“[Then] expound from ‘an Aramenian destroyed my father’ until the entire section is finished.” The Mishnah in P’seachim (116a) tells us that, at the Seder, relating the story of our exodus from Egypt should be based on the way it is stated by a farmer bringing his first fruits (“Bikurim”) to the Temple (D’varim 26:5-8). One of the questions discussed regarding the structure of the Haggadah (and suggested to me by Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz, sh’lita, when I asked him what question(s) he may have on the Haggadah) is why the Haggadah uses the verses from Bikurim, rather than using the actual narrative of the Torah (in Sh’mos). This topic is covered in the “Otzer M’forshay HaHaggadah,” as well as in the back of “The Mesivta” on Pesachim; what follows does not necessarily mirror the approaches quoted there, although there is some overlap.
My first thought was that we are commanded “v’higad’ta l’vin’cha” (Sh‘mos 13:8), “and you should relate it to your son,” and the statement made by the farmer also starts with him saying “higad’ti hayom” (D’varim 26:3), “I have related today,” so when our sages, of blessed memory, put together the text used as a starting point to “relate,” or “tell over” (be “magid”) the story, i.e. the “Haggadah,” they chose a relevant text that is also described as a “haggadah.” (Rabbi Dovid Cohen, sh’lita, in “Haggadas Simchas Yaavitz,” makes a similar suggestion; baruch she’kivanti.) Along the same lines, the Or Samayach (on Rambam’s Hilchos Chametz/Matzoh 7:4) suggests that since the Talmud (Pesachim 36a) says that matzoh is referred to as “lechem oni” (D’varim 16:3) because we speak out (“onin”) many things (regarding the exodus) over it, and the instructions for the farmer to continue his “haggadah” (26:5) are “v’anisa v’amarta” (and you shall speak out and say), these are the verses chosen to be “spoken out” over the matzoh. Nevertheless, unless it was determined that these verses are the optimum way of “relating” and “speaking out” how G-d took us out of Egypt, the text of the Haggadah would not have been compromised just to accommodate cute wordplay.
Shibolay Haleket (218) says that the story of our exodus begins with Yaakov being saved from Lavan because his exile in Aram was also part of the decree made and relayed to Avraham regarding his descendants being “strangers in a land that is not theirs” (B’reishis 15:13), and G-d saving him from Lavan was also part of the promise made to Avraham. Others (e.g. Vilna Gaon) take it a step further, showing how Yaakov’s exile in Aram and being saved from Lavan parallels the exile in Egypt and exodus from it. Yaakov left Aram with many possessions (B‘reishis 30:43, 31:1, 31:18), as did the Children of Israel when they left Egypt (Sh‘mos 12:36, 12:38), fulfilling G-d’s promise of “and after that they will leave with [a] great [amount of] possessions” (B‘reishis 15:14). Lavan had significant monetary loss through Yaakov’s sticks (B‘reishis 30:37-43), and the Egyptians were smitten via Moshe’s staff (Sh‘mos 4:20, etc.). Yaakov ran away from Lavan (B‘reishis 31:20-22), and the Children of Israel were perceived to have run away from Egypt (Sh‘mos 14:5). Lavan caught up to Yaakov on the seventh day (B‘reishis 31:23), and the Egyptians caught up with the Children of Israel on the seventh day (see Rashi on Sh‘mos 14:5). [According to some, the night that G-d appeared to Lavan and warned him not to harm Yaakov, which is how/when Yaakov was saved, occurred on the night of Pesach.] It has even been suggested that when Yaakov wanted to “live in peace” after returning from Aram (see B’reishis Rabbah 84:3), he thought (or was hoping) that his stay in Aram and successful departure qualified as having fulfilled the mandated exile (see Torah Sh’laima, B’reishis 37:1). Since Yaakov’s experiences in Aram and his “exodus” from there were also part of the fulfillment of the same decree/promise as our exodus from Egypt, we use the verses from Bikurim, which reference this aspect as well.
Piskay Rid (P’sachim 116a) mentions how our retelling the story of our exodus must be done in a manner that praises G-d and thanks Him (see also Abarbanel’s “Zevach Pesach”); the verses read when bringing Bikurim are more conducive to being stated in this manner than reading the narrative dedcribing how it unfolded. Some compare the matzoh on our table to Bikurim, making reading these verses appropriate. Rav Yitzchok Hutner, z”l, is quoted as having compared Bikurim — the first fruits — to the b’chorah — the firstborn, which played a major role in the Passover story, as evidenced by the tenth plague (etc.). Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, sh’lita, in his Shabbos HaGadol d’rasha at the Young Israel of Passaic/Clifton last week, suggested that the reason we use the verses from Bikurim is because the farmer is not just retelling our history, but becoming part of it by moving it forward, acknowledging that his produce comes from G-d and all that G-d has done for us, thereby contributing towards fulfilling our ultimate destiny. Similarly, our Seder is not supposed to be just a retelling of our history, nor just a reliving of our history, but an opportunity to become a part of our continuing history and move things closer to our ultimate redemption.
Our retelling of the exodus story does not end with the Haggadah, or at least it’s not supposed to. Rather, the Haggadah is meant to be the starting point; “the more one speaks about our exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy it is.” Its text is designed to spur further conversation and discovery, not limit it. When our sages standardized the text, they didn’t choose just the verses from Bikurim to be the way the story was told; these verses were part of a larger “d’rasha” that also included the verses from the narrative in Sh’mos. It was this entire “d’rasha,” including the verses which are alluded to in the Bikurim verses, that was chosen. Whether the exact same “d’rasha” from the Sifre (or another Midrashic source) was “copied and pasted” into the text of the Haggadah, or there was an already existing “d’rasha” that was incorporated into the Haggadah and, independently, into other Midrashic literature, it was the “d’rasha” in its entirety that was chosen, not just the verses that were expounded upon.
This “d’rasha” not only stands on its own as a valid way to tell over the exodus story, but it also provides an example of how to further expound on existing verses to increase the story-telling. And even though we should try to expand things even further than that, when it came to choosing a text as a starting point, a “d’rasha” that incorporates the narrative verses from Sh’mos when expounding upon the verses said when Bikurim are brought was a terrific choice.
After I sent the above out via email, one of the recipients responded that he had heard we use the verses from Bikurim because they are stated in first person, relating what happened to “us,” as opposed to the narrative in Sh’mos, which describes what happened from the perspective of the Narrator. Since we are supposed to consider it as if we ourselves came out of Egypt, using the verses that speak from our perspective would be more efficient. (He subsequently told me it is in Rav Mirsky’s Haggadah, “Hegyonei Halachah.”) Although I think this is a great answer, it is undermined by the fact that these verses are introduced to prove that Lavan was even worse than Pharaoh, “as it says,” followed by the Bikurim verses. Since we are quoting what the farmer says as a proof-text that shows that Lavan tried to destroy Yaakov, it no longer retains its first-person status. Therefore, despite its value as a first-person account, its inclusion in the Haggadah is more likely because of the “d’rasha” that is based on it.