What was so Serious?
"Remember what Amoleik did to you, on the way when you were
coming out of Egypt . . . " (Devorim 25:17). There are
several points to note about this posuk, as well as
about the general mitzvo of wiping out the memory of
First, the posuk says, "Remember what Amoleik did
to you," addressing Klal Yisroel in the
singular, lecho. Immediately afterwards though, it
changes to the plural: "on the way when you were coming out
of Egypt," using the plural betzeisechem.
Furthermore, what was the root of Amoleik's sin? In speaking
of Amoleik the posuk (18) says, "who cooled you down
on the way . . . " What was this cooling down and why does
the posuk specifically mention that it happened "on
Chazal (in the Yalkut, parshas Ki Seitze), give the
illustration of a scalding bath, which nobody was prepared to
enter. "One rascal came along and jumped into it. Even though
he was burned, he cooled it down for others. In the same way,
when Yisroel left Egypt, all the nations were afraid of them,
as the posuk (Shemos 15:15-16) says, "Then the princes
of Edom were terror stricken . . . fear and dread will
fall on them . . . " Once Amoleik came and attacked Yisroel,
even though they received what they deserved, they cooled
down Yisroel's influence on the other nations [thus removing
their invulnerability]." This parable and its application
both need to be understood. Why does a person who pulls a
prank and jumps into a boiling bath deserve the label of a
The term used by the medrash for the rascal in the
parable is ben beliya'al. This literally means someone
without a yoke, lacking any sense of responsibility. If he
felt any responsibility at all, at the very least towards
himself, he would think twice before leaping into a boiling
hot bath that everyone else is frightened to go near. If he
goes ahead and jumps in, this is a sign that he's not even at
the level of a regular person. He's utterly and completely
irresponsible, acknowledging no yoke or higher accountability
compelling him to exercise caution.
Coldness of Death
The parable's meaning is now clear. All the nations were
keeping their distance from Klal Yisroel, for fear of
slighting them. They recognized something of Klal
Yisroel's greatness. You Amoleik, though -- you came to
fight! You neither recognize, nor do you fear Hashem.
Rashi explains that the words of the posuk (18), "not
fearing Hashem" refer to Amoleik, who wasn't deterred in the
slightest by Klal Yisroel's stature and glory. This
indicates coldness of heart. Amoleik has no heart. And even
though they were burned by the boiling bath into which they
recklessly plunged, they managed to cool it down for others
in the process. With their coldness of heart, Amoleik sinned
and led all the nations of the world to sin.
Amoleik's spiritual coldness can be understood through the
following illustration. A doctor comes to examine a seriously
ill patient. If he finds that the entire body is cold, there
is little hope. However, if there is still warmth in even one
limb, he can be saved, as I heard from the gaon and
tzaddik HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, who told me
that in England, there was once a very seriously ill patient,
whom all the doctors had given up on, regarding him as
virtually dead. A certain professor was called from Vienna
and when he arrived in England and came to the patient's
home, he was told that there was no point in his examining
him and trying to heal him, for the patient had already grown
cold like a corpse. The professor responded that whatever the
patient's condition, he would go in to examine him. He found
that one limb was still warm and he called whoever was in the
house to come and massage the patient's body and pour
scalding water on him. The patient eventually revived and
made a complete recovery. The warmth from one limb spread to
the next and from there onward, until the whole body was
Amoleik, on the other hand, did not have a single warm
spiritual limb through which to recognize the greatness of
Hashem and the glory of Klal Yisroel. Hashem therefore
promised, "I will utterly wipe out every trace of Amoleik"!
This is why the Torah addresses each and every individual,
using the singular form, "Remember what Amoleik did to you
. . . " Amoleik introduced something of their own
coldness into the heart of each Jew. This is why we have to
remember what they did -- we have to make sure that we wipe
out that coldness and prevent our hearts from being affected
The effects of this coldness can be seen in the following
story about the Chofetz Chaim. A certain rav from Russia once
came to visit the Chofetz Chaim in Radin.
The Chofetz Chaim asked his visitor, "What's the situation
with shemiras Shabbos in Russia?" and the rav from
Russia replied, "The gentiles have their holiday every Sunday
and if a Jew closes his store on Shabbos he is caught and
thrown into jail."
