Parshat Zachor, which is about Amalek, is always read on the Shabbat before Purim. The haftarah is about the war against Amalek and its king, Agag, waged by King Saul.1

The obvious connection to Purim is that in the story of Purim, the wicked Haman, who was a descendant of Agag, sought to kill all of the Jewish people (Heaven forbid). Add to that the miraculous victory over Haman, through Mordecai and Esther, the descendants of King Saul.2

What other connections are there between the haftarah to Zachor and to Purim? What lessons are to be learned from this haftarah?

Onwards and Upwards

The haftarah begins with Samuel the prophet giving G‑d’s command to Shaul to utterly wipe out Amalek. “So said the L‑rd of Hosts, ‘I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid (wait) for him on the way, when he came up out of Egypt.Now, go, and you shall smite Amalek, and you shall utterly destroy all that is his … .’ “ 3 What is interesting about this verse is how it varies from the verse in Parshat Zachor, “Remember what Amalek did to you when you were going out of Egypt.”4 In the parshah, it says “going out” from Egypt; in the haftarah, it says “going up.”

Going out and going up express two different purposes in leaving Egypt. Going out refers to getting away from the negative influence of Egypt. Going up refers to the positive purposes achieved through going out of Egypt: receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and becoming G‑d’s nation.

A primary element of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai was that we were raised above nature, connecting with G‑d, and that G‑d would bring Himself into the physical, allowing the world to be infused with G‑dliness through our study of Torah and doing of mitzvahs.

The haftarah brings to the fore the nature of Amalek. When does Amalek attack? He does so when we are on the way up, when we are reaching to be who we are meant to be—above the natural and one with G‑d. This is what Amalek can’t stand; this is where their hatred lies.

This is the war we wage against Amalek every day. When we are inspired to rise above the natural, inevitably an Amalek comes to cool down our inspiration and fervor.

The war against Amalek as we came out of Egypt was necessary. Overcoming Amalek was part of what set the stage for receiving the Torah. And the same is true today. We should not see our battle with our personal Amalek as a negative; rather, it is a necessary struggle that prepares us to rise above.5

The Great Mistake

The haftarah continues to tell us how Saul went to war and destroyed Amalek. However, he didn’t do what G‑d wanted. He “took pity on Agag, and the best of the sheep, the oxen and cattle,”6 and kept them alive.

G‑d told Samuel: “I regret that I appointed Saul to be king, for he has turned away from Me and has not performed My word.”7

Samuel went to confront Saul.

Saul said: “I have performed G‑d’s will.” Samuel asked: “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears? And the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Saul answered: “From Amalek . . . to sacrifice to G‑d.” Samuel asked him: “Why did you not listen to G‑d’s voice . . . ” Shaul said: “But I did listen to G‑d’s voice . . . and the people took from the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the ban, to sacrifice to your G‑d in Gilgal.” Samuel replied with the famous words: “To obey [G‑d] is better than a sacrifice, to listen [to Him] is better than the fat of rams . . . Because you have rejected the word of G‑d, He has rejected you from being king.”8

Our great sages explain the verse—“Saul was a year old when he reigned”9—to mean that like an innocent 1-year-old, he did not experience the taste of sin.10 From this is understood that the fact that he allowed Agag and the animals to live was not because he intended to go against G‑d’s words, but that he had a logical and holy reason for doing so. He thought that he was doing what G‑d wanted. What was his reasoning?

Saul understood the idea of sacrifices: taking a physical and mundane animal, and transforming it into holiness, revealing the light that is hidden in the darkness. The lower the object, the greater the transformation and the greater the light that is revealed. Anytime we transform darkness into light it gives pleasure to G‑d. Saul reasoned that Amalek’s animals—the lowest of the low—would be an amazing transformation and a great pleasure to G‑d.

But human reasoning, even holy reasoning, has its faults. And in this case, it caused Saul to go against G‑d’s explicit words. As mentioned before, a Jew is meant to rise above, even beyond his reasoning, to do G‑d’s will. This doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t use his intellect to serve G‑d; his intellect should be used—but because that is what G‑d wants.

Wise as he may be, he still humbles himself and is subservient to G‑d’s will, even when it is beyond his reasoning.

It was Saul’s mistaken reasoning that kept Agag alive long enough to sire a child; Haman is a descendant of that union. This one error brought about the whole decree of Purim “to kill all the Jewish people in one day.”

Back to Purim

The key to the miracle of Purim was Samuel’s words, “To obey is better than a sacrifice; to listen is better than the fat of rams.” It was the Jewish people’s self-sacrifice beyond reason and their steadfast commitment to G‑d’s will that brought the miracle of Purim.

This is also why, from all of the mitzvahs of Purim, the only one that continues to this day is the festive meal, in which “a person is obligated to drink until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai.’ ”11 To get to a point where our service to G‑d goes beyond our reasoning. Whether it’s “going out” from the negative influences (as represented by “cursed is Haman”), or “going up,” doing positive deeds and connecting with G‑d (represented by “blessed is Mordechai”), it should be “until you do not know,” beyond your understanding.12

Through taking our service to this higher level—going beyond our intellect to do G‑d’s will—we will once again merit great miracles, like the miracles of Purim, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon!