Recurring Motifs

The conflict between Haman and Mordechai which led to the Purim miracle, was rooted in events that had occurred many centuries earlier. Haman traced his descent to Agag, King of Amalek.1 Mordechai and Esther were scions of the royal family of Shaul, the first king of Israel. When the Jews left Egypt, Amalek was the first nation to attack them. As a result of this the Jews were commanded,2 “When G‑d will relieve you of all your enemies... blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Several centuries later, after Shaul was crowned king, the prophet Shmuel ordered him to fulfill G‑d’s commandment thus:3 “Smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that is his. And have no pity on him; slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Shaul gathered the Jewish people together and waged war against the Amalekites, slaying the entire nation and destroy­ing their property. However, “he had pity on Agag, and the choicest of the sheep and cattle...,”4 and brought them back with him. Shmuel severely reproached Shaul for this: “Because you have rejected the word of G‑d, He has rejected you as king.”5 Though Shmuel then killed Agag, Agag was able to father a child in the interval between his capture by Shaul and his death. That child was the ancestor of Haman.6

The Amalek Inside Us

The Tanach is no mere history book. Beyond its chronicles of past events, it furnishes us with insights that can en­hance our present service of G‑d.

Though the name Amalek refers to a nation that actually existed, it also describes a character trait within ourselves. Just as Amalek stood in direct opposition to the Jewish peo­ple, the trait symbolized by Amalek defies the very founda­tions of our divine service.

The Midrash7 describes the nature of this trait in its com­mentary on the verse,8 “Remember what Amalek did to you came forth from Egypt, how he encountered you on the way and cut down all the weak who straggled behind you.” The Midrash explains that the Hebrew word lre (“he encountered you”) can also be rendered as “he cooled you off.” Amalek represents the cold rationality which makes us question everything we do or experience.9

Stepping Beyond the Intellect

To achieve complete service of G‑d, we must transcend our own intellectual limitations. Therefore, before the Jewish people received the Torah, they declared, Naaseh VeNishma — “We will do and we will listen.”10 “We will do” refers to the desire to carry out G‑d’s will, and “we will listen” to the effort to understand G‑d’s commandments intellectually. By proclaiming “We will do” before “we will listen,” our ancestors implied that they would fulfill G‑d’s will without hesita­tion or doubt, whether they understood it or not. By the same token, our commitment to Torah must at all times leap beyond the limits of our understanding.

A commitment of this magnitude is challenged by our internal Amalek which tells us: “By all means accept the Torah, but wait, consider carefully exactly how much you can study, and precisely which mitzvos you can fulfill. Don’t bite off too much.”

Within this context, we can understand the numerical equivalence between Amalek and the word safek , the Hebrew word for “doubt”.11 Amalek causes doubt and hesitation which cools the ardor of our divine service. Victory in our inner war with Amalek means devoting our­selves to G‑d’s service without reservations, observing Torah with diligence and enthusiasm that are not confined by our reason.

A Historic Error

Based on this, we can understand how Shaul’s error in allowing Agag and Amalek’s choice herds to live is connected to the character trait personified by Amalek. Shaul did not intend to transgress G‑d’s will. He was an utterly righteous man, “G‑d’s chosen.”12 Describing his lofty character in their commentary on the verse,13 “Shaul was a year in his reign,” our Sages explain14 that “Shaul was like a year-old child who had never tasted sin.”

Shaul’s mistake in his dealings with Amalek lay in following the dictates of his reason. For example, he saved the herds in order to offer them as sacrifices to G‑d under the mistaken impression that this service would fulfill G‑d’s in­tention more completely. By bringing the animals of Amalek as offerings, he wanted to demonstrate that even the elements of the world that appear to oppose G‑d’s will can be used for good.

This rationale, though worthy, ran contrary to the explicit commandment G‑d had relayed through His prophet. Thus, Shmuel replied to Shaul, “To obey (G‑d) is better than a sacrifice.”15 G‑d and His will are infinite and cannot be grasped by our limited intellects. Approaching Him with rea­son alone, leaves room for error. Even if no mistake is actu­ally made, our service is flawed, for the limitations of our un­derstanding prevent us from relating to the infinite dimen­sions of G‑dliness. The only way we can connect with these levels of G‑dliness is by actualizing a potential within our­selves that is similarly unbounded.

Accepting G‑d’s Yoke

Only through kabbalas ol, accepting the yoke of G‑d’s sovereignty with a simple, unquestioning commitment, can we establish a more complete bond with G‑d. Kabbalas ol takes us beyond our limited selves and brings out the infinite G‑dly potential of our souls.

This quality was epitomized by Shaul’s successor, David, who describes his approach to divine service in the verse,16 “I have stilled and quieted myself.” Chassidus points out that the word Domamti (“I have quieted myself”) shares a root with Domaim, which means “an inanimate object.” In other words, David so far transcended his own natural self that it was humbled to the level of an inanimate object; he became incapable of self-centered behavior.

Amending the Past

The quality of kabbalas ol is also reflected within the Purim narrative. For it was the commitment of kabbalas ol that brought about the defeat of Haman, descendant of Amalek. This is alluded to in the description of Mordechai as HaYehudi17 (“the Jew”). Literally, this word means “a descen­dant of the tribe of Yehudah,” David’s tribe, whereas Mordechai was actually a Benjaminite and a relative of Shaul. Likewise, throughout the Megillah,18 the entire Jewish people are called Yehudim, without distinction of tribal origin. For one of the derivations of this word shares a common root with Hoda'ah, signifying self-effacing acknowledgment — i.e., serving G‑d with kabbalas ol.

For indeed, Mordechai and Esther showed a complete and unquestioning commitment to G‑d’s will even when challenged by the severest conditions. They encouraged their fellow Jews to turn to G‑d in teshuvah and strengthen their observance of Torah even while under threat of Haman’s decree.

Their example has a contemporary freshness to it. We, too, live in exile, and our commitment to Torah and mitzvos is challenged by discordant voices from without, and a smoothly-spoken “Amalek” from within, which insinuates doubt and hesitation into our lives. Through kabbalas ol, however, we can overcome these obstacles and further sensi­tize our service of G‑d. And just as in the time of Purim, kabbalas ol brought “light and joy, gladness and honor”19 to the Jewish people, so too, in our time, it will bring success and blessing, and enhance our status in the world.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, Parshas Zachor