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  • Stephen HRM

The Wandering Aramean, History and Returning to Eden

Deuteronomy 26: 5-10 recounts a liturgy that the Torah requires one to declare when delivering the first of his crop during the Festival of First Fruits. The declaration goes;

My ancestor was a wandering Aramean. He went down into Egypt and lived there as a stranger, with just a handful of souls, and there be he became a nation – large, mighty, and great. The Egyptians dealt cruelly with us and oppressed us, subjecting us to harsh labour. We cried out to the Lord, God of our ancestors. And the Lord heard our voice and He saw our oppression, our toil, and our enslavement. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and His arm stretched forth, with terrifying power, with signs and with wonders. He brought us into this place and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now I am bringing the first-fruit of the land that You, O Lord, have given me.

It is in many ways the perfect prayer to remind one that the wealth we enjoy all belongs to God. Yet, interestingly, despite this prayer being commanded at a time when one would expect God’s sovereignty over nature would be the focus, this declaration which recounts God’s involvement in bringing Israel out of Egypt is a reminder that God is also, and more importantly, a God of history. Because of this, the wandering Aramean has been a central part of the Haggadah from at least the Second Temple Period.

For both first-fruits and Passover then, the act of remembering Israel’s past plays a pivotal role in the fulfilment of these festivals, just as it does in the justification for many other laws outlined in the Torah. This was, and remains, a remarkable aspect about the God of Israel. Yosef Hayim Yerushalami made the following observation on this matter in his book on this topic. He said, “Jews were the first people to see God in history, the first to see an overarching meaning in history, and the first to make memory a religious duty”. It is for this reason, I would suggest, that Jewish identity has not only survived but also thrived despite its disconnection from the land and despite enduring perpetual persecution. For the Jew, and for believers, the act of remembering is more than just casting one’s mind back to past events and giving thanks for generations now gone, but it is the means through which we remind ourselves of the role God intends us to play, just as Moses commanded Israel then, and continues to command us now. It is for this reason why the rituals and traditions that have animated these memories have been so integral to the faith and the will of God despite the revulsion they have attracted by members of our movement.

More than though than just a liturgy that engages one in the religious obligation to remember history, there exists beneath the surface of this text a deeper meaning that draws the believer back to the beginning of history. Prior to the liturgy of the wandering Aramean, God commands the farmer to take his first fruits to the “place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there”. We know this place now as Jerusalem, and more specifically, the Holy Temple. As we also know, the Holy Temple has often been connected to the Garden of Eden, and one such way has been through the association of both with the mountain of God.

Ezekial 28:13-14 makes this connection for us.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;

Every precious stone was your covering,

Sardius, topaz, and diamond,

Beryl, onyx, and jasper,

Sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;

And crafted in gold were your settings

And your engravings.

On the day that you were created

They were prepared.

You were an anointed guardian cherub.

I placed you, you were on the holy mountain of God;

In the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Our wandering Aramean hints at the journey not only to the Holy Temple, but a journey back to Eden to return to God the fruit that was taken by Eve who, with Adam, was then cast out from Eden. The declaration God commands draws us back to Eden as our words declaring all things belong to God pierces the silence that was Adam’s response as Eve partook of the fruit.


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