Between Ki Tetze and Ki Tavo
Parashat Ki Tetze ends with the mitzva to eradicate Amalek, and presents it as dependent on the completion of all the wars of conquest:
“Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you peace from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Devarim 25:19)
The following verse, which opens Parashat Ki Tavo, introduces the laws of the first fruit offering, and it too is tied to the conquest of the land:
“When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it…” (Devarim 26:1)
Is there a connection between these two laws?
Ibn Ezra on Devarim 26:1 connects the two, suggesting that in Ki Tavo, the Torah gives the commandments (first fruits, tithes, etc) that should be performed “before God gives us peace”, i.e., immediately after we enter the land.
His answer leaves us with further questions. First of all, why wouldn’t the Torah provide the mitzvot in chronological order – first the laws upon entering the land, and then the mitzva of eradicating Amalek? And secondly, quoting Kiddushin 37b, Rashi on Devarim 26:1 notes that the offering of the first fruits is dependent on the complete conquest of the land. So Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of the connection between the eradication of Amalek and the bringing of the first fruits is difficult.
I would like to present a different explanation.
Amalek is the grandson of Esav, Yaakov’s brother. Just as Yaakov needed to face Esav when returning to the land, so too would Israel, his namesake nation, need to confront Amalek upon their entrance to the Land of Canaan.
Yaakov’s relationship with Esav was complicated, and even ambiguous. At times Esav was presented as Yaakov’s enemy, set on killing him in revenge. At other times, Esav is depicted as interested in reconciliation, displaying brotherly love. Israel is instructed to relate to both of these aspects of Esav. If it is the Amalek aspect, the intractable enemy, we must eliminate them. But when it comes to Esav the brother, we are commanded earlier in Ki Tetze, “Do not despise the Edomite, since he is your brother.” (Devarim 23:8)
Only after the confrontation with Esav has been completed, does the Torah continue to instruct us in the laws dependent on entering the land. In a way, this is the reverse process of Yaakov’s escape from the land, when he fled Esav and left for Haran. Before he left, his father Yitzchak blessed him with “the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.” (Bereshit 27:28). Now upon Israel’s return, they are to thank God for the first fruits. They must declare that their father was a “fugitive Aramean” (Devarim 26:5), but now God brought them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Devarim 26:9).
Immediately following the offering of the first fruits are the laws of tithes. Here too, the Torah returns to Yaakov. When he fled the land, and awoke from his famous dream of the ladder, Yaakov promised God that if he would return to the land, “all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You” (Bereshit 28:22). The Torah never tells us that Yaakov fulfilled his pledge. It therefore fell upon his descendants, the nation of Israel, to dedicate a tithe “to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” (Devarim 26:12). And just as Yaakov perceived the angels of God in heaven, the nation would pray to God: “Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.” (Devarim 26:15)
Yaakov’s journey was a tumultuous one. He fled his parents home, fearful of his brother’s revenge, and did not even merit to die in the land, like his fathers. But his descendants, the nation that bears his name, would accomplish all that he had not in his life.