July 22, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 22, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Shabbat Zachor

Parshat Tetzaveh

Why did he do it? Why did the first king of a united Israel, a king regarded by Chazal as a righteous individual, ignore Hashem’s command to destroy everything and everyone belonging to the nation of Amalek? It is more than puzzling to us, considering the fact that the command was delivered to him by the great navi Shmuel, the very prophet who anointed Shaul as king of Israel! The question is one that should bother us as we read the haftarah of Parshat Zachor this week, a selection taken from the 16th perek of Sefer Shmuel I.

In trying to understand the actions of King Shaul, it is helpful to recall those past incidents that give us insight into his personality. Shaul was not a natural leader. He was a modest and quiet man who, when told that he was chosen to lead the nation, claimed that he was unworthy as he was from the youngest family of one of the smallest tribes of Israel. When asked by his uncle where he had been, Shaul doesn’t even mention that he was anointed king! And when he arrived at his own coronation he could not be found as he was hiding among the weapons and the clothing.

In truth, Shaul seemed to be a strange choice because he was not from the tribe of Yehuda that was blessed by Yaakov to rule over the nation. Shaul was from the tribe of Binyamin and, seemingly, “disqualified” from ever being king. And yet, he was chosen! We would suggest that his choice was specifically because he was from Binyamin. Binyamin was seen as the unifier of the nation. It was Binyamin who brought the brothers Yehuda and Yosef together and it was the tribe of Binyamin whose portion connected the portion of Yehuda to the portions of Yosef (Ephrayim and Menashe). Hashem needed a leader to unite the people into one nation before they could have one king and before there could be a dynasty from Yehuda. And indeed, this is precisely what Shaul did when he gathered 330,000 men who formed the army that defeated Yavesh Gilad in Shaul’s first war.

Similarly, Shaul was chosen specifically because he was not a natural leader, because he was modest, unassuming and even, perhaps, shy. The challenge that faced a king of Israel was a difficult one: to understand that he would be a representative of Hashem but not His “replacement,” chas v’shalom. He would need to balance strong leadership with modest character; to lead the people to great victories but to recognize that they are purely God’s accomplishments. Shaul had the modesty to do just that.

So what happened? It appears that, as his successes increased, Shaul slowly began to act as if he were a partner with God in the successes. He began to “interpret” Hashem’s commands as he saw fit. He failed to wait for Shmuel’s arrival to offer the pre-battle sacrifice, he spared the life of the Amalekite king, Agag, in violation of God’s demands, and, perhaps in a desire to curry favor with his men and further unify the people, he allowed them to take the best of the spoils of war, something that God had clearly commanded him not to do!

The sin of Amalek is described simply in this week’s maftir as being “v’lo yirei Elokim, not God-fearing.” That phrase, found a number of times in the Torah, indicates behavior that is totally in conflict with societal norms, behavior that no community could accept. The attack against innocents, against the weak and defenseless, bespeaks a morality that could not be tolerated in any civil society. It had to be eradicated.

We are often told “to forgive and forget” the insults and wounds inflicted upon us. But in this case, God could not forgive.

And, in today’s reading, we are reminded that we must not forget.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles