At the beginning of the portion, Moses describes a declaration to be made in conjunction with the first fruits. It is, for a change in Devarim/Deuteronomy, not accompanied by commentary from Moses about the people’s lack of understanding and gratitude, despite long experience of God’s power and bounty. Instead, it is assumed that the people will be appropriately awed and grateful following the harvest.
At the end of the portion, however — as the congregation stands in the desert outside the land — Moses takes up the familiar theme of how little the people understand, regardless of what they’ve witnessed* in terms of “signs and wonders.”
The portion opens with the first fruits declaration:
You shall then recite as follows before your God YHVH: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. [Arami oved avi] He went down to Egypt…YHVH freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand and an outstetched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. Bringing us [va-y’vieinu] to this place and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring [v’atah hinei heveiti] the first fruits of the soil which You, YHVH, have given me.” (JPS, Plaut/Stein)
You shall call out and say, before HASHEM, you God, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt….HASHEM took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, and with signs and wonders. He brought us [va-y’vieinu] to this place, and He gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold! I have brought [v’atah hinei heveiti] the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, O HASHEM!” (Stone)
— Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:5-10 (Plaut/Stein)
At the end of this portion, Moses summons Israel and tells them:
“You have seen all that YHVH did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt….Yet to this day [ad ha-yom ha-zeh] YHVH has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (JPS, Plaut/Stein)
“You have seen everything that HASHEM did before your eyes in the land of Egypt….But HASHEM did not give you a heart to know or eyes to see or ears to hear until this day [ad ha-yom ha-zeh].” (Stone)
What Happens When?
In the JPS translation of the declaration, God “is bringing” the people to the land, and the individual declares, “I now bring” first fruits. In the Stone translation, God “brought” the people to the land, and the individual “brought” first fruits. “And now, behold!” at the start of the verse, however, seems to indicate a sort of immediate past tense.
Whether read as “Here I am on your doorstep, with the first fruits I brought,” ala Stone, or as “I now bring the first fruits to your doorstep,” ala JPS, the declared experience seems to be immediate.
Does experiencing arrival and harvest in the land accomplish what 40 years in the desert did not? Or does understanding come in the desert, as the goal approaches?
It is not entirely clear — to me, anyway — whether the people are given eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart/mind to understand on that day, as Moses is speaking to them in the desert, or whether understanding comes only once inside the land, after the harvest.
JPS says the people do not recognize all that God did for them, “yet to this day,” which sounds like an on-going failure to understand — even as we read it today. Stone suggests, on the other hand, that the failure ended or is coming to an end, lasting “until this day” — perhaps coming to us, as we read it today.
The Plaut/Stein commentary notes that the Israelites had been unable to understand events — even those directly experienced* — “until they now prepare to enter the land, the culmination of and reason for all they have been through.” Stone expresses a similar concept:
Only now, after forty years of miraculous survival and the beginning of a conquest that was clearly accomplished by God, could the people fully appreciate the awesome degree of gratitude and allegiance they owed Him. As the sages say (Avodah Zarah 5b), a student does not fully understand his teacher until after forty years.
* Of course, the people are told here and throughout Deuteronomy/Devarim that they experienced the Exodus and years in the desert, etc. We know, however, that the generation that experienced slavery and years in the desert has died out. So the people alive as Moses speaks are being told — not unlike us — that they “experienced” something they know only through the telling.
Citations available in Source Materials.