This week’s Torah portion begins with the ritual of the first fruits, when Israelite farmers would bring the first produce of their harvest to the Temple as a sign of gratitude. There they would recite a fundamental statement of Jewish identity: “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there they became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to ADONAI, the God of our ancestors, and ADONAI heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. ADONAI freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. God 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, ADONAI, have given me.”
This passage, in its concise language, describes the history of the children of Jacob and how they became the Jewish people through the Exodus from Egypt and their entrance into the Land of Israel. It proclaims the shared Jewish historical experience and the Jewish commitment to a world that is free from slavery and exploitation.
As we experience the holy month of Elul, when we are commanded to do deep self-examination in preparation for the High Holy Days, let us take these words into our hearts, examine and feel how they resonate with us.
Do we see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt as liberated slaves?
Do we appreciate God’s call to end misery and oppression?
Can we express gratitude for all that we have been given in our lives?