First Fruits – A New Reading

Dr. Nira Nachaliel offers us a new reading of the Firstfruits.

by Dr. Nira Nachaliel

And the Egyptians evilly abused and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage (Deuteronomy 26:6).

And the Egyptians abused us – Don’t say ‘Egyptians,’ say those that that caused our distress, because every distress causes us to be evil, as it says:
“Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves” (Isaiah 3:9).
“Afflicted us” – These are the trials by which we were tested, as it says: “To afflict and test you” (Deuteronomy 8:2).
“And they laid upon us hard bondage” – This is the anger and vexation, as it says, “From your sorrow and vexation and from the hard labor you were made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3).

“And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression(Deuteronomy 26:7).

“Our affliction” – That our spirits were impoverished, because of our impatience of spirit and the hard labor, as it says, “poor and contrite of spirit” (Isaiah 66:2).
“And our labor” – This is the demeaned stature that is the result of oppression, as it says, “He brought down their heart with labor” (Psalms 107:12). And also, this is the despair caused by the lack of purpose, as it says, “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil” (Job 15:35), and “Wickedness and hard labor are within it” (Psalms 55:11).
“And our oppression” – This is the stress, the lack of time and constraint, as it says “When she saw [...] she pressed against the wall” (Number 22:25).

“And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terror, and with signs, and with wonders” (Deuteronomy 26:8).

“And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt” – Brought us out of the distress, as it says, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place” (Psalms 118:5).
“With a mighty hand” – Strengthened our hand, gave us strength, as it says, “And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me” (Ezra 7:28), and also, “For I the Lord your God will hold your right hand” (Isaiah 41:13), and “And in your hand is power and might; and in your hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all” (I Chronicles 29:12); and also – In righteousness did you take us out of Egypt, as it says “I have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you,” (Isaiah 42:6).
“And with an outstretched arm” – As a mother carries her child, as it says, “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).
“And with great terror” – He renewed the covenant of life and peace with us, as it says, “My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the great fear” (Malachi 2:5).
“And with signs” – This is the covenant between us, as it says, “And it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:11).
“And with wonders” – This is the power of speech that you have given us, as it says, “On that day your mouth will be opened [...] and you will speak and be mute no longer” (Ezekiel 24:27). 

“And he has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, even a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9).

“And he has brought us into this place” – Each and every individual has a uniquely suitable place, as it says, “And hastens to its place where it arose” (Ecclesiastes 1:5).
“And has given us this land, even a land that flows with milk and honey” – And the land will shower us with goodness and pleasantness, as it says, “And he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:13).
And we too with our words shall be filled with milk and honey as it says, “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb” (Proverbs 16:24). 



This midrash comes from the book Dirshuni - Israeli Women Writing Midrash, edited by Nechama Weingarten-Mintz and Tamar Biala, Yediot Sefarim, 2009.