|Some general background on the "Haftarot"
of Parshat Zachor is taken from the Book "Shmuel"/Samuel I;
according to the Sefardim,
from 15:1-34 and according to the Ashkenazim,
from the nearly identical set of verses 15:2-34.
It describes the first attempt at the implementation of the Command
of Hashem to destroy the evil nation, Amalek, and the tragic fate of the
first King of Israel, "Shaul"/Saul, which was intimately connected
with that attempt.
means "Remember!" What
we are commanded to remember is the cowardly attack upon the Children of
Israel by the nation of Amalek, the very first to attack the
Jewish People after they had been brought out of Egypt with miracles
and wonders performed on their
behalf by G-d, in order to teach the lesson that the universe has a
Creator, Who is involved with the world, and Whose Will is that human
beings should behave themselves.
seen that lesson as well as the rest of the world.
But in the imagery of CHAZAL,
they had chosen to cast themselves into a tub of boiling hot water, knowing
they would be burnt, motivated by their hatred of Hashem, in order to
teach their own lesson; namely,
that the Jewish People, though they were the Chosen People of G-d,
could be attacked.
the above, Hashem had declared in Devarim 25:17-19 "eternal war"
against Amalek, and commanded the Jewish People, once they achieved
stability in the Land of Israel, the Promised Land, to erase the name of
Amalek, the perpetrators of absolute evil, from under the heavens.
Summary, I will not attempt to provide a literal translation, but rather use
a "free translation" with the introduction of some comments by the
great commentators. In
addition, because of the intense dramatic quality of the Haftarah,
especially in the central portion where there are found exchanges between
Shmuel and Shaul, I have used "script-style" for the dialogue.
Hope it works!
HaNavi"/Samuel the Prophet, who had been commanded by G-d (Shmuel 1,
10:1) to anoint Shaul as the first King of Israel, comes to Shaul with a new
command of Hashem. (Shmuel 1, 15:1) Hashem
says, "I remember what Amalek did to the People of Israel, when the
Jews had just come out of Egypt. How
they brazenly attacked My Chosen People!
How they willingly threw themselves into boiling hot water just to
show their hatred of the Holy Nation, their hatred of holiness, their hatred
of the G-d of Holiness. (Shmuel 1, !5:2)"
Shaul, you are to utterly destroy them - all the People, all the cattle, and
all the property!" (ibid. (same place); Shmuel 1, 15:3)
gathered an army of 200,000 men from the other tribes, and ten thousand
fighters from the Tribe of Yehudah. As
Shaul approached the encampment of Amalek, with his army and, at night, made
plans for the attack, he also debated with Hashem, similar to Avraham in the
case of Sodom, the righteousness and justice of destroying the entire nation
of Amalek. But a Heavenly Voice
was heard saying to him not to try to be more righteous than his Creator.
On his way
to the battle, Shaul warned the descendants of Yisro to separate themselves
from the nation of Amalek, with whom they had been living, for some reason,
close to. He did this in order
to repay the kindness done by their great ancestor to the Jewish People when
he taught them a lesson, concerning the organization of their court system,
that Hashem "allowed to be included in the Torah." For some reason, it was necessary that this part of the Torah
come from an "outside" source.
of Israel engaged Amalek in battle and defeated them in a great victory,
sparing only Agag, Amalek's King, because Shaul didn't think that he had the
right to totally annihilate a nation, from top to bottom, even though he had
been so assured by G-d. The
best of the flocks were also preserved, because the People of Israel said
that they wanted to offer them to G-d as sacrifices. (ibid., 15: 7-9)
The Word of
G-d came to Shmuel, "I 'regret' having made Shaul the King, for he has
disobeyed Me." Shmuel was greatly distressed by this Message, and he
cried out to G-d all night! (ibid., 15:10-11)
Shmuel rose early in the morning with the intention of confronting Shaul immediately. He was told that Shaul had gone to "Har HaCarmel"/Mt. Carmel to establish there an altar (RASHI comments that this is the same altar, later desecrated by the Prophets of Baal, that "Eliyahu HaNavi"/Elijah the Prophet repaired before his fateful contest with the Prophets of Baal, in which Hashem would decide the issue by sending down fire from the sky to consume the sacrifices of Eliyahu).
told that afterwards Shaul had moved on to Gilgal, where the "Mishkan"
was located. (Incidentally, it
is clear from the fact that Shmuel needs to be told these matters that his powers of prophecy are at this time greatly
reduced, because the mental
state of a prophet has to be, if not happy, at least serene, to receive
prophecy, and Shmuel at this time was far from serene! (ibid., 15:12)
approached Shaul, the King spoke first.
