A Tale of Two Kings
By Rabbi Yosef Levinson
There was once a nation that had a treacherous foe. They anointed a new king who mobilised the people to attack the enemy. This new king led them to a stunning victory, killing every man, woman and child. The sole survivor was the defeated king who was captured alive. Almost all their property was destroyed except for the best of the spoils, which was claimed by the victorious army. How was the king rewarded for this remarkable military feat? What honour did he receive? He was rewarded by being dethroned!
The nation was the Jewish people, the king was Shaul, and the villains Amalek. Shmuel Hanavi admonished Shaul for not heeding Hashem's command and allowing the king of Amalek, Agag, to live. Furthermore, Shaul permitted his soldiers to take the choicest animals instead of destroying all of the enemy's possessions. On account of the apparently minor indiscretion concerning Agag, he was considered unfit to reign even though he had destroyed an entire nation. Why did he merit such a profound punishment?
Shaul took compassion on Agag. Chazal say (Yoma 22b), Shaul reasoned that if the Torah requires atonement for the murder of one individual, even if the murderer is unknown (See "egla arufa" - "the axed heifer", Devarim 21:1 - 9), how much more so should atonement be necessary when many lives are lost. It was for this misguided compassion that Shaul was punished, for he was told ''Do not be overly righteous'' (Koheles 7:16).
If the Torah commands us to annihilate Amalek, that means they are totally evil; no benefit can come from them. Amalek's attack against the Jewish nation was ultimately a battle with Hashem. They had nothing to gain by engaging us in battle, nor did we pose any threat to their security. Their pure aim was to eradicate holiness from the world because holiness was the antithesis of all they represented. We are a merciful nation, so much so, that a person's Jewish lineage is called into question if they lack compassion (see Yevamos 78b). Nevertheless, the Torah demands that we hate and despise Amalek. We cannot let our rage subside until every last Amalekite is killed. This is why the Torah exhorts us: "Remember what Amalek did to you'' (Devarim 25:17). Every year, the mitzva to remember what Amalek did, is not just a reminder of their despicable acts of long ago, rather it is to rekindle our hatred and rage towards them. Shaul Hamelech surely recalled what Amalek had done, but that memory did not burn strongly enough within him. The episode with Shaul reminds us that there is no place for compassion when it comes to Amalek. Through Shaul's mercy, Agag was able to sire a child whose descendant was none other than Haman, who threatened to destroy the Jewish people until they were miraculously rescued.
Perhaps this can explain why Hashem told Moshe "Write this in the Book and recite it in the ears of Yehoshua'' (Shemos 17:14). The Ramban explains that the "Book" is a reference to Parshas Zachor in Sefer Devarim. Why then did Hashem issue this command to Moshe in Sefer Shemos? The Book of Devarim was not written until forty years later. Also, why did he have to recite it in Yehoshua's ears? The Netziv explains that even though the entire Torah was written, Hashem wanted to impress upon us the importance of remembering the evil motives that provoked Amalek. The written word was simply not powerful enough to convey that emotion. Therefore, says Hashem, "recite it in the ears of Yehoshua", let him hear the rage and passion in your voice, then let him teach it to the next generation.
One who questions the necessity of expressing cruelty should learn from Shaul. While Shaul was merciful to Agag, on a different occasion he acted with extreme cruelty. When David ran away from Shaul, he sought help from Nov, a city of Kohanim. They did not realise David was a fugitive and gave him food and drink. In his paranoia, Shaul thought that they had deliberately conspired against him, so he had them all executed. Shaul was reprimanded - ''Do not be overly wicked'' (Koheles 7:17). Different situations call for different middos. Misplaced compassion will ultimately lead to misplaced cruelty. This is a common phenomenon today. Those who preach tolerance of perverted lifestyles or towards enemies of our people, show no tolerance or compassion for their brethren who disagree with their views.
May we merit fulfilling the mitzva of destroying Amalek speedily in our days.
Back to Purim Homepage
Shema Yisrael Torah Network