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Ki Tavo

"My father was a wandering Aramean" Deuteronomy 26:5

    Moses describes a ceremony when the people, settled in their land, would bring an offering of their first fruits to the priest. As part of this ritual, they are to proclaim their arrival in this land which God had sworn to their forefathers, and then recite the verse, which begins above.

    This section of the Torah forms a key part of the Haggadah - clearly a pivotal self-defining moment. But, bizarrely, there is some confusion and debate as who this wandering Aramean is supposed to be.

    Three possible candidates are offered by the rabbis: Abraham, Jacob or Laban, all casting contradictory interpretations.

    Laban, Jacob's devious dishonest father-in-law, is described in the Torah as an Aramean. But he is also the villain of the piece: would we really be proudly describing ourselves as Laban's descendants? Only if we wanted to show how far we have come.

    There can be an alternative reading: rather than Arami oved avi , it could be read as Arami ibed avi, meaning "an Aramean destroyed my father". "My father" would mean Jacob, and this would be understood as a statement of our triumph, having overcome intense adversity. Although Laban did not actually destroy Jacob, the Maharal of Prague offers a warning: Laban was always trying to destroy Jacob and even today the forces that he represents are still seeking our destruction.

    But the plain meaning of the text could mean Abraham or Jacob.

    If we choose Abraham, it can be explained by the Abrahamic family tracing their roots to Aram because they did not identify as Canaanites. So this would be a statement of our shared ancestry, an emphasis on the "wandering" nature of our journey.

    However, more literally, it was Jacob who was once destitute in Aram and went to Egypt to become a nation.

    Our beginnings were humble, our journey long, hazardous, fraught. Everyone must say this declaration in the singular, "my father" - merging the personal with the collective, from shame to praise - echoing the narrative of the Haggadah. Our father was indeed an Aramean, no matter how it is sliced.

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