Amalek's Antidote

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of bikurim, bringing meireishit kol pri/ bringing of the first fruits of the land to Hashem. Since this mitzvah comes on the heels of Amalek's attack of Bnei Yisroel with which the last Parshah ends, our Sages look for a connection between the two, especially since our Parshah begins with the word vehaya/and it shall be. Linguistically, Rabbi Munk points out that we are to bring the first fruit, and Amalek was later called the first among the nations. But this juxtaposition demands further analysis

We are told that Amalek represents the embodiment of the yetzer horo. From the beginning of our nationhood, Amalek tried to destroy us. And it continues to attack us at every beginning, the beginning of each day, of each month, of each year. Therefore, we infuse each beginning with sanctity, starting with our morning prayers. Offering the first fruits is a very concrete way of demonstrating our commitment to Hashem and our belief that everything comes from Hashem, writes Rabbi Kofman in Mishchat Hashemen quoting the Beis Yisrael.

Now that we no longer have the Beit Hamikdosh and cannot bring bikurim, how can we demonstrate this same commitment in fighting the yetzer horo? Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, citing the Sefas Emes, explains that this message of the bikurim, although performed only once a year, radiated throughout the year. Now we need constant reminders. Therefore, our Sages instituted prayer three times a day, especially in the morning, and we need to dedicate the beginning of each week, and especially Rosh Hashanah to coronate Hashem over us.

Hakol holech acharei hareishit, everything depends on how you begin. As Rabbi Reichman points out, if a racehorse stumble leaving the gate, it is highly unlikely he will win the race; if a building's foundation is not secure, the entire structure will collapse. The first fruit are the first physical signs of the farmer's harvest. By bringing these fruits to Yerushalayim, the farmer infused them with the spiritual, with the acknowledgment that it is Hashem Who blessed him with this produce, not his personal skill.

The nations of the world also understand this concept, notes Rabbi Meislish in Sichot Ba'avodat Hashem. That is why they instituted Sunday as their holy day. What they failed to remember is that the day does not begin at sunrise, but begins the night before ["And there was evening and there was day..." CKS]. That's why Jewish days and Jewish holidays begin in the evening and continue into the following day, ending the following night.

But we are not content with experiencing sanctity and then walking away from it. We want the sanctity of Shabbat to carry forward into the first day, and thus into the following week. Within that addition, we tap into the power of Yosef Hatzadik whose essence is the power to destroy Amalek, the descendant of Esau. As the Prophet Ovadiah writes, "Beis Yosef will be a flame and Beis Esau will by straw." [Interestingly, the name Yosef means "to add." While Rachel named him with the prayer of adding on an additional son, the name intrinsically means simply to add. By adding to Shabbat, we add his power. CKS]

All beginnings are difficult. That is why we must bolster our resolve whenever we begin something new. How can we strengthen ourselves at the beginning of each day so that it will progress on the right path? Citing Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Rabbi Meislish urges us to begin every action with a sense of sanctity, from how we recite our morning prayers, to the mundane act of eating. Take a moment to dedicate a thought or an action of the spiritual.

Be’er Hachayim takes this advice one step further. We should always feel that we are just beginning our journey, that our destination is still far off. Then he will keep infusing every step with a sense of sanctity. But this should not be depressing, for depression will lead us to feel that our effort is worthless, and we will not keep moving forward and upward. This is a tactic of the yetzer horo. While we will never reach perfection, we must still stop and acknowledge the value of what we have already accomplished. We bring these first fruits to show Hashem that we already acknowledge His control over our very livelihood. These first fruits of our labor are worthy of bringing to Hashem. But we may not stop here. We will continue by tithing all that we produce, by giving tzedakah, and observing all the other mitzvoth.

This is the two pronged tactic of the yetzer horo, as alluded to in the name Amalek, continues Rabbi Biderman. In gimatria/numeric equivalence, Amalek/עמלק equals 240, the same number as both רם/Ram/haughty, and ספק/safek/doubt. Either of these mindsets is destructive. If we become too proud of what we have accomplished, we sit back and do no more. Equally destructive is the fear that whatever I do is never enough, is unimportant, so why bother. The pride and the gratitude engendered by offering the bikurim to Hashem counteracts both these attacks.

The Chidushai HaRim explains that these two approaches are hinted at by the variant spelling of the verse in Tehillim 100: "He has made us and לו /לא we are His..." It is usually translated as "We are His/לו, but the way it is actually written is לא, we are not, we are nothing. By reading both variations backwards, we get אלול/Elul, this month when we must do the work to counter the efforts of Amalek.

When a farmer brings his first fruits to the Beit Hamikdosh, he is displaying humility. [I see humility as the balance between pride self-worthlessness. CKS] The sees the work of his hands as worthy of being a gift to Hashem while, at the same time, acknowledging that everything belongs to Hashem. This is the antidote to Amalek's arrogance.

Citing the Berditchiver Rebbe, Rabbi Roberts presents a novel interpretation of the words we recite shortly after the Mussaf Kedushah of the Yomim Noraim, באין מליץ יושר... This phrase is usually translated as "In the absence of an advocate..." What the Berditcher Rebbe said was that this sense of אין, of unworthiness, of one's inadequacies in the presence of Hashem, is his best advocate; it counters a sense of arrogance and complacency. We acknowledge that we deserve nothing and are grateful to Hashem for all He has given us.

Express that gratitude today and every day, writes Rabbi Goldwicht. Just as I am commanded to remember every day and be grateful that Hashem took me out of Egypt, just as I am commanded to remember the perfidy and arrogance of Amalek every day, so should I be grateful for the blessings He bestows on me every day, represented by these first fruits I offer Him.

Gratitude is such an important element of good character that we are urged to show gratitude even to inanimate objects, or even the remote cause of a blessing. That is why Yitro's daughters told their father that "an Egyptian man saved us." If it weren't for the Egyptian man that Moshe had killed, Moshe would not have fled to Midyan and been here to save us, explains Rabbi Scheinerman.

Why did Amalek attack when they did? Because, as Rashi points out, we were now questioning Hashem's presence within our midst, after all the miracles and kindnesses He had done for us. Now we bring the bikurim to counter that ingratitude, writes Rabbi Tzvi Kushelevsky. As we notice more and more of Hashem's kindnesses, it behooves us to commit ourselves more and more to His service. While our focus seems to be on the coming year, adds Rabbi Sternbach, we should also remember the past year with gratitude. Although we may still be struggling, we have progressed, and we should thank Hashem for helping me grow in so many aspects of my life, writes Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire. Only after we at least thank Hashem for past blessings should we attempt to approach Him and request a continuation of His blessings.

Hashem created the world so it would be filled with His glory. The first people who would take on this mission were the Avot, our Patriarchs. In essence, they were a merkavah/chariot and would be the vehicle that would carry Hashem's presence through the world. Generally, what is important is the destination, not the journey, writes Rabbi Rivlin. However, when the means of transportation are prestigious, the journey itself takes on special importance. [One need only observe the "chariots" used during the coronation of Charles and Camilla of England, who "arrived at Westminster Abbey in a splendid coach drawn by six horses, accompanied by the Household Cavalry." CKS] Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov represent the chariot carrying Hakodosh Boruch Hu to the destination of Bnei Yisroel where the full coronation will take place. But Amalek tried to divert the journey so that the destination would not be reached. They waylaid us on the road.

The world is a world of hester panim, of God's presence being hidden from us. But clarity is often achieved through contrast. As we declare all this month, "When I sit in darkness, Hashem provides my light." We are tasked with taking that light and providing it to the other nations.

Bnei Yisroel has now interacted with two of these nations that wanted to darken the world and snuff out this light. In Egypt, Pharaoh declared, "Who is Hashem? I do not see His name in any of the lists of gods. Therefore, I do not recognize Him." In contrast, Amalek believes there is a Creator. But that Creator is no longer involved in the world and has no control over it. Everything that happens is explained as coincidence. Amalek's battle with Bnei Yisroel therefore preceded matan Torah, for post Torah, the concept of reward and punishment from Above would mean that Hashem is actively involved in the world He created.

We counter this worldview with our faith. We see Hashem's hand in every aspect of life. From the major miracles we experience, we extrapolate that the small, everyday miracles are also from Hashem, not simply from nature. We bring these first fruits to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, writes Rabbi Hofestedtar in understanding that even the "natural" growth of fruit comes from Hashem through His tool of nature. This should be our constant mindset, even in every grape and pomegranate. Amalek tries to conceal God; our mission is to reveal God. We are His chariot.

When we present the bikurim to the kohain, we begin our presentation by speaking to the kohain about Yaakov Avinu and his escape from Lavan. In Birkat Mordechai, Rabbi Ezrachi asks about the relevance of this passage here. But Rabbi Ezrachi then explains that nothing is accidental. Hashem has planned everything and orchestrated the life of each of us according to His plan Hashem had already designed Yaakov's life so it would eventually lead his descendants to Egypt and then to redemption. Just as He had His eye on Yaakov then, so does He continue to have His eye on each of us. Each of us is a link in the chain, and is important in God's eye. The fruit we bring here bears witness to Hashem's providence over all, even over the produce we reap. This knowledge should fill us with joy, as we recognize all the good He does for us. Everything is a miracle, a result of his watching over each of us individually. Every fruit that grows is a result of His individual care.

True, Hashem judges us on Rosh Hashanah. But it is not a day of depression; it is a yom tov, a day of joy, for Hashem is waiting for us to return to Him, writes Rabbi Kluger. Hashem's arms are open, ready to embrace us [an embrace we experience two weeks later in the sukkah - CKS].It was with the joy of this day that the Prophet Ezra urged the Jews returning to the Land from exile to go to their homes, eat delicious food, and rejoice, rather than weep with trepidation. We may not be perfect, but Hashem has given us the gift of Rosh Hashanah to work on ourselves. Hashem loves me and cares about me. All I can do is work and try to live up to the potential He has invested in me. That is the work of Elul. Elul is the time to prepare ourselves to be the chariot carrying Hashem's light and blessings to the world, to remember the bikurim we hope to offer once again in the Beit Hamikdosh. May it be in the coming year, IY"H.