Shaul: Blessed are you to Hashem, I have fulfilled His
Command! (ibid., 15:13)
Shmuel: "U'Meh-eh-eh" (literally, meaning
"what," but probably also a mimicry of the sound of sheep
bleating) is that sound of sheep that I hear, and the sound of cattle?
Shaul: I brought them back from the battle with Amalek.
These are the sheep and the cattle on which the
People had mercy, because they wanted to use only the best as
sacrifices. But all the rest,
we did destroy.
Shmuel: Let me tell you what Hashem said to me last night.
Shmuel: Even if in your
eyes you are small, you should have realized that you are the Chief of
the Tribes of G-d on earth, and Hashem anointed you to be King of Israel!
And Hashem gave you the explicit command to fight against Amalek
until they are utterly destroyed!
Why did you
not obey the Command of G-d, and instead flew to the booty of the defeated
nation? And thus you did evil
in the sight of G-d! (ibid., 15:16-19)
Shaul: It is not so!
I did obey the Command of Hashem!
And I fulfilled the mission! All
the People were destroyed except the King, Agag, because I couldn't believe
that Hashem really wanted the destruction of the entire nation - and, in any
case, destruction of a King's People is like killing him!
People took the best of the cattle only to sacrifice them before Hashem, in
the Mishkan, here at Gilgal!
(Listen carefully to
Shmuel's response to Shaul's argument, because he is stating a fundamental
principle in Judaism!)
Shmuel: Does Hashem want sacrifices more than He wants to
be obeyed? Surely the opposite
is true! To obey is far more important than to bring sacrifices; to listen
carefully to His words is more important to Him than the fat of rams!
the very sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is
idol-worship and "teraphim" (a form of idol-worship)!
have rejected the Command of Hashem, Hashem has rejected you as King!
Shaul: Indeed, I
have sinned, because I rejected what Hashem said and what you said in
His Name, because I feared the People,
and I listened instead to them. But
forgive me, I beg you, and return with me, and I will bow before the L-rd.
Shmuel: I will not return with you.
Because you rejected the command of Hashem, He has rejected you from
being King over Israel! (ibid.,
turned as if to go, but Shaul grabbed at his garment, and it tore. (ibid.,
Shmuel: The L-rd has torn the Kingship from you today, and
has given it to one who is greater than you!
And also, the Eternal One of Israel is above "lying" and
above "regretting" (in the human sense), for He is not a human
being, to be capable of "changing
have sinned! But now, even so,
show honor to me, before the elders of my People, and before Israel, and
return with me, and let me bow before Hashem, your
G-d. (ibid., 15:30)
And Shmuel returned with Shaul to Gilgal, and Shaul
bowed before Hashem (ibid., 15:31)
Shmuel: Bring Agag, King of Amalek, before me.
And Agag came before Shmuel, walking proudly, in
the manner of a King, although he sensed that his end was near.
Agag: Surely the bitterness of death is at hand!
Shmuel: As your sword made widows of so many wives, so will
my sword render your mother bereft of her son!
And Shmuel cut Agag in pieces before Hashem in
Gilgal. (ibid., 15:32-33)
And Shmuel returned to his home in Rama and Shaul
returned to his home in Givat Shaul. (ibid.,
Discussion of the Haftarah
Haftarah is as well the story of one of the most, if not the most, tragic
figure in the Tanach, "Shaul HaMelech," King Saul, the First King
of Israel who, despite his greatness, was rejected from the Kingship by
How did Shaul Come to Power?
