Parasha Ki Tavo opens with what for some will be a familiar passage. This passage, traditionally known as the first fruits ceremony, is one of only two pieces of formal liturgy from Temple times found in the Torah (the other is the declaration of tithing that immediately follows this passage). The first-fruits ceremony, with its “First Fruits Recitation” as it is known in the Mishna, has become famous because of a different context, as our Pesach Haggadah midrashically expands its version of history:
“My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meagre numbers and sojourned there; He went down to Egypt with meagre numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labour upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.” (Dt. 26:5-9)
While this is where we end the passage in the Haggadah, the declaration in the Torah continues:
“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.” (Dt. 26:10)
The truncation of this declaration in the Haggadah reflects the Haggadah’s similar editing of the promise of redemption given to Moses, which forms the basis of the four cups of wine we drink: “Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labours of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God ….” (Ex. 6:7-8). But the promise from God in the Torah continues, “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as a possession, I the Lord.” (Ex. 6:9).
The difference in the Torah’s promise and the Haggadah’s phrasing reflects that the Torah was our core teaching during the periods of the First and Second Temples, when we were present in the promised land of Israel for more than a thousand years. The Haggadah was written after the destruction of the Second Temple, as our people began our two thousand years of exile. The verse of the declaration of first fruits celebrating our presence in the land was not apposite in terms of our exile. The promise to be brought (back) into the land was transferred to the fifth, undrunk, cup of Elijah.
What should we do now? We have come back to the land of Israel, and established our Third Commonwealth. Is it time to rewrite the Haggadah (which has been a work in progress, with generations adding passages over the years, as most contemporary Haggadot acknowledge the Shoah as well)? Is it time to see Israel, as it is promised in the Torah, as our land flowing with milk and honey? Is it time to drink the fifth cup? Perhaps.
But we should also recall the ominous warnings that comprise the bulk of Parasha Ki Tavo. The land is a possession not something which we ever absolutely own. Our presence there is always conditional, with blessings bestowed when we act with righteousness and compassion, but curses to come – including exile and destruction – when we act with hubris, rejecting the deep values and principles of Torah. So perhaps it’s a bit early to re-write the Haggadah and drink that fifth cup of wine. But Ki Tavo brings home Torah’s core teaching: the people of Israel and the land of Israel are one, as long as we work there in service of the One, the source of life that unites all living beings and calls us to right action.