Many commentators sense a significance to the placement of the bikkurim declaration, at the beginning of this week’s pasha, right after the injunction to destroy Amalek. Perhaps the most creative suggestion is that of Malbim, who reminds us that Amalek is a descendant of Esav and thus remains in conflict with Ya’akov due to the latter’s taking Esav’s firstborn status away from him. Malbim points out that the command that follows the one to destroy Amalek hints to its being the source of Amalek’s hate for Israel, as the word for firstborn privileges, bechora, is both conceptually and linguistically related to bikkurim, the word for firstfruits.
But from all the explanations, it is Abarbanel’s that strikes us as the closest. The great Spanish commentator and statesman writes how the Jews’ difficult war with Amalek contrasts with the main historical experience of Divine salvation, recounted in the bikkurim declaration. He goes on to say that the rabbinic authorities who determined how to divide up the weekly Torah readings separated these two laws specifically to distinguish between “the light and the darkness.”
In his distinguishing between two fundamental historical experiences, we can see the Torah trying to present some sort of cumulative summary. There is likewise room to see that after being given these commandments, the Jews must also take the essence of their mission with them as well. Similar to the contrast between the light and darkness of the historical experience, one could divide their mission in a way that could be summarized as sur me’ra va’aseh tov (turn away from evil and do good).
One might be tempted to dismiss this one-line summary of how to relate to good and evil as overly obvious. But as with many other things we have seen so far, the genius may to be found more in the delivery than in the content. For just to read about good and evil is far from enough – mere words, no matter how strong or profound, rarely motivate people. Instead, this most important charge must be couched in a story in order to make it resonate with each individual Jew: The injunction to blot out Amalek is telling the Jews to destroy evil, while remembering the bitterness they experienced so harshly via the barbaric assault on their stragglers by their nemesis. The Israelites likely perceived that fierce and wanton attack as the epitome of evil, the roots of which they would viscerally want to destroy. Through this, the basic concept of eradicating evil would be forever cemented within the Jewish national consciousness.
And as per our adaptation of Abarbanel, the second part of the Jewish mission is to do good. Here too, it would not be enough to simply say, “Do good.” There would need to be some sort of model of the good with which the Jews were tremendously impressed – so much so that they would want to emulate it. They did not have far to look. God had taken the small family of Ya’akov with which the Jews began, nurtured it and favored it against overwhelming odds, and ultimately gave it a land full of unsurpassed bounty. As with the immediate repulsion that the Jews would feel when remembering the actions of Amalek, likewise would they immediately and overwhelmingly feel a sense of gratitude when remembering all the kindnesses shown them by God.
Just as the commandment to wipe out Amalek is actually a stand-in for all the commandments of “turn away from evil,” so too, the firstfruits are meant to represent all commandments that could be summarized by the phrase, “Do good.” But the “doing good” symbolized by the firstfruits is not the last commandment – which it might very well have been, if it were the end of the Jewish mission. However, the last commandment of this section, the declaration concerning tithes, takes the idea of the firstfruits one step further. It tells us that the feeling engendered by bringing one’s firstfruits is not meant to only end there, but rather – and this is what the commandment of tithes is all about – to give to others, and spread good further. Jews are taught not just to admire, but to also imitate the God Who had been so munificent toward them. In these specific circumstances it would mean giving tithes fully and ungrudgingly, but in the larger picture it should be taken as the charge to act with kindness and generosity in all circumstances.