The story is
told in the Book of Shmuel 1. Shmuel
is the last and the greatest of the fifteen Judges who led the Jewish People
after the period of Yehoshua, who had led the Jewish People into the Land of
Israel. The Period of the Judges was one without great central authority,
which was described as one during which a person basically "did what
was right in his eyes."
grew old, his sons did not follow in his righteous ways.
In fact, they are described in Shmuel 1, 8:3 as "tending towards
graft and as taking bribes and perverting justice."
came to Shmuel and made the following case:
"You have become old, and your sons have not followed in your
ways. Now place over us a King,
who will judge us, and we will be
like the other nations." The
verses there make it clear that the actions of the Jewish People were evil
in the eyes of Shmuel (Shmuel 1, 8:6) and in the eyes of Hashem (ibid., 8:
the Jewish People had been commanded to do three things upon their entry
into the Land of Israel: to
appoint a King over them, to wipe out Amalek, and to build the Holy Temple.
The question then arises, "if they were commanded to establish a
King, why were Hashem and Shmuel angry with them?"
answer to that question is that the anger stems from the manner in which the
Jewish People requested a King. If,
as the RADAK explains, they had come to Shmuel and said, "Rabbeinu
Shmuel, you have done a wonderful and honest job as our Judge and leader.
But your sons are not, unfortunately, following in your ways.
We would like a King who will rule over us in accordance with the
Torah," that would have been fine and dandy.
when they said, instead, "Give us a King so that we will be like the
other nations," that is what caused Hashem and Shmuel to be "turned off."
It caused Hashem to say to Shmuel "Listen to the People,
according to everything they have said, because it is not you whom they are
rejecting, it is Me!" (ibid., 8:7)
Hashem then selected Shaul, who was indeed a great individual, but
who had a tragic flaw, perhaps
that he had no flaw! (see below)
shall not Depart from Yehudah
another question, perhaps more fundamental, arises.
Yaakov Avinu had made a pronouncement in his "Birchot Yaakov,"
"Yaakov's Blessings" to his sons at the end of Bereshit and at the
end of his life, regarding the Kingship among his children.
In his prophecy at that time, he had said, "The Scepter shall
not depart from Yehudah
" (Bereshit 49:10), guaranteeing descendants
of the Tribe of Yehudah, in particular to David HaMelech and his
descendants, an eternal dynasty.
question is, Shaul was not a descendant of Yehudah. How then could Hashem appoint a King and seemingly promise him an
eternal dynasty of Kingship if he would observe the Torah, as is implied
(ibid., 13:13) where Shmuel says to Shaul, You have done foolishly; you
have not kept the commandment of Hashem that He commanded you. For if you had, the
RAMBAN raises this question in Bereshit on the verse cited
above, "The scepter shall not depart
He answers that perhaps the Dynasty promised Shaul had he not sinned
did not cover all of Israel, or there might have been a dynasty of
Perhaps there is another possibility, though it would indeed be a rare example of a command being given to an individual by Hashem with the foreknowledge that the individual would be unable to perform it! Thus, the principle that Hashem doesnt give a test to someone unless he or she has the potential to pass the test, may only apply when Hashems hand has not been forced, so to speak, by an improper request by the People.
In fact, it
is almost built into the command of the Torah to
remember in all generations that Amalek must be destroyed, that Shaul
would fail! If he had wiped out
all traces of Amalek, what would be left to remember?
above is serious; this one is slightly ridiculous - who would have been the
villain of Purim, without Haman, a descendant of Amalek?
We would have lost a member of the Sanhedrin, because the Talmud says
that one of the descendants of Haman taught Torah in the "lishkat ha-gazit,"
the office of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
The Greatness of Shaul
numerous Midrashic comments, obtained from the work "Otzar Ishei
HaTanach, a Compendium of Personages from the Bible, their Lives and Works
in the Eyes of Chazal," by Y.Y. Chasidah, from the reading of which one
gains the distinct impression that Shaul was an extremely great person, one
of the greatest of the Jewish People, who was trapped by the premature and
immature request, nay demand(!) by the Jewish People for a King!