The Chofetz Chaim asked, "So what are you doing to combat
this chilul Shabbos?" and his visitor answered, "What
can anybody do against the Communists?"
The Chofetz Chaim then asked, "What's happening with
authentic Torah education?" The rav replied, "If someone
opens a properly religious cheder, or even if he just
sends his son to learn Torah, he'll be sent to Siberia."
The Chofetz Chaim asked him, "And are you fighting against
this, for if there are no chadorim, what will become
of the children? Torah will chas vesholom be
The Chofetz Chaim then went on to ask about other
fundamentals of Jewish spiritual life and every time the
rav's response was, "What can one do?"
The Chofetz Chaim finally retorted angrily, "Your answer to
everything has been `What can one do?' but there is
something that everyone can do -- one can faint! If people
would faint over the Shechina's distress next to the
Kremlin, it would have an effect even on the Communists."
But when one remains cold and unaffected, this is the
influence of Amoleik, "who cooled you down on the way." This
is a very penetrating lesson!
Long Term Damage
This coldness of heart is alluded to in the megilla
(4:5). "And Esther called Hasoch and commanded him about
Mordechai, to find out mah zeh ve'al mah zeh, what was
happening and why." The medrash (Esther Rabbah parsha
8), comments, "She said to him, `Go and tell him that
never in all of Klal Yisroel's history has such a
tragedy befallen them. Perhaps they have denied Hashem [about
whom they said] "zeh Keili ve'anveihu," or perhaps
they have repudiated the luchos [about which the
posuk (Shemos 32:15) says,] "they are written mizeh
We learn from this where to look if any troubles chas
vesholom befall Klal Yisroel, and with whom we
ought to intercede by sending messengers and asking for
favors. Mordechai and Esther looked straight away for the sin
that lay at the root of the trouble and that was its
In response to Esther's question about whether Klal
Yisroel had denied Hashem, the posuk (Esther 4:7)
tells us, "And Mordechai told her everything that had
happened to him," on which the medrash (Esther Rabba
parsha 8:5) comments, "He said to Hasoch, `Go and tell
her, the grandson of Korohu [i.e. Amoleik] is coming
to you,' as the posuk says, `who cooled you down on
the way'." Why did Mordechai refer to Amoleik's coldness
We can understand this in the light of the gemora (Megilla
12), which says, "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's
talmidim asked him, `Why did that generation deserve
annihilation?' He replied, `Because they derived enjoyment
from the feast which that wicked one made.' "
Our master and teacher, the gaon HaRav Yehuda Leib
Chasman zt'l, noted that the gemora doesn't say
that they sinned in eating at the feast, merely that they
derived enjoyment. In fact, they couldn't have eaten
forbidden foods there for Chazal tell us that the posuk
(Esther 1:8), "to fulfill the wishes of each man" refers
to "the wishes of Mordechai," who supervised the
kashrus of what the Jews ate.
In what then were they remiss? The gemora however also
says, "And drink was given with vessels of gold and vessels
of various kinds," (these are the words which we read in the
mournful tune of Eichoh) meaning, that the evil
Achashverosh brought out the golden wine bowls from the
Beis Hamikdosh that had been used for pouring the wine
offerings on the mizbeiach. At Achashverosh's party,
drink was taken from those bowls and the Jews enjoyed the
sight of the vessels' fine gold. Of course, there were
dancers and musicians at the feast too, and the Jews joined
in by clapping . . . this is how they derived enjoyment from
"the feast which that wicked one made." They remained cool,
untouched by the tragedy of this defilement and debasement of
vessels from the Beis Hamikdosh. This was the
influence of Amoleik, "who cooled you down on the way."
Amoleik's legacy . . . coldness, apathy, unwillingness to
Fighting the Coldness
The posuk says, "And G-d made [things in such a way]
that they should be in fear before Him." This means that
Hakodosh Boruch Hu built into every aspect of the
world's order and function, from the inanimate level to the
vegetative and the living world, the ability to inspire man
to fear Him.
The posuk (Koheles 12:13) says, "Ultimately,
everything is heard; fear G-d and keep His commandments . . .
