In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo (when you enter), the sedra opens with the presentation of the first fruits of the land to the Cohen. After presenting the first fruits to the Cohen, one is instructed to say, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt and sojourned there, a few in number, and there he became a nation – great, strong, and numerous”. This is the translation provided by the Stone edition Chumash for Dueteronomy 26:5. This is not the only translation, as the Rabbis teach there are many faces to the Torah. According to the Hertz Chumash this same pasuk is translated as, “A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous”. The JPS Chumash seems to take this same approach, with variation, in translating this line as, “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation”.
Three different Chumashim, three different translations…clearly this is nothing new in our tradition! This pasuk has been a source of debate for generations as to the identity of the Aramean, was it Laban or our patriarch Yaakov? According to the maggid section of our Passover Haggadahs, our patriarch Yaakov was being pursued by his Uncle Laban, the Aramean, favoring the Stone edition. Rashi, the most famous Torah commentator offers his textual analysis in support of the Hagaddah and the Stone chumash. Another prolific and revered commentator Ibn Ezra takes a different approach in support of the JPS and Hertz translations stating that Yaakov was the Aramean. While this pasuk may seem insignificant it is connected to why the first fruits were being presented. We are called to remember, time and again, that we were once strangers in a strange land and it is our responsibility to be a light in the darkness. If Yaakov is the Aramean or being pursued by the Armean, the outcome was the same, he sojourned to Egypt, a land in which he was a stranger. These first fruits from the opening of the parshah were to be offered to the Cohen in order to provide nourishment to the stranger. The Torah commands us many times to care for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. The introduction to this parshah is the practical application of this mitzvah. Not only are we to provide, we are to offer our first fruits to the stranger, which must come from our first harvest.
What is the implication of this requirement in our modern lives? We know the Torah is timeless and we read it and seek to embody the characteristics and principles to live a meaningful and holy life. Though there are many examples of modern day “strangers”, I will highlight one group in the news of late. This group is comprised of individuals in our society brought over at a young age to the USA in search of a better life. In recent years these kids have been brought under the shelter of the DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) program that enabled these young people to dream and pursue their educational and vocational aspirations. DACA has recently come under threat and now the status of tens of thousands of productive members of our society including students and members of our workforce, is in limbo. It is our duty to speak out and to offer our first fruits once again. Our figurative baskets of fruits to extend include our voices, compassion, and support. We must not delay in caring for the stranger, even when the stranger has been living among us for the majority of his or her life. May we all find the courage to stand up for what is right and follow the guidelines set out by Ki Tavo. Shabbat Shalom!