that was considered sinful and required atonement in their refusal to heed the words of a prophet. This is the function of the references to the Exodus that are made when bringing bikurim. By declaring, “Hashem brought us to this place,” we repent our prior failure to believe His pledge that “I will bring you to the land.”

This insight can also help us understand why the section containing the declaration made when bringing bikurim begins (26:5) “V’anisa v’amarta” — you shall reply and say. As this is the beginning of the paragraph and no dialogue precedes it, in what sense is it called a reply?

Rav Hutner suggests that the farmer is replying to Moshe’s promise of redemption at the beginning of Parashas Vayeira. Because the Jewish people’s first response was lacking, we come back to respond to Moshe by declaring that we accept his message and testify that it was already fulfilled. This explains the passage’s inclusion in the Haggadah and its connection to Pesach, for it represents our repentance for our initial failure to believe Moshe’s assurance of redemption.

Along these lines, Harav Avrohom Yaakov Pam, zt”l, remarked that we are accustomed to picturing the farmers bringing their bikurim to Yerushalayim with tremendous joy after a successful harvest. In reality, there were many farmers who were disappointed by their crops’ yield, yet the Torah still commands them (26:11) to rejoice over all the goodness that Hashem bestowed upon them — even if they do not perceive the blessing.

This requirement is also a component of the teshuvah outlined by Rav Hutner, for after the Jewish people in Egypt did not accept Moshe’s promises due to their bitter suffering, the farmer comes to correct their behavior by gratefully acknowledging Hashem’s bounty, even at a time when he is not personally experiencing it.

Applying this lesson to our own lives, Harav Yisroel Reisman notes that we often find ourselves in situations in which we act suboptimally due to challenging circumstances that we are experiencing. Although these mitigating conditions might reduce our personal culpability, we can derive from Rav Hutner’s insight that when the difficult times pass, we should nevertheless look at the episode in hindsight to assess how we could have behaved better, and we should take concrete steps to rectify what we did wrong.

Q: I am mentioned by name in Parashas Vayeira, and I was blessed with illustrious progeny. Every Kohen but one, and every member of the Davidic line of kings, are all descended from me. Who am I?

A: Aminadav was Aharon’s father-in-law (6:23) and, as such, every Kohen was descended from him except for one: Aharon himself. Additionally, every Davidic king was descended from Aminadav, for he was the great-grandfather of Boaz, who was the great-grandfather of Dovid (Rus 4:20-22).

Q: The first plague caused all the water in Egypt that was not owned by Jews to turn into blood (7:20). Which water in Egypt was not owned by Jews, but did not turn into blood?

A: Rabbeinu Ephraim notes that Hashem told Moshe (7:19) to transform all of the water in Egypt to blood, including water that was in wooden or stone vessels. From the fact that Hashem did not also mention water in metal vessels, he concludes that water that was in cans or other metal containers did not turn into blood. This explains why Pharaoh did not beg Moshe to bring an end to this plague as he did with many others, for he simply drank water that was stored in metal vessels, leaving him personally unaffected by the plague.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.