Shabbat Parshat Tetzaveh - Parshat Zachor 5759
First Steps Towards an Understanding of the
This Shabbat, we read the section of the Torah called Parshat Zachor, which contains the command to remember forever the evil which the Nation of Amalek perpetrated against the Jewish People as they left Egypt. This is a rather strange gesture on the part of the Torah, which generally advocates, if not exactly a policy of "forgive and forget," at least the strong undesirability of bearinggrudges, as the Torah says in Vayikra 19:18, "Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge" (these forms of behavior have technical definitions, which are not relevant here). However, it must be said that Amalek somehow represented evil in an unprecedented way, involving a presumptuous attack on the Creator Himself.
In any case, the Jewish People were also commanded, upon their conquest of the Land of Israel, and the anointing of a king, to physically destroy Amalek lock, stock and barrel; all the people, including the king, and all the cattle. In the Haftarah (portion from the Prophets read each week, in addition to the portion read from the Torah, and almost always related to it, as in this case), read from Shmuel I, we find the tragic tale of Shaul HaMelech. Shaul, the first king of Israel, waged war against Amalek, destroyed the entire nation, but spared the king, Agag and, yielding to pressure from the People, some of the cattle, in violation of G-d's command. For this violation, he was stripped of his kingship.
In "Chazon HaMikra," another work by Rav Yissachar Yaakovson, author of "Binah BaMikra," but in this work focused on the study of the Prophets via an analysis of the Haftarot, we find an attempt at a first analysis of the personality of Shaul. The author divides Shaul's life into three "parts:"
1. the period of his life through his young manhood, before he was anointed as king by Shmuel the Prophet
2. the time that he ruled as king of Israel, before his sin
3. the time that he ruled, after his sin
During Period I, Shaul is portrayed in the Tanach as "one who flees from honor," who during the time that the kingship was being decided by Divinely-guided lottery, was "nechba el ha'kelim," "hidden among the objects." Therefore, he was "pursued by honor," and anointed king.
In Period II, he is king, but rules in a very unusual manner, from his family's farm. He is a righteous king. He eats non-consecrated food in accordance with the rules governing consecrated food; that is, in a constant state of ritual cleanliness. He is very careful with the People's money. Yet when war approaches, he is quite capable of rising to the occasion. The Book of Shmuel I (11:6) tells us there that "the spirit of the L-rd came upon him," and he routs his enemies.
When he does sin, one Midrash says that he struggled with the idea of why the "innocent" were being destroyed. A heavenly voice counsels him, "Don't be overly righteous." He is also too mild-mannered with the People, and will later be rebuked by Shmuel," Even if you are small in your own eyes, you are nevertheless the Head of the Tribes of Israel!" (Shmuel I, 15:16) The RADAK (Rabbi David Kimchi, one of the classic commentators on the Prophets and Sacred Writings) explains that, as Head of the Tribes, it would be his responsibility to stop the People, if they began to go astray.
Period III, after the sin, is marked by the verse "And the Spirit of G-d left Shaul and an evil spirit from G-d came and tormented him." He will now visit upon Nov, the City of Priests, by the sword of Doeg HaAdomi, the fate which should have been visited upon Amalek; killing all the people and all the cattle, again ignoring a heavenly voice, which this time counseled him, "Don't be overly wicked!"
Chazal (the Sages of the Talmud) count five sins which Shaul committed: (Tanchuma, Parshat Emor)
1. disobeying G-d's command with regard to Amalek
2. destroying Nov, the City of Priests
3. having mercy on Agag, king of Amalek
4. not following Shmuel's precise directions as to one of their rendezvous'
5. attempting to learn the future by means of witchcraft
Yet, with all that, Chazal seem to have viewed Shaul as a tragic figure, dwarfing by far Shakespeare's King Lear, encumbered with a role which he had never really sought, and doomed to lose it in any case, by the prophecy of Yaakov, which gave the Dynasty of Kingship to the Tribe of Yehudah.
And the question really begs to be asked, "Why did G-d choose someone not from the Tribe of Judah as the first king? Why did He not go straight to David?"
The answer to that may lie enshrouded in the mystery of Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David, whereby a son of Rachel, Yosef or Binyamin, must precede a descendant of Yehudah in the kingship over Israel, only to perish and lose the "melucha." But the love between David and Yehonatan ben Shaul, not dependent upon "anything" material, lasts forever, according to Pirkei Avot 5:19.
And with regard to Shaul, we find in Yuma 22b a statement of Rav Yehudah in the name of Shmuel, "Why did Shaul's rule not last? Because he had no fault. And Rav Yochanan said in the name of Rav Shimon ben Yehotzadak, 'A king of Israel must have a packet of loathsome things hanging behind his back (a skeleton in his closet) so that, if he becomes too arrogant, the People can say to him, 'Take a look behind you.' "
"And how do we know that Shaul was forgiven in the end by G-d?" asks the Talmud in Berachot 12b, and answers, based on the verse in Shmuel I 28:19, " and tomorrow you and your sons will be with Me," concerning which Rav Yochanan comments, "'with Me' means 'close to Me'"
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU