The Cost of Delay

The Haftorah for Parshas Zachor1 relates how King Shaul had mercy on Agag, King of Amalek, and on the choice herds and flocks of that nation. This ran contrary to G‑d’s will, and for this reason, G‑d took the kingship away from Shaul and transferred it to David.

The Torah reading and Haftorah of Parshas Zachor are connected to Purim; this is the reason they are read on the Shabbos preceding that holiday. The connection is obvious. Haman is described as “the Agagite,”2 which means he descended from the Agag mentioned in the Haftorah as king of the Amalekites, and a direct descendant of Amalek.3

This theme is also reflected in Parshas Zachor itself, which includes the mitzvah of remembering Amalek’s attack on the newborn Jewish nation.

The connection is further emphasized by our Sages’ statement4 that Haman was born because Shaul did not kill Agag immediately. Thus the decree against the Jewish people initiated by Haman was a direct product of Saul’s delay.

All matters recorded in the Torah are precise. Thus not only the Haftorah reading as a totality, but all of its particulars teach us lessons that relate to Purim. This applies also with regard to Shaul’s explanation5 that he brought the sheep and herds of Amalek “to sacrifice to G‑d your L-rd,” and Shmuel’s reply:6 “Obeying [G‑d] is preferable to sacrifice… You have spurned the word of G‑d.”

Reason, and Above Reason

On the verse,7 “When Shaul had ruled for one year,” our Sages comment:8 “With regard to sin, Shaul was untainted, like a child one year old.” As such, we can understand that the reason he did not kill Agag and the choice herds and flocks was not because he did not want to obey G‑d’s word; rather, he had an explanation for his conduct which was acceptable according to logic within the realm of holiness. Indeed, when Shmuel rebuked him, Shaul replied:9 “I have fulfilled the word of G‑d.” He didn’t understand that he had rejected G‑d’s command. On the contrary, according to his conception, he had obeyed G‑d’s word.

Shaul understood the spiritual dynamic involved in sacrifice, and knew that by sacrificing an animal to G‑d, the darkness of material existence is transformed into light.10 And “there is an advantage to light over darkness,”11 i.e., from the darkness is generated an “advantage” of light a higher quality of light than would otherwise exist. Shaul thought this motif would find consummate fulfillment by bringing the sheep and herds of Amalek as sacrifices. For Amalek is “the first of nations,”12 the source for all evil.13 Thus by sacrificing animals associated with such profound spiritual darkness, it ought to be possible to tap a higher level of light.

But his failing was that “Shaul followed his reason.”14 Although his conduct could be rationalized, he lacked a complete sense of kabbalas ol, surrender of self to G‑d’s will.

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A further comparison of the Divine service of Shaul and David is found in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, Parshas Shemini, and the sources mentioned there. Therefore although G‑d had commanded:16 “Utterly destroy everything possessed by Amalek,” Shaul felt the matter was not clear.

This point was underscored by Shmuel’s answer: “Obeying [G‑d] is preferable to a sacrifice, and hearkening [surpasses] the fat of rams.”

On the verse,17 “All the fat should be given to G‑d,” our Rabbis comment18 that the word cheilev, “fat,” can also be rendered as “choice parts,” and thus they interpret the verse as a command to use the most choice of our possessions in G‑d’s service. And if this applies with regard to our material possessions, how much more so with regard to our spiritual possessions the powers and potentials we have been granted.

The most refined of our spiritual potentials is intellect, and we must use it in our Divine service. It is not sufficient to serve G‑d merely with kabbalas ol, unquestioning commitment, for this will at times result in Divine service carried out without motivation; a person will do as he is commanded, but his devotion will go no deeper.

For this reason, a person must also serve G‑d with his intellect, understanding G‑d’s will to the full extent of his abilities, and in this way drawing close to Him. This is what is meant by “sacrifice” and “fat” in the above verse.

Nevertheless, “obeying is preferable to a sacrifice and… fat.” The commitment of kabbalas ol surpasses that of intellect. Firstly, when one follows one’s reason, one can err, as Shaul did. Moreover, even when one is able to appreciate what G‑d wants, a decision to follow His will based on one’s reason does not match the surrender of self and bittul that stems from kabbalas ol. For when a person obeys out of an intellectual imperative, his self-image remains intact; he has not put himself to one side. But when one obeys out of kabbalas ol, one is surrendering and nullifying his self to G‑d; that is the advantage of this mode of Divine service.

Indeed, the very fact that we serve G‑d through intellect should itself be an expression of kabbalas ol. For it is G‑d’s will that we serve Him with our minds. This should be our motivation in using our minds for Divine service.

