Shmuel I 15:2
This week’s haftorah, read in conjunction with Parshas Zachor, opens with Hashem’s command to Shaul Hamelech to annihilate the nation of Amalek. The time had finally come to repay the Jewish people’s archenemy for all the torture and indignation they suffered because of his wickedness. Shaul Hamelech faithfully responded to this command and destroyed the entire nation of Amalek, save one soul, the Amalekite King Agag. In addition, Shaul killed almost all of their animals but acquiesced in the Jewish nation’s request and spared certain choice sheep for sacrificial purposes. Hashem responded immediately and instructed the prophet Shmuel to travel to Shaul and reprimand him. Hashem told Shmuel to inform Shaul of the severity of his failings and that his laxity would cause him to forfeit the kingdom.
Shmuel fulfilled his charge and then immediately summoned Agag and executed him in a most gruesome way. But the Talmud (see Megilla 13A) informs us that Shmuel’s act came after Agag had been momentarily spared and that during those crucial moments the Amalekite king managed to take full advantage of his predicament. In a most peculiar turn of events Agag utilized his last hours of life in attempt to procure the nation of Amalek. Although Agag was held under heavy scrutiny, he somehow met success and, against all odds, the entire nation of Amalek was reborn. This nearly impossible feat seems to suggest that it was now the master plan of Hashem for Amalek to remain. Although moments earlier Hashem had decreed Amalek’s destruction, this privilege could no longer be granted the Jewish people. The recent error of Shaul and his people warranted that Amalek, the epitome of anti-Semitism, must continue to exist.
In order to properly digest this thought it is worthwhile to explore Hashem’s purpose for the nation of Amalek and what benefit, if any, could these wicked people bring to mankind. To accomplish this, we refer to the first time the Jewish people encountered Amalek and to the strategy used in defeating him. In describing the progress of this war the Torah states, “And when Moshe raised his hands the Jewish people overpowered Amalek and when Moshe lowered his hand Amalek overpowered the Jews.” (Shemos 17:11) These words, taken at face value, seem to suggest that the success and defeat of the Jewish people depended heavily on the actual position of Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand. In fact, the Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah (chapter 3 Mishna 8) raises this problem and asks, “Did Moshe Rabbeinu’s hands possess the supernatural power of determining and controlling war?” “But,” answers the Mishna, “Moshe Rabbeinu’s hands served as a vehicle and gauge for the Jewish people. As long as the Jewish people gazed upward and subjected their hearts to Hashem, they were triumphant.” In actuality, it wasn’t the hands 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 totally focused on Hashem’s salvation, Hashem was there to rescue 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 our total subjection to the will of Hashem is 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 initial encounter reveals to us the function of Amalek and with this we gain insight into the Heavenly purpose for Amalek’s existence and continuous threat to the Jewish nation. Our Chazal, in addressing this point (see Rashi Shemos 17:8) explain that Amalek’s early attack was, in fact brought about by the Jewish people’s laxity in their focus upon Hashem. They cite for proof the incident mentioned in the Torah immediately before Amalek’s arrival. The Torah states, (Shemos 17:7) “…..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 new way of life. All of their needs were miraculously provided for by Hashem. This lifestyle became so natural that they lessened their focus on their true provider, Hashem, and began questioning if Hashem truly remained amongst them. This demonstrated a 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 or to subjugate himself to any superior power. In essence, Amalek reflected, in very extreme dimensions, the subtle attitude of the Jewish people. The Jewish people learned their lesson properly and focused totally 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 return to Shaul’s seemingly trivial but, in truth, serious deviation from Hashem’s command. The Talmud in Mesichta Yoma (22B) reveals that Shaul Hamelech found it difficult to accept his command to annihilate an entire nation. He reasoned with compassion, “If the Amalekite men are sinful why must the children perish; why must their cattle be killed?” These concerns demonstrated a lack of acceptance of Hashem’s will and a faint trace of unwillingness to subjugate himself to Hashem. They gave rise to a weakness of character and a willingness of the king to follow the whims of his nation. When they found it difficult to destroy the choice sheep Shaul followed their lead with a rationalization that the sheep could be spared for sacrificial purposes. This error reinstated the earlier problem of the Jewish people in the desert and set the stage for the Amalekite nation to reappear on the scene. Through this error, the Jewish people demonstrated their need to remain in check. From this point, Amalek and anti-Semitism would have to remain and the Jewish people would be constantly reminded to retain their focus on Hashem. Therefore, almost miraculously the nation of Amalek was procured and the vehicle to secure the Jewish people’s constant focus on Hashem was restored.
This similar pattern reoccurred in the days of Purim. The Jewish people in the darkness of exile became acclimated to their lifestyle and lessened their focus on Hashem. Once again, Hashem sent a descendent of Amalek, Haman, to wage war with the Jews and introduce his merciless decree of decimation. The Jewish people responded immediately with three consecutive days of fasting and after totally subjugating themselves to Hashem, Amalek was defeated once again. May we merit soon to witness the final and total defeat of Amalek and the restoration of Hashem’s perfect glory in this world.