Shmuel I 15:2
This week’s haftorah, read in conjunction with Parshas Zachor, deals with Hashem’s command to King Shaul regarding the destruction of the entire nation of Amalek. This old archenemy of the Jewish people was finally being repaid for the torture and indignation he brought unto the Jews. Shaul Hamelech fulfilled this command and successfully annihilated the entire nation of Amalek leaving behind only one living soul, the Amalekite King Agag. He destroyed all of their animals but acquiesced in the Jewish nation’s request and spared choice sheep for sacrificial purposes. The prophet Shmuel was sent to reprimand Shaul and to inform him of the severity of his failings. Shmuel told him that this offense would cost him the kingdom and that his successor had already been chosen.
Shmuel immediately proceeded to summon Agag and executed him in a most gruesome way. But Shmuel’s response came after Agag had been taken captive and as the Talmud teaches us (Megilla 13A), the Amalekite king managed to take full advantage of Shaul’s error. In a most peculiar turn of events Agag sought to utilize his last hours of life to preserve the nation of Amalek. His attempt proved quite successful and against all odds the entire nation of Amalek was reborn. This seems to suggest that it was the master plan of Hashem for Amalek to remain. Although a few moments earlier Hashem decreed Amalek’s destruction this privilege could no longer be granted to the Jewish people. Their recent error warranted that Amalek, the father of anti-Semitism, must continue to exist.
To properly appreciate this thought let us attempt to discover Hashem’s purpose for the nation of Amalek and what benefit, if any, it brings to mankind. For this, we refer to the first time the Jewish people encountered Amalek and to the strategy used in defeating him. The Torah states (Shmos 17:11), “And when Moshe raised his hand the Jewish people overpowered Amalek and when Moshe lowered his hand Amalek overpowered the Jews.” From these words it would seem that the success and defeat of the Jewish people depended heavily on the position of Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand?! The Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashana (chapter 3) raises this problem and answers that Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand served as a vehicle and gauge for the Jewish people. In actuality it wasn’t the hand of Moshe that affected the war but rather the total devotion and dedication of the Jewish people to Hashem. As long as their hearts were focused on Hashem’s salvation Hashem was there for them. But the moment the Jewish people lost that focus, Hashem’s assistance was no longer rendered to them. Apparently, in order to defeat Amalek, total subjugation to Hashem was necessary and even the slightest deviation from this could prove fatal. Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand served as an accurate gauge for this subjugation. If his hand began lowering it was an indication that the Jewish people were losing focus on Hashem, but if Moshe’s hand remained raised it was indicative of their total subjugation to Hashem.
This introduction reveals to us the function of Amalek and from here we can even learn the heavenly purpose for Amalek to attack the Jewish people. Our Chazal (see Rashi 17:8) address this point and explain that Amalek’s early attack was, in fact caused by the Jewish people’s laxity in focusing upon Hashem. They cite the incident immediately preceding Amalek’s “…..for your testing Hashem and questioning does Hashem dwell in our midst or not?” Our Chazal explain that the Jewish people had grown accustomed to their way of life. All of their needs were miraculously provided to them by Hashem. This lifestyle became so natural that they weakened in their focus on Hashem and began questioning if Hashem truly remained amongst them. This demonstrated their lack of subjugation to Hashem and their lack of recognition of Hashem’s constant assistance. This unacceptable behavior demanded immediate rectification and Hashem sent Amalek to shock the Jewish people into reality. Amalek was notoriously infamous for his unwillingness to recognize Hashem and subjugate himself to any supreme power. Amalek therefore reflected in very extreme dimensions the subtle deviation of the Jewish people. The Jewish people learned their lesson properly and focused completely upon Hashem’s salvation, thus rectifying their earlier shortcomings. Hashem responded to their teshuva and delivered them from the hands of Amalek.
In view of this insight we now return to Shaul’s subtle but serious deviation from Hashem’s command. The Talmud in Mesichta Yoma (22B) explains that Shaul Hamelech found it difficult to accept this command. He reasoned with compassion, “If the Amalekite men are sinful why must the children perish, why must their cattle be destroyed?” These concerns demonstrated a lack of acceptance of Hashem’s will and a faint unwillingness to subjugate himself to Hashem. This error reinstated the earlier problem of the Jewish people and set the stage for the Amalekite nation to reappear on the scene. The Jewish people still needed a reminder to keep them in check. Amalek and anti-Semitism would have to remain and the Jewish people would be constantly reminded of Hashem and assisted in totally subjugating themselves to their Creator.
This similar pattern reoccurred in the days of Purim. The Jewish people became acclimated to their lifestyle in the diaspora, and ceased to focus on Hashem. Once again a descendent of Amalek, Haman appeared and decreed his merciless decree. The Jewish people responded with three days of fasting and subjugation to Hashem and Amalek was defeated once again.