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Home > Torah Portion > Dvar for Mishpatim

Haftorah Zachor - Parshas Terumah
Shmuel I 15:2
by Rabbi Dovid Siegel

This week's haftorah, read in conjunction with Parshas Zachor, relates to Hashem's charge to Shaul Hamelech to destroy the entire nation of Amalek.The time had finally arrived to repay our archenemy, in full, for all the torture and indignation he brought unto us. Shaul Hamelech successfully fulfilled his command, for the most part, and annihilated the nation of Amalek save one soul, the Amalekite King, Agag. Shaul also destroyed almost all the animals but acquiesced in the Jewish nation's request and spared choice sheep for sacrificial purposes. The prophet Shmuel was immediately summoned to reprimand Shaul and inform him of the severity of his failings. Shmuel told him that this offense would cost him the king demand that his successor had already been chosen.

Shmuel proceeded and summoned Agag to be executed in a most gruesome way.But Shmuel's response came after Agag had remained alive for one complete day. The Talmud teaches us that the Amalekite king managed to take full advantage of Shaul's error. In a most unpredictable set of events Agag utilized his last hours of life in attempt to procure the nation of Amalek.His attempt proved quite successful and, against all odds, the entire nation of Amalek was reborn. A reversal of such proportions suggests that it was now the master plan of Hashem for Amalek to remain. Although only moments earlier Hashem decreed Amalek's total destruction this privilege could no longer be granted the Jewish people. Their recent error warranted that Amalek, the father of anti-Semitism, must continue to exist.

In order to appreciate this development it is important to discover Hashem's purpose for Amalek and what benefit, if any, he brings to mankind. For this, we refer to the Jewish people's initial encounter with Amalek and the strategy used in defeating him. The Torah states, "And when Moshe raised his hand the Jewish people overpowered Amalek and when Moshe lowered his hand Amalek overpowered the Jews." (Shmos 17:11) From these words it seems that the success and defeat of the Jewish people depended heavily on the position of Moshe Rabbeinu's hand?! The Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashana (chapter 3) raises this problem and answers that Moshe Rabbeinu's hand served as a vehicle and gauge for the Jewish people's devotion.

Chazal teach us that, in actuality it wasn't the literal hand of Moshe that affected the war, rather it was his prayer coupled with the total devotion of the Jewish people to Hashem. As long as their hearts were perfectly focused on Hashem's salvation Hashem was there for them. But the moment the Jewish people deviated from this Hashem's assistance was no longer rendered to them. It seems that the defeat of Amalek required total subjugation and anything short of this could prove fatal. Moshe Rabbeinu's raised hand served as a catalyst and perfect gauge for this devotion. If Moshe's hand remained raised this reflected the Jewish people's total subjugation to Hashem, but if his hand began lowering this indicated the Jewish people's loss of focus on Hashem.

This initial encounter reveals to us the need for Amalek's existence and even the Heavenly purpose for his attacking the Jewish people. Our Chazal(see Rashi to Shmos17:8) address this and explain that Amalek's attack was brought about by the diminishing of the Jewish people's focus on Hashem.In support of this Chazal cite the incident recorded in the Torah immediately before Amalek's arrival. The Torah states, ".....For your testing Hashem and questioning does Hashem dwell in your midst or not?"(Shmos 17:7) Our Chazal (see Rashi ad loc.) explain that the Jewish people had grown accustomed to their special way of life in the desert. All of their needs were miraculously provided to them by Hashem. This life style became so natural to them that they began questioning if Hashem, their perfect and constant provider, was truly amongst them.

A question of such absurdity demonstrates a lack of subjugation to Hashem and a lack of willingness to recognize Hashem's constant involvement and assistance. This unacceptable behavior called for an immediate response and Amalek was therefore sent to shock the Jewish people into reality.Amalek was notoriously infamous for his unwillingness to recognize Hashem and subjugate himself to any supreme power. Amalek therefore reflected, in very extreme proportions, the subtle imperfection of the Jewish people.The Jewish people responded to this attack and quickly learned their lesson. During this attack their focus was completely on Hashem's salvation, thus rectifying their earlier shortcomings. Hashem responded to their proper attitude and delivered them from the hands of Amalek.

With this insight in mind we now return to Shaul's subtle, but serious,deviation from Hashem's command. The Talmud in Mesichta Yoma (22B)explains that Shaul Hamelech found it difficult to accept Hashem's command of annihilating Amalek. He reasoned with compassion, "If the Amalekite men are sinful why must the children perish; why must their cattle be killed?" Concerns like this display a lack of acceptance of Hashem's will and a faint unwillingness to subjugate oneself to Hashem.This error reinstated the earlier problem of the Jewish people and required that the Amalekite nation be reborn and regain its status on the Jewish scene. Unfortunately, the Jewish people, together with their king, had not overcome their problem and needed an Amalakite reminder to keep them in check. Amalek and anti-Semitism would remain and the Jewish people would be constantly reminded of Hashem. This archenemy would once again be thereto assist the Jewish people in totally subjugating themselves to their Creator.

This similar pattern reoccurred in the days of Purim. The Jewish people became acclimated to their lifestyle in the diaspora, and diminished their focus on Hashem. They began displaying their trust in the Persian Empire and eagerly attended the royal feast, against the stern warnings of their leading Torah authority, Mordechai. During the feast much immoral practice transpired amongst the many participating nationalities but the Jewish people remained indifferent to this all. Even the sacred vessels of the Bais Hamikdash were revealed and defiled but the Jewish people remained insensitive. This lack of focus and insensitivity towards Hashem demanded an immediate response. Once again a descendent of Amalek, Haman, was called upon who decreed against the Jews a merciless decree of total annihilation. Through the guidance of Mordechai and Esther the Jewish people responded with three full days of prayer and fasting. With this they totally subjugated themselves to Hashem and Amalek was defeated once again.

May we learn from them to totally subjugate ourselves to our Creator thereby meriting the final and total destruction of Amalek and his followers.

Rabbi Dovid Siegel
Kollel Toras Chesed Phone: 847-674-7959
3732 West Dempster E-mail:
Skokie, Illinois 60076 URL:

Haftorah, Copyright 2001 by Rabbi Dovid Siegel and


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