A small selection:
in Masechet Yoma 22b makes the following comment on the verse "And
Shaul was one year old in his Kingship" (ibid., 13:1): "that he
was like a one-year-old, who has not tasted sin."
Rabbi Eliezer (10) says that Shaul provided dowries for all Jewish brides;
anyone who didn't have a dowry, could turn to Shaul for one.
in Masechet Megilla 13b says that it was in the merit of his modesty that
Esther descended from Shaul. What
modesty? That exhibited by Shaul when he met his uncle after his anointing
and didn't mention a word about his Kingship.
Shimoni Shmuel (141) says that when he heard someone explain a principle of
Jewish Law, he would go to the person and kiss him.
Shochar Tov (7,7) says that in the times of Shmuel and Shaul even children
could state forty nine reasons for the ritual impurity of an object and
forty nine reasons for its ritual purity.
Yoma 22b asks and answers the following question, "Why did Shaul's rule
not continue? Because he had no
fault, and one does not appoint a Jewish Leader unless he has a "box of
disgusting creatures hanging behind his back" (a skeleton in his
closet), so that if he would tend to become arrogant, people could say to
him, "Look behind your back."
Connections with Parshat Zachor
connection with Parshat Zachor is that Shaul is given the first opportunity
to fulfill the command mentioned at the end of Parshat KiTetze to erase the
mention of the Name of Amalek from under the heavens.
Parshat Zachor in Our Time
What are we
supposed to do in order to fulfill this command, that most commentators say
is "from the Torah" in our time?
How do we carry out Hashem's war against Amalek?
all, the Talmud states that Sancheriv, the Babylonian conqueror, "mixed
up the nations," so that we no longer know who is an Egyptian, an
Edomote, a Moabite or, for that matter, an Amalekite!
possible to say that the Spirit of Amalek can be removed from a descendant
of Amalek. How else could a
descendant of his sit in the Sanhedrin, as mentioned above?
It is quite
possible that in our time, the command comes down to helping uproot absolute
evil from society.
certainly qualified for the Amalek of the Century, if not the Millennium, and
deserved to be uprooted from the earth.
deniers are of course pathological liars and anti-Semites.
But if we want the world
to share our grief and sorrow concerning the blow delivered to our People in
the middle of the last century,
perhaps we ought to react a little more strongly when we hear certain terms
such as "ethnic cleansing" describing situations which, while not
comparable, are at least in the same league with the Holocaust.
this is part of the Command of Hashem to the Jewish People, as a "light
unto the nations," to be in the forefront of activities designed
to rid the world of "absolute evil," defined as hatred based on nothing
other than the color of one's skin, one's ethnicity or, for that matter,
There are three ways of understanding this tearing of Shmuel's garment. RASHI mentions two, and the RADAK (Rabbi David Kimchi) mentions a
says that the plain meaning (the P'shat) of the verse is that Shaul tore
Shmuel's garment "by accident."
But Shmuel interpreted it symbolically.
RASHI also refers to the discussion in the Talmud, where another possibility
is advanced; namely, that Shmuel tore Shaul's garment as a symbol that the
one who would in the future cut Shaul's garment would be the one chosen by
Hashem to replace Shaul as King. And
indeed we find (ibid., Chapter 24) that once, when David was being pursued
by Shaul, who wanted to kill him, Shaul entered a cave where David and his
men were hiding. David had an
opportunity to kill Shaul, but would never consider doing such a thing, and
only cut a corner of his garment. When
David revealed himself, and indicated what he had done, Shaul said,
"Now I see that indeed you will rule."
cites a third possibility; namely, that Shmuel cut off a corner of his own
garment, as a gesture of
mourning, that one does when "a tree that he has planted fails to
blossom." In other words, Shmuel viewed Shaul to a large extent as his
protégé, maybe even as his son, because his own sons had failed to follow
in his ways, and here Shaul too was being rejected.
Another interpretation is that Agag came before Shmuel in chains.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU