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Parashat Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo  Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last week’s parasha, Ki Tetzeh, ends with the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us when we left Egypt. This weeks parasha, Ki Tavo, begins with the mitzvah of bringing bicurim, the first fruits to the temple. The order of the Torah is very precise; therefore it is appropriate to explain the connection between remembering Amalek and the mitzvah of the first fruits. 

We should begin by understanding who Amalek is.  The first reference to Amalek in the Torah appears in Berashit (14, verse 7) in which a connection is made between Amalek and the word sadeh, which is used in an unusual context (in the war of the four kings against the five kings), and rendered in most English translations as “territory.”  The word sadeh, associated with Esav, the grandfather of Amalek, and meaning  field or open expanse stands out in this verse.  The Torah describes the character of Esav as “a man of the field.” The Torah makes a clear distinction between Jacob, who is a man of the hearth, and Esau, on the other hand, who is a man of the outdoors.  Ideally, there should be harmony between house, representing spiritual development and field, which represents physical existence.  Yitzchak’s idea of a perfect world is one in which Esav and Yakov can live in harmony.  Knowing Esav’s character, which is drawn to the outdoors, Yitzchak hoped that Esav would contribute positively to the good of society by assuming the role of provider, while Jacob pursued his interest in spreading spirituality in the world.  However, particularly after Eisav’s cavalier disregard of his birthright, Rifka foresees that Esav’s direction is toward’s destruction–Amalek would be among his offspring.  So, she has Yakov don the garments of Esav and receive the blessing of the field as well as the one orginally intended for him. 

Thus,Yakov must combine both the spiritual and the physical realms.  Indeed, the function of the Jewish people, Israel, (another name for Yakov), is to teach, through example, the nations of the world that it is possible to sanctify the physical realm (the field).    

The major obstacle in achieving this goal is Amalek. Instead of allowing the nations of the world to rectify themselves by following the light of the Jewish nation, he shouts, Follow me!   His philosophy is clearly outlined in Esav’s words, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what [use] then is the birthright to me(Genesis 25:32)?”  In other words, there’s nothing beyond this physical world and therefore it doesn’t pay to do anything for anyone else but yourself.   Esav can only think of the benefit of the birthright, not the responsibilities. This egotistic philosophy is the source of world corruption. The birthright represents responsibility, caring for others, and continuing the path laid down by our fathers.

In parashat Balak, Numbers, 24:20,  Balaam recites: “Amalek was first among the nations, but in the end it will be destroyed.”  The “first among nations” is the same expression that is used for the Jewish nation. (In Jeremiah 2:3 Israel is “G-d’s hallowed portion, His first-fruits…”)  Amalek is called first of nations because he wants to lead the world in the opposite direction of the goals of the Jewish people. It is interesting that the mother of Amalek is Timna – meaning to prevent, and his father is Elifaz, meaning, my strength is in gold.  By putting his strength in idols of gold  he wants to prevent the Divine light from shining.  By trying to prevent Am Yisrael from reaching Eretz Yisrael, he hopes to discredit the philosophy that the spiritual and physical realms can be combined. 

It is not a coincidence that this week’s Parashat Tavo comes right after the portion of Amalek.  Ki Tavo opens with the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits of the field to the Temple, demonstrating that rather than use the first produce for our own personal benefit, we consecrate it for the use of the priests in the Temple. 

Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith Itamar

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