Shabbat Zachor: Right Action, Right Time
Anytime in Jewish history when anyone - even a king or a great righteous individual - placed their own logic above Divine directives, tragedy struck...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Every year, we conclude the morning Torah reading on the Shabbat before Purim with Maftir Zchor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), which tells us to wipe out the memory of Amalek, and never forget. Thanks to Shabbat Zchor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance" - we fulfill the mitzva of remembering Amalek at least once a year, but that's not really sufficient. The Torah commands us to wipe out the memory of Amalek constantly, every day and every hour. How do we do that?
We find our answer hidden in the haftarah, the Prophetic reading of Shabbat Zchor. Samuel the Prophet says to King Saul, "Now that you have been anointed as King of Israel, heed Hashem's words: go strike Amalek and destroy everything he has – man, woman, child, cattle, donkeys, camels – everything! Have no pity and leave nothing alive" (see Samuel I, Chapter 15).
King Saul and his soldiers destroyed the Amalekites, but they had pity on two things: Agag the Amalekite king and the prize Amalekite cattle and sheep. Early the next morning, Hashem revealed to Samuel the Prophet that King Saul failed to do His will.
Samuel arose early the next morning to confront King Saul about the latter's breach in implementing Hashem's commands. Saul went to greet the great prophet at the entrance to the Israelite encampment: "Samuel came to Saul. Saul said to him, "Blessed are you to Hashem; I have fulfilled the word of Hashem" (Samuel I, 15:13).
How could King Saul say that he fulfilled the word of Hashem, especially with the Amalekite sheep bleating in the background? Did he think for a moment that he could fool Samuel the Prophet, whose eyes were like a sonogram?
Samuel turned and walked away, peeved thoroughly with King Saul. King Saul tried to restrain him, and grabbed the prophet by the corner of his cloak, and the cloak ripped. Samuel said, "Just as this cloak has ripped, so has Hashem ripped the kingship of Israel from you this day." Samuel took a sword in hand and fulfilled Hashem's commandment by smiting King Agag.
The damage of King Saul's misplaced compassion was already done. The night before, he enabled a concubine to make a conjugal visit to Agag. Agag and the Amalekites were now dead, but the concubine became pregnant the night before; nine months later, she gave birth to a son from whom the Agagite-Amalekite dynasty was rebuilt. One of the most infamous of these offspring was Haman the Agagite, viceroy of Persia under King Achashverosh, who plotted to annihilate the Jewish People as we learn in the Megilla of Esther.
So once again, how could King Saul say that he fulfilled the word of Hashem? We know that King Saul was a tzaddik of awesome proportions; it's therefore outrageous to think that he would lie, especially to Hashem's holy prophet Samuel who could obviously see right through him.
Saul was not only King of Israel but he was a prophet as well (ibid, 10:10). If I'm not mistaken, he saw - through his power of prophecy - that in the future, Hashem's name would be sanctified magnificently by way of Haman's downfall and the collective teshuva that all the Jewish People did. He therefore allowed Agag, who didn't yet have children, to father a child before his execution. As such, King Saul sincerely believed that he was doing Hashem's will.
King Saul's good intentions notwithstanding, he was nonetheless admonished by Samuel the Prophet for not fulfilling Hashem's explicit commands, for as King of Israel, he must be the first who implements every Divine directive to the letter. As holy and pious as he was, King Saul had no place in applying his own logic - even if it was on a level of prophecy - if it contradicted the word of Hashem.
Thirteen generations after King David, King Hezekiah (Chizkiyahu) made the same mistake. We must understand that King Hezekiah was a tzaddik and Torah scholar of unprecedented proportions. The Gemara tells that Hashem actually considered making King Hezekiah the Moshiach (see tractate Sanhedrin 94a). The honor of Torah had never been greater, for during his reign, every man, woman and child knew Torah backwards and forwards 49 times over. Yet, he too made a mistake of placing his own prophecy ahead of fulfilling Hashem's will, an act that almost cost him his life (see Isaiah, Chapter 38; tractate Berachot 10a). King Hezekiah had the prophetic vision that he would have an evil son, so he refused to get married. Isaiah the Prophet told him that his severe illness that was about to take his life was the punishment for his failure to marry and fulfill the mitzva of being fruitful and multiplying. King Hezekiah repented and married Isaiah's daughter Hephtziba, hoping that with her, he could have an upright child. He recovered and received another fifteen years of longevity. Even though his prophecy was accurate - and he did have an evil son, Menashe - he was nonetheless punished for not fulfilling Hashem's commandment.
If Saul and Hezekiah, both prodigious tzaddikim and Kings of Israel, were punished for following their own holy and as prophetic logic, how can a regular person today have the audacity to override a Divine commandment with his own logic?
In stark contrast to Saul and Hezekiah, our patriarch Abraham put his own logic aside at a most critical time, depending solely on his belief in Hashem. Hashem on one hand promised Abraham that his holy offspring and emuna dynasty would continue with Isaac (Genesis 21:12). Yet, Hashem turns around and asks Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (ibid 22:2). Abraham could have screamed, "Hashem - that's not logical! How will my dynasty continue with Isaac if I slaughter him?" But, Abraham didn't ask - he cast all logic aside. By virtue of the akeda, his willingness to heed Hashem no matter how illogical it may seem, we the Jewish people are still here today.
Oftentimes, our spiritual leaders of the generation issue directives that don't seem logical to many people. We must remember that the Jewish People's failure to heed Mordechai's directive to refrain from participating in the palace feast almost caused their annihilation. This is what Shabbat Zchor is all about: we remember to heed the words of our sages and to blot out any influence of Amalek, which is the counsel of the evil inclination in our midst. Our sages tell us the right thing to do at the right time, while the evil spiritual force of Amalek - the evil inclination - wants us to do the opposite. Just as Haman opposed Mordechai, our evil inclination fights against holiness. Our job is to fight back until Amalek is wiped out and Moshiach comes, speedily and in our days, amen!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.