Zachor

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On four Shabbatot beginning in Adar, additional Torah readings (the “Four Parashiyot”) are read after the weekly Parashah, reflecting seasonal themes relating to Purim and Passover. Their associated Haftarot also relate to these themes. The second of the Four Parashiyot, “Zachor” (Deut. 25:17-19), records the commandment to remember Amalek’s cowardly attack against the Israelites as they left Egypt (Ex. 17:8-13), and, in response, to annihilate Amalek. The Haftarah records Saul’s attempt to fulfill this command.

I Samuel 15:1 -34

After centuries of ad-hoc military leadership against their enemies, the Israelite tribes ask Samuel the Prophet to appoint a king to lead them in battle. Samuel and God grant this request, anointing the warrior, Saul, as king. Saul assembles an army and defeats Israel’s principal enemies. Samuel commands Saul to do so by killing every Amalekite person and animal. Saul and the people nonetheless spare Amalek’s king, Agag, and many of their animals to offer to God. God and Samuel inform Saul that his failure to carry out their command with precision renders him unfit to be Israel’s king and that he will be replaced; Saul’s reactions to this rejection further confirm his unworthiness. Samuel executes King Agag; Samuel and Saul never speak again.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 1-3: God commands Saul to eradicate Amalek.

I Samuel 15:3

Now[, Saul] go and smite Amalek. [You and others must] utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not -slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

עַתָּה֩ לֵ֨ךְ וְהִכִּֽיתָ֜ה אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֗ק וְהַֽחֲרַמְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ל עָלָ֑יו וְהֵמַתָּ֞ה מֵאִ֣ישׁ עַד־אִשָּׁ֗ה מֵֽעֹלֵל֙ וְעַד־יוֹנֵ֔ק מִשּׁ֣וֹר וְעַד־שֶׂ֔ה מִגָּמָ֖ל וְעַד־חֲמֽוֹר׃

Verses 4-6: Saul prepares to destroy Amalek, but spares the neighboring Kenites.

I Samuel 15:6

Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart, descend from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them, for you acted with kindness to all the children of Israel when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among Amalek.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֣וּל אֶֽל־הַקֵּינִ֡י לְכוּ֩ סֻּ֨רוּ רְד֜וּ מִתּ֣וֹךְ עֲמָלֵקִ֗י פֶּן־אֹֽסִפְךָ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֞ה עָשִׂ֤יתָה חֶ֙סֶד֙ עִם־כָּל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּעֲלוֹתָ֖ם מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם וַיָּ֥סַר קֵינִ֖י מִתּ֥וֹךְ עֲמָלֵֽק׃

Verses 7-9: Saul and his men destroy most of Amalek, but spare its king, Agag, and its valuables and sheep.

I Samuel 15:9

Saul and the people had pity on Agag, and on the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good - they refused to utterly destroy them. Everything that was of little value and weak, they utterly destroyed.

 וַיַּחְמֹל֩ שָׁא֨וּל וְהָעָ֜ם עַל־אֲגָ֗ג וְעַל־מֵיטַ֣ב הַצֹּאן֩ וְהַבָּקָ֨ר וְהַמִּשְׁנִ֤ים וְעַל־הַכָּרִים֙ וְעַל־כָּל־הַטּ֔וֹב וְלֹ֥א אָב֖וּ הַחֲרִימָ֑ם וְכָל־הַמְּלָאכָ֛ה נְמִבְזָ֥ה וְנָמֵ֖ס אֹתָ֥הּ הֶחֱרִֽימוּ׃

Verses 10-11: God informs Samuel that He does not wish for Saul to rule any longer.

I Samuel 15:11

“I [God] regret that I made Saul king because he turned away from [following] me, and did not perform my words.” This aggrieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night.

נִחַ֗מְתִּי כִּֽי־הִמְלַ֤כְתִּי אֶת־שָׁאוּל֙ לְמֶ֔לֶךְ כִּֽי־שָׁב֙ מֵאַֽחֲרַ֔י וְאֶת־דְּבָרַ֖י לֹ֣א הֵקִ֑ים וַיִּ֙חַר֙ לִשְׁמוּאֵ֔ל וַיִּזְעַ֥ק אֶל־ה' כָּל־הַלָּֽיְלָה׃

Verses 12-23: Samuel confronts Saul: despite Saul’s good intentions, he has failed in his divine mission. Therefore he has lost the kingship.

I Samuel 15:22

Samuel said [to Saul], “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֗ל הַחֵ֤פֶץ לַֽה' בְּעֹל֣וֹת וּזְבָחִ֔ים כִּשְׁמֹ֖עַ בְּק֣וֹל ה' הִנֵּ֤ה שְׁמֹ֙עַ֙ מִזֶּ֣בַח ט֔וֹב לְהַקְשִׁ֖יב מֵחֵ֥לֶב אֵילִֽים׃

Verses 24-31: Saul explains his sin, requests forgiveness, and seeks to move on; Samuel continues to reject him.

I Samuel 15:26

Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you: for you rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל לֹ֥א אָשׁ֖וּב עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֤י מָאַ֙סְתָּה֙ אֶת־דְּבַ֣ר ה' וַיִּמְאָסְךָ֣ ה' מִהְי֥וֹת מֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Verses 32-34: Samuel puts Agag to death, and returns home.

I Samuel 15:33  שמואל א ט״ו:ל״ג

Samuel said [to Agag], “As your sword made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women. Samuel cut down Agag before the Lord in Gilgal.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר שִׁכְּלָ֤ה נָשִׁים֙ חַרְבֶּ֔ךָ כֵּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֥ל מִנָּשִׁ֖ים אִמֶּ֑ךָ וַיְשַׁסֵּ֨ף שְׁמוּאֵ֧ל אֶת־אֲגָ֛ג לִפְנֵ֥י ה' בַּגִּלְגָּֽל׃

Connections

The Midrash connects Saul’s failure to kill Agag with Haman’s rise in the Book of Esther.

Esther Rabbah, Petichta 7

Rabbi Levi opened [his sermon about the book of Esther by citing Num. 33:55], “‘If you do not expel the inhabitants of the Land from before you, [then] those that you let remain [shall be as thorns in your eyes, and as pricks in your sides.’ [R. Levi said] this [verse] speaks of Saul… [Samuel said to Saul,] ‘You departed innocent but returned guilty [since] you had compassion on [Agag], as (1 Samuel 15:9) states, “Saul and the people had pity on Agag.” A sprout will arise from [Agag] and will do harsh things to you, [becoming] “thorns in your eyes, and as pricks in your sides”! Who is this? It is Haman who stated [his plan to] “exterminate, kill, and destroy [all the Jews].” (Esther 3:13)’”

רַבִּי לֵוִי פָּתַח (במדבר לג, נה): וְאִם לֹא תוֹרִישׁוּ אֶת ישְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ מִפְּנֵיכֶם וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר תּוֹתִירוּ מֵהֶם, מְדַבֵּר בְּשָׁאוּל... אֲמַר לֵיהּ אֲזַלְתְּ זַכָּאָה וַאֲתֵית חַיָּיבָא וְחַסְתְּ עֲלוֹי, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א טו, ט): וַיַּחְמֹל שָׁאוּל וְהָעָם עַל אֲגָג, וְהָא צִמְחָא קַיָּימָא מִינֵּיהּ שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה לָכֶם דְּבָרִים קָשִׁים, לְשִׂכִּים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם וְלִצְנִינִם בְּצִדֵּיכֶם, וְאֵיזֶה זֶה, זֶה הָמָן, שֶׁאָמַר: לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד.

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email zbeer570@gmail.com.