This week's parsha, Ki Tavo, begins with the mitzvah of bikkurim, bringing your first fruits to G‑d.

The first fruits were brought to the Temple, received by the Kohen and placed next to the altar.

When giving it to the Kohen, every person bringing first fruits would declare, "An Aramean was the destroyer of my forefather [Jacob] and he went down to Egypt ... and he became a great, mighty and numerous nation there. The Egyptians treated us cruelly ... We cried out to G‑d... G‑d heard our voice ... And G‑d brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and marvels."1

There were, in fact, other great salvations and miracles that G‑d performed for the Jewish people. What is unique about these two events, that of Jacob being saved from Laban and the Exodus from Egypt, that they were included in the bikkurim declaration?

The giving of the first fruits was to give thanks to G‑d for giving us the land. Accordingly, we gave from the first and the nicest to Him as a gesture of gratitude. It would make sense that the declaration would be the same, giving thanks to G‑d for the great miracles that brought us to the land, of which we have this great bounty.

Following the Exodus, there were great salvations and miracles, without which our ancestors would never have made it to the Promised Land. There was the splitting of the sea and the miraculous victories over Amalek, Sichon and Og. During the 40 years in the desert, there were daily miracles that kept the people alive. From the manna that fell from above, to the well of Miriam, which was a rock that traveled with the Jewish people, providing water and other needs of the nation and their livestock. Why weren't any of these miracles included in the declaration? They certainly would not have come to the land without these miracles.

Perhaps we can say that all of these miracles could be viewed as part of the Exodus from Egypt, because the Exodus wasn't complete until they conquered the land. They are therefore included as part of the Exodus, not having to be mentioned separately in the declaration.

However, there is an event that happened before Jacob’s descent to Egypt that seemingly should be included in the declaration. Yet it is not.

When Jacob and his family were finally free of Laban, they were confronted by his brother, Eisau. Jacob feared for their lives,2 but the danger was miraculously averted. Why wasn't this included in the declaration?

A possible explanation is that Eisau's evil intentions never came to fruition, never having gone further than intent.

But seemingly, if this is the reason that it isn't included in the declaration, then being saved from Laban should also not be included, since his evil intentions also didn't come to fruition.

We must conclude that there is some commonality between the salvation from Laban and the Exodus, and that this link is connected with the mitzvah of bikkurim. What is this connection?

Regarding the mitzvah of bikkurim, the verse says, "And it will be, when you come to the land ... and you take possession of it and settle it."3 Rashi4 explains that the mitzvah of bikkurim only begins after the conquest and division of the land. In other words, once they took up permanent residence and began enjoying the bounty of the land, then they were obligated to do the mitzvah of bikkurim.

There were two times when our ancestors took up permanent residence, but in those cases, they didn't get to enjoy the bounty: the 20 years Jacob lived with Laban, and the 210 years that his grandchildren sojourned in Egypt. Therefore, these two events are mentioned in the bikkurim declaration, to contrast them with the settlement in Israel, which is eternal.

On a deeper level,5 the fruit of the tree refers to the part of the neshamah that is within the body. The idea of bringing bikkurim is to strengthen the bond between the neshamah and its source above. We can accomplish this in two ways. First, when we bring bikkurim, the first and the best, we raise up the fruit, bringing ourselves closer to G‑d. Then, when we recite the declaration, we draw down the source of the neshamah, which is the first and the best part of the neshamah.

This will give us a deeper understanding into the words of the declaration. The two events mentioned, Jacob at Laban and the exile in Egypt, both begin with a descent, being drawn down from the highest state of holiness, into the lowest places. Laban’s hometown of Charan is called charon af shel Makom,6 “the place that angers G‑d,” and Egypt is called ervat haaretz, “the shame of the earth.” Both are followed by an ascent, being drawn up to the highest level, and in the case of Egypt, to the point that G‑d revealed Himself at Mount Sinai.

The point of drawing down from the highest and holiest into the lowest is to affect the power point and make a place where G‑d can dwell openly. This is the idea of bikkurim, to make working the land a holy endeavor by drawing down G‑dliness into the mundane work we do. And, of course, we will reap the fruits of our labor, turning our mundane efforts into the first and best for G‑d.

It is not enough to bring ourselves closer to G‑d through our study of Torah and the performance of mitzvahs. We must also draw G‑dliness down into the physical, mundane, daily activities that we do, until they become holy as well.7

Ultimately, we will reap the fruits of our labor, meriting the ultimate revelation, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.