Parshas Zachor

This week we read a special Haftorah for Shabbos Zachor. The Maftir relates Amalek’s attack upon Am Yisroel shortly after their crossing of the Red Sea. The Haftorah is a follow up to this Maftir. The Haftorah tells us that Shmuel Hanavi came to Shaul Hamelech and relayed to him Hashem’s command that Shaul wage war against Amelek. Part of that command,  Shmuel stated, was to leave nothing and no one alive, not even livestock. Shaul was victorious, but didn’t entirely heed Shmuel Hanavi’s instructions. The Navi tells us that Shaul and Am-Yisroel had pity on Agag, the King of Amelek, and on the fine livestock, and they did not kill them.  Shaul’s punishment for his disobedience is that he would eventually lose his Melucha.

There is a glaring question here: why would Shaul have mercy on the King of Amelek? One could understand his taking pity upon a seemingly innocent child, but on the king of this heinous nation?  Following the defeat of the Nazi regime and of its attempted Jewish Genocide, the German nation was left alone although the vast majority stood by and watched while Am-Yisroel was being slaughtered. It was the political and military leaders who were tried and executed.

The story of Amalek is not simply an anecdote but is something we live with daily. Chazal explain the Pessukim in the Chumash that tell us of Amelek’s war with Klal-Yisroel to mean that so long as ‘Amelek’ remains in existence, the Heavenly Throne of Hashem is somehow “so to speak” not whole. Somehow, Amelek’s presence holds back a complete Divine Revelation in the world. This means that Amelek is the main component of our evil and negative inclination. Had Shaul completely annihilated Amelek, we would then seemingly be in a much better situation; perhaps it would have even have brought about the Final Redemption. Shaul’s failure to fulfill part of Hashem’s command altered the course of our history to this very day.

There is an important Rashi that discusses the war Amelek waged against Am-Yisroel. Rashi gives a parable of a boiling bath. The bath was so hot that there were actually boiling bubbles. No one would even contemplate getting into it. Along came a crazy man who jumped in. He was severely injured and nearly died. His action, however irrational, by the very fact it had been taken, now made it acceptable for others to imitate. This, Rashi says, was what Amelek did. Klal-Yisroel had just left Mitzraim and the world had witnessed all that Hashem had done through the Ten Plagues to free Klal-Yisroel. Hashem split the sea, and this too the whole world witnessed. Klal-Yisroel at that point was like an untouchable boiling bath. Came along Amelek and jumped into the boiling bath by waging war against Klal-Yisroel. Although Amalek was then soundly defeated, it had managed to ‘break the spell’ and make waging war against Klal-Yisroel a realistic option.

Amelek’s entire Koach (strength) lies in defying Nature. Usually Nature is assumed to be Hashem’s creation of an unchanging Order that functions according to fixed rules unless Hashem intervenes by taking a more active role (Hashgacha Pratis –see Ramchal’s Derech Hashem). As such Nature is just Hashem’s way of allowing the world to function, but is nonetheless a manifestation of Hashem’s control of the world. Many nations don’t recognize Hashem’s constant  involvement in the world, but they do accept the governing Laws of Nature. Amalek didn’t. It is for this reason that Amalek somehow keeps the Heavenly Throne from being complete. Saul’s not killing Agag was exactly the same kind of sin. It is possible that had Shaul had mercy on the little children the sin would have been of a slightly different nature. Shaul Hamelech had mercy on the wicked – something that we cannot even fully understand. It is this unnatural mercy that allowed for the spirit of Amelek to live on.  It is therefore this unnatural mercy that we must struggle against and overcome.

The Mitzvah of wiping out Amelek sounds somewhat extreme to our modern way of thinking.  How could the Torah command us to be so not humane? The answer is that the antidote to Amelek’s Counter-Nature perspective is to fight our natural instincts of human kindness and to wipe them all out.