Thursday, September 7, 2017

Parshat Ki Tavo “Reshit- Beginning”

Parshat Ki Tavo 
“Reshit- Beginning”

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of bringing first fruits to a centralized place of worship – later known as the Temple in Jerusalem. 

And it shall be when you come into the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it. That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there. (26:1,2)

The Taking of the first fruits and dedicating them to God is understood. The beginning of any venture has uniqueness, a special quality. The Torah mandates, that the first fruits be brought to Jerusalem where they will serve as an impetus for religious expression and experience, where thanks to God, may be expressed. The term used for the first fruits is “Reshit,[1] the term is similar to the word Bereishit – In the beginning – or genesis. 

Rashi commenting on the first verse in the Torah tells us that the Torah is itself is Reshit as are the people of Israel.[2] All of these items have uniqueness to them and are therefore linked. There is however, something else that is called “Reshit” and this application is somewhat disturbing. 

And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his discourse, and said, Amalek was the first (Reshit) of the nations, but his latter end shall be that of everlasting perdition. Bamidbar 24:20

How can Amalek the very antithesis of Torah and Israel, deserve the same appellation? While the essence of the connection requires additional analysis, the use of the term “Reshit” for Amalek sheds light on the sequence of teachings and provides the link from the end of last week’s Parsha and the beginning of this week’s Parsha. This observation that Amalek too is called Reshit links two sections of the Torah which seemed thematically independent.

Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt. How he met you by the way and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it. (25:17-19)

And it shall be when you come into the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it. That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there. (26:1,2)

The juxtaposition of teachings leads us to conclude that there must be a deeper relationship between the first fruits and Amalek the “first nation”. Rashi in his comments to last week’s Parsha gives three explanations to the insidiousness of Amalek. The Torah said, “How he met you by the way” “asher korcha”. Rashi explains korcha should be translated as “happened upon you”, indicating coincidence. One characteristic of Amalek is their worldview of existence without God; therefore all of life is coincidence.

When the Jews in the desert questioned God’s involvement in their lives – meaning that they questioned God’s existence they mirrored Amalek’s worldview and therefore became susceptible to the onslaught by Amalek.

And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the people of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not? Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. (Shmot 17:7,8)

The second explanation of Rashi is from the word “keri” which can also mean a “happening” but in this usage, the indication is a nocturnal emission. Indicating that it is Amalek which pollutes the world, and is the source of unnatural illegitimate pleasure.

The third explanation of Rashi is directly related to the idea of “Reshit”. After the exodus all nations were afraid of Israel, word of the plagues and the splitting of the sea spread and the other nations were in awe. Only Amalek was not afraid. The people of Israel were compared to a boiling cauldron, and Amalek jumped in to cool them off. Therefore according to this explanation, the word “KoRcha “comes from the word “Kar” – or cold. They cooled off the children of Israel by being the first to wage battle. In the words of the Zohar:

R. Yehuda said: ‘It is written, “Amalek is the first of the nations,  but his latter end shall be that he perish forever” (Num. XXIV, 20). Was, then, Amalek the first of the nations? Were there not many tribes, nations, and peoples in the world before Amalek came? But the meaning is that Amalek was the first nation who feared not to proclaim war against Israel, as it says, “and he feared not God” (Deut. 24:18); whilst the other nations were filled with fear and trembling before Israel at the time of the Exodus, as it says: “The peoples heard and were afraid; trembling took hold of the inhabitants of Pelesheth” (Ex. 15:14); in fact, apart from Amalek there was no nation that was not awestruck before the mighty works of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore “his latter end shall be that he perish for ever”.’  (Zohar, Shmot 65a)

We know of two non-Jews who hear of the Exodus Yitro and Amalek, however, the response of these two stand in stark contrast to one another. Yitro too heard of the amazing happenings and of the terrible punishment decreed for Amalek, made his way to Hebrew encampment. While Amalek desired to squelch any holiness in the world, Yitro wished to join the celebration. The Midrash explains the juxtaposition of the end of Bishalach and the beginning of Yitro:

For he said, Because the Lord has sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Shmot17:16) When Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. (Shmot18:1)

Amalek and Yitro were of the advisers of Pharaoh; but when Yitro beheld that God had wiped out Amalek both from this world and the next, he felt remorse and repented, for first it says, For I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (Ex. XVII, 14), and then NOW JETHRO... HEARD. Said he: ’The only thing for me to do is to join the God of Israel.’ (Midrash Rabbah - Exodus 27:6)
Significantly, the portion of Yitro contains the revelation – the giving of the Torah. The First fruits were brought to Jerusalem on the holiday of Shavuot – the day of the giving of the Torah. While the Torah and Israel represent one type of “Reshit” Amalek represents the antitheses, a completely different type of beginning. The Torah and Israel are a manifestation of God’s will - holiness on earth. Amalek represents the opposite, the rejection of God, a world view of coincidence, a pact with impurity and a desire to attack all that is holy.

Rashi (25:18) cites a tradition taught in the Midrash Tanchuma that when Amalek enjoyed a modicum of success they immediately severed the male sexual organ from their victims and threw them heavenward. The very idea of a covenant with God was foreign to them. The idea of holiness and chastity grated against them and caused this atrocious response. 

The battle against Amalek is both a physical and spiritual struggle. The Bikkurim – the first fruits - have a quality to them which allow the defeat of amalakian philosophy. The individual who sees his produce as the work of God, and gives proper thanks, rejects the worldview of coincidence. 

Immediately following the first fruit declaration the Torah continues:

This day the Lord your God has commanded you to do these statutes and judgments; you shall therefore keep and do them with all your heart, and with all your soul. (26:16)

Rashi explains the significance of the term “This day” in this context.

Every day should be new for you, as if on that day you were commanded [given the Torah]. (Rashi 26:16)

The ability of man to see himself in close proximity to God is the antidote to Amalek. If a person were able to visualize the revelation taking place each and every day, adherence to the word of God would be infinitely easier.[3]

Amalek despite a well-earned reputation was not the first instigator against God. That distinction belongs to the original serpent in Eden.[4] The serpent too tried to lead man toward an existence without God. The delusion which he tried to infect man with was the thought that man can be like God, and need not heed the word of God. Rav Nachman of Breslov[5] added that wanton desire originates with Eve seeing the tree as being desirable. This is the same role which Amalek later fills. The serpent and Amalek are one. Each leads a rebellion against God, and is responsible for the spread of evil and the rejection of God.

It is quite significant that the sin in Eden consisted of eating the “first fruit”, therefore the Mitzvah of Bikkurim may be seen as an antidote of this sin.

In the aftermath of man’s expulsion from the Garden, man will now have to work by the sweat of his brow. Now despite the initial victory by the serpent and the perceived distance from God, man is called upon to find God through his labor.

Later on in history there lived two brothers, one was a man of the field, while the other remained in the tents. The realms seemed separate, the secular, and the Divine. Yaakov remained engaged in spiritual pursuits while his brother Esav was involved in the mundane. However, in this post-Eden world it was decreed that Yaakov become a man of the field as well. His task was to merge the spiritual and the secular. To take the mundane and elevate it into a spiritual context.

The descendent of Esav – Amalek continues his was against the spiritual. While the descendent of Yaakov, Israel attempt to merge the two worlds.

Now we may appreciate the mitzvah of Bikkurim – the first fruits, Israel enters the land, so close to fulfilling their destiny. The most crucial of questions emerge; will they follow the legacy of the serpent- of Amalek. Will they see the fruits of their labor independent of God? Or will they bring the fruits to Jerusalem part and parcel of their religious experience?

Understanding of this issue will shed light on another issue articulated in the Parasha. Later on the Parasha tells of the terrible calamities which will befall the people should they deviate from the word of God. The specific explanation offered by the Torah is:

Because you served not the Lord your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things (28:47)

The terms for “abundance” and “all” are Rov and Kol respectively. These same terms are found in a fascinating discussion between Yaakov, and Esav. After becoming a man of the field Yaakov returns to Israel. He meets up with his estranged brother. Yaakov offers gifts to Esav – who declines saying that he has “Rov” an abundance. Yaakov for his part insists that he has everything “Kol”. 

And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep what you have to yourself. And Jacob said, No, I beg you, if now I have found grace in your sight, then receive my present from my hand; for therefore I have seen your face, as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Take, I beg you, my blessing that is brought to you; because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything. And he urged him, and he took it. (Bereishit 33:9-11)

Rashi points out the difference in speech while Yaakov says that he has everything that he can imagine. Esav says merely that he has enough – indicating that he is well aware that there is more and he would like to possess it one day.

The Torah is telling us that when we fail to appreciate the gifts which God gives us, and instead we become fixated on acquiring more and more, we become like Esav. Ya’akov focuses on what he has and is satisfied. Esav focuses on what he does not have and is never satisfied. This is how Esav produces Amalek who represents misanthropy. When Israel becomes like Amalek then the stay in Israel will come to an end. 