The Means to Combat Haman

Kabbalas ol is described19 as “the gate to ascent,” the entrance to all spiritual matters. If kabbalas ol is lacking, one is not a medium for holiness, and all possible forms of evil can result. It was in this way that Shaul, following his reason and not killing Agag immediately, allowed to be born the man who desired to annihilate the entire Jewish people.

Conversely, it was bittul and kabbalas ol which led to the nullification of Haman’s decree. For in response to that decree, the Jews displayed a degree of mesirus nefesh which transcended logic. For that reason, throughout the Megillah they are referred to as Yehudim,20 as our Sages comment:21 “Who is a Yehudi ? One who denies the worship of foreign gods.”

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Reason and intellect alone are incapable of appreciating the ultimate intent of G‑d’s will, or knowing what is the form of Divine service demanded from one at a given time. Such awareness is a product of the humble acceptance (hodaah) that accompanies kabbalas ol.

This is the meaning of the statement: “Who is a Yehudi? One who denies the worship of foreign gods.” For hodaah is the mode of Divine service which leads to the denial of even these subtle forms of avodah zarah.

This also enables us to understand the connection between the Haftorah of Parshas Zachor and the holiday of Purim. For the fact that Shaul “had mercy on the choice sheep and herds so that he could sacrifice them to G‑d” (I Shmuel 15:9) in itself (were it not for G‑d’s command: “Utterly destroy everything [Amalek] possesses”) represents an elevated plane of Divine service, the refinement of sparks of G‑dliness which are found in the very depths of material existence. But at that time, G‑d did not desire that the sparks of G‑dliness enclothed in Amalek’s possession be refined. He desired that Amalek and everything connected with him be utterly destroyed. Because “Shaul followed [his] reason,” he did not appreciate the ultimate intent of G‑d’s will. His sin was atoned for by the bittul and kabbalas ol to which Mordechai inspired the Jewish people in the time of Haman’s decree.

Moreover, the name Yehudim alludes to the service of hodaah, the humble acknowledgment of G‑d’s sovereignty. This is the key to the redemption of Purim.

This lets us understand the connection between the Haftorah of Parshas Zachor and the holiday of Purim. Shaul’s sin arose from a lack of kabbalas ol. Such a lack leaves room for the existence of Agag, i.e., the kelipah of Amalek.23 It may even make possible a decree to destroy the Jewish people.

Victory over the spiritual counterpart of Amalek comes from following Shmuel’s approach: “Obeying [G‑d] is preferable to a sacrifice, and hearkening [surpasses] the fat of rams,” i.e., mesirus nefesh that transcends reason is the supreme approach. And this leads to a victory over Amalek on the material plane, just as the Jews wiped out Amalek’s descendant, Haman, and all their enemies. Afterwards, “the Jews experienced light and joy, gladness and honor.”24

Above the Limits of Knowledge

Based on the above, we can also understand the uniqueness of the mitzvah which, above all other matters connected with Purim, shares a connection with the holiday. This is the obligation for “a person to become so intoxicated on Purim that he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.’ ”25 The connection to Purim as a whole is reflected by the Megillah’ s description of the festival as “days of drinking and celebration.”

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Similarly, one is obligated to study Torah throughout the entire day. Yet by studying “one portion in the morning and one portion in the evening” (Menachos 99b), the study is extended over the entire day.

In contrast, the obligation to read the Megillah does not last all day. Instead, the obligation is to hear it once in the evening and once in the morning. Even with regard to matanos l’evyonim, concerning which the Rambam writes (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:17) that it is a mitzvah to give extensively, it is not stated that one must give throughout the day (see Taz 695:1). Even with regard to the prohibition against fasting: although one is prohibited to fast the entire day, this is not relevant to the above point. For [the prohibition against] fasting [does not communicate a positive point]; it would merely negate [the spirit desired for the holiday] (Sichos Purim, 5718).



The intent of the intoxication is not confusion, but rather that a person should lift his Divine service of “turn[ing] away from evil”27 (“Cursed be Haman”) and “do[ing] good” (“Blessed be Mordechai”) above the limits of knowledge.

The Purim miracle came about because the Jews displayed mesirus nefesh that transcended the limits of knowledge. Therefore the commemoration of the holiday is also connected with expressing faith and mesirus nefesh Divine service above the limits of knowledge. The intent is, moreover, that even those concepts that can be understood should be approached from a foundation of faith. As implied by the verse:28 “Teach me good reason and knowledge, because I have believed in Your commandments,” even “good reason and knowledge” should be based on belief and faith.

And from Purim, we derive inspiration for the year to come.

(Adapted from Sichos Purim, 5719)