Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dvar Torah for Parshas Zachor (Prep for Purim)

       In preparation for Purim, this Shabbos we read Parshas Zachor, which commands us to remember the story of how Amalek came to battle with Bnei Yisrael in the desert and how we must wipe out the nation of Amalek from the face of the Earth. The Haftorah also talks about a battle with Amalek, a story from Sefer Shmuel when Shaul nearly wiped out the entire nation of Amalek. Haman was a descendant of Amalek so before Purim we read passages that deal with the defeat of his people. However, there is another lesson that we learn from both these stories in how to deal with evil.
       The story in Sefer Shmuel when Shaul destroys Amalek does not have a happy ending. Shmuel told Shaul that Hashem had commanded him to completely wipe out the nation of Amalek. He also told him that Shaul should wait for him to come back after the war was concluded and that they would bring korbanos in thanks to Hashem together. Shaul, for reasons we will discuss, did not kill Agag, the king of Amalek, immediately. He instead waited to kill him later on. He also began bringing korbanos before Shmuel arrived. Because Shaul did not listen to what Shmuel told him, Hashem decided that Shaul could no longer be king, and Shmuel informs Shaul that his dynasty will end with him, his son will not be king. The Gemarah in Yoma (22b) asks, why was Shaul was punished for his sin while we see other figures, such as Dovid Hamelech--who ended up taking over for Shaul, also sin and not be punished in the same damaging way?
       “ויאמר שמואל הלוא אם קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וימשחך יהוה למלך על ישראל  ולמה לא שמעת בקול יהוה“Shmuel said, ‘Is this not so?—Though you may be small in your own eyes, you are the head of the tribes of Yisrael; and Hashem has anointed you to be king over Yisrael…Why did you not obey the voice of Hashem?” (Shmuel I 15: 17, 19) Shmuel’s main complaint against Shaul was that he made himself “small”, meaning, unimportant. An earlier pasuk explains that Shaul allowed the nation to convince him to take pity on Agag and let him live for the time being. Even though humility is an extremely admirable trait (Moshe Rabbeinu was praised as being the most humble man to ever live), even a good trait in its wrong place can be a bad one.
      No trait is said to be either a bad or a good one in Judaism. For example, jealousy is mentioned in Pirkei Avos (4:21) as being one of three things that remove a person from this world. On the other hand, the Gemarah in Baba Basra (21a) says that jealousy among scholars will result in advances in knowledge. So it does not matter what the trait is, in Judaism we believe it is all about how the person uses that trait. If used properly, any trait can be a good one.       
        For a king, humility is a terrible trait. A king needs to be able to make decisions without worrying about what people will say. He cannot focus on trying to protect everyone’s feelings and not make a big deal out of himself, he’s the King! He’s the one responsible! Because of his misplaced humility, Shaul could not continue as king. This is different from someone like Dovid, that even though he sinned, they did not come as a result of his being a poor leader.
       The Sichos Mussar suggests that Shaul panicked which led him to using his trait of humility poorly and to his sinning. In both mistakes that he made, with Agag and the korbanos, Shaul did not think everything through, instead he reacted to what the crowd was telling him, and ended up going against the word of Hashem.  In the times of the Megillah, however, we see that Mordechai did not even tremble when Haman walked by at a time when everyone feared Haman. Apparently, all instances of Amalek can have that affect.
       Now to Parshas Zachor. Reb Levi Yitzchak Mi’Berditchev in his sefer, Kedushas Levi, explains that our obligation to destroy Amalek does not end with their physical destruction. Amalek is not only a people, but ‘Amalek’ is an idea. Each of us has a little bit of this ‘Amalek’ inside of us that influences us towards evil. Our job is to eradicate this piece from within us. The medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:20) explains that the strength of Am Yisrael is through our mouths, through learning Torah and davening to Hashem. As long as we hold onto this power, we can hope to destroy Amalek. If we were to let go of it though, there is no way to defeat this instinct.
       Even though physically Amalek is no longer around, conceptually, it still remains. Through this extended Purim weekend (Thursday through Monday), let us focus on eradicating Amalek from within us. All the mitzvos we perform, all the davening we do, it should all be with the focus of removing that piece of Amalek contained within us. Accomplishing this is the true purpose of Purim.

Shabbat Shalom and A Freilechen Purim!  

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