Now we understand the significance of being satisfied with the Bikkurim the sanctification of the first fruits. Even though this is still the beginning of the season and hopefully more produce will follow. Even the first fruits should produce joy in the heart of the Jew. Realizing that all the bounty which we have comes from G-d. 

As we saw this took place on the holiday of Shavuot the day of the giving of the Torah. For our parts we need to view each day as if the Torah is new, fresh, given that day. This type of consciousness is the opposite of the worldview of the serpent and Amalek.

This was the trait of our forefathers. The Talmud connects the trait of “kol” with the taste of another world:

Our Rabbis taught: There were three to whom the Holy One, blessed be He, gave a foretaste of the future world while they were still in this world, to wit, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Avraham [we know] because it is written of him, [The Lord blessed Avraham] in all, Avraham, because it is written, [And I ate] of all; Yaakov, because it is written, [For I have] all. Three there were over whom the evil inclination had no dominion, to wit Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, [as we know] because it is written in connection with them, in all, of all, all. (Bava Batra 17a)

Because Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov saw themselves as privileged, as possessing all good, they had defeated the evil inclination, that wicked serpent had no power over them. They were able to taste the future world.

As the children of Israel prepare for their entrance to Land of Israel, they are given a strategy which will allow the stay to be enduring and meaningful. God provided the tools needed to create a society with a God consciousness. A society which will have tents of study and fields of labor. But no schism will exist between the two. God will be found in the fields marketplaces and study-halls. Every day revelation would be experienced. Holiness will permeate the streets and fields. This is what eradication of Amalek is all about. This is the goal of the Mitzva of the first fruits.

© 1999 Rabbi Ari Kahn, All Rights Reserved

[1] This term was used in the same context previously in Sh’mot 23:19.
[2] Midrash Rabbah Bereishit 1:1- IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED (I,1), BEGINNING (Reshit) referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the beginning of His way (Prov. VIII, 22)

[3] See Sfat Emet Ki Tavo 1879
[4] Rav Zadok in Rissisay Layala section 31 says that Amalek is the source for all evil manifested in this world.
[5] Likutie Maharan tannina 8:1
ליקוטי מוהר"ן מהדורא תנינא סימן ח אות א 
וְזֶה בְּחִינַת: וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ – מַה שְּׁמוּעָה שָׁמַע וּבָא, קְרִיעַת יַם־סוּף וּמִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵק (זבחים קטז). כִּי עֲמָלֵק טִמֵּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּפְגַם תַּאֲוַת נִאוּף, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב (דברים כה): אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּחִינַת מִקְרֵה־לַיְלָה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, שֶׁבָּא עַל־יְדֵי בְּחִינַת עֲמָלֵק. כִּי עֲמָלֵק יוֹנֵק מִבְּחִינַת הַדַּעַת, בִּבְחִינַת (במדבר כד): רֵאשִׁית גּוֹיִם עֲמָלֵק, שֶׁזֶּה בְּחִינַת: וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם כַּנַּ"ל, שֶׁעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה בָּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, טֻמְאַת הַתַּאֲוָה הַזֹּאת כַּנַּ"ל, וְזֶה בְּחִינַת מִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵק. וְהַתִּקּוּן לָזֶה הוּא בְּחִינַת קְרִיעַת יַם־סוּף, בְּחִינַת: אַתָּה פוֹרַרְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ יָם, שִׁבַּרְתָּ רָאשֵׁי תַנִּינִים עַל הַמָּיִם. הַיְנוּ בְּחִינַת מַטֵּה עֹז הַנַּ"ל, שֶׁעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה מוֹצִיאִין מִמֶּנּוּ מֵימֵי הַדַּעַת, שֶׁבָּלַע מִן הַקְּדֻשָּׁה כַּנַּ"ל. וְעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה: וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ, הַיְנוּ בְּחִינַת גֵּרִים, כִּי עַל־יְדֵי מַטֵּה עֹז הַנַּ"ל, שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת קְרִיעַת יַם־סוּף, בְּחִינַת אַתָּה פוֹרַרְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ יָם וְכוּ', שֶׁהוּא מְתַקֵּן וּמַכְנִיעַ מִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵק כַּנַּ"ל, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה נַעֲשִׂין גֵּרִים, בְּחִינַת וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ. כִּי מוֹצִיאִין מִמֶּנּוּ גַּם עַצְמוּת חִיּוּתוֹ שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת גֵּרִים כַּנַּ"ל:

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