" If a person looks at the world around him, he will
ultimately arrive at the point of "everything is heard" and
he will see how the entire creation was made "to be in fear
before Him" (Koheles 3:14). If a person remains cold
and apathetic however, taking no notice of what surrounds
him, how will he develop yiras Shomayim? This is what
the mitzvo of wiping out Amoleik, the root of all the evil
that plagues the world, is for. There is war against Amoleik
in every generation!
It is related that the Baal Shem Tov zt'l, was once
out walking with his followers and they passed by a frozen
river. The Besht stood in contemplation for a few moments and
then sighed at the sight of some gentiles who were standing
by the river, making the shape of the cross Rachmono
litzlan. The Besht's disciples asked him what thoughts
the place had inspired in him and he told them, "Think for a
moment -- in the summer, a man can immerse himself in the
river's waters and become holier thereby. Now that the river
is frozen, goyim are standing there making crosses
R'l . . . "
This is the difference between a living, contemplative heart
that is warm with excitability -- it can elevate its owner,
to the point of carrying him from tumah to
kedusha, as though he'd dipped in a river and become
pure and holy. A heart that is cold and apathetic though,
that cholila lacks any enthusiasm for holiness -- its
owner remains enmeshed in his tumah, R'l. The way to
warm up one's heart is through the power that gives warmth --
" `Thus My words are like fire,' says Hashem" (Yirmiyohu
23:29) -- namely, Torah. "The Jews had light and joy . .
. " (Esther 8:16) -- light means Torah.
A Puzzling Failure
So far we've discussed the root of Amoleik's sinfulness. Now
we will attempt to explain the nature of our mitzvo to
remember Amoleik and to wipe them out, generation after
generation. "The [Hashem's] Throne is not complete until the
name of Amoleik is wiped out."
The pesukim (Shmuel I 15:1-5) tell us, "And Shmuel
said to Shaul . . . so says [Hashem] . . . I have remembered
what Amoleik did to Yisroel . . . now go and you shall smite
Amoleik, destroy everything that belongs to them and have no
mercy on them. Kill man and woman, babes and sucklings, oxen
and sheep, camels and lambs . . . and Shaul went to the city
of Amoleik and he fought at the river." Chazal (Yoma
22) explain that the quarrel which the word
vayorev refers to was one which Shaul waged against
himself, al iskei nachal, over what is done by the
river, referring to the egloh arufoh [which is killed
by a riverside when a dead body is found and the murderer is
"Rabbi Mani said . . . When Hakodosh Boruch Hu told
Shaul, `Go and you shall smite Amoleik,' he said, `If, for
one life, the Torah says bring an egloh arufoh, how
much more so [will atonement be needed] for all these lives.
And if the humans have sinned, how have the animals sinned?
And if the adults have sinned, how have the children sinned?"
It's amazing. How could Shaul make such reckoning when the
Torah says, "For I will wipe out the memory of Amoleik"?!
Chazal generally give Shaul Hamelech the highest praise,
telling us for example (in Yoma,) that "he was like a
one year old in [not] having sinned," yet in this instance it
seems that he took his Creator to task, as it were, over the
command to destroy every vestige of Amoleik! And not only did
he refrain from obliterating Amoleik, he even left Agag
alive, who became the ancestor of Hommon! The Brisker Rov
zt'l however tells us that Agag had accepted upon
himself observance of the seven mitzvos of gentiles.
According to the Rambam, it is forbidden to kill such a
gentile, though here, a novi -- Shmuel -- had given a
specific instruction to kill him nonetheless.
A Mitzvo that We Can and Must Understand
With regard to the first point, namely, how Shaul could argue
with Hashem's command, the question can be raised as to how
to categorize the mitzvo of wiping out Amoleik. Is it one of
the mitzvos that the human intellect also recognizes as being
required, as the Rambam explains for example regarding the
mitzvo to honor parents, or is it a chok, a statute,
which we have to fulfill even without understanding why?
Though we must fulfill the mitzvo all the same, there will be
a difference in the prayer Hineni muchon umezumon . . .
which is said beforehand.
What would we say for example, about taking a little Amoleik
boy and killing him? Would we understand it as being
something necessary, that our own minds also tell us has to
be done -- in our generation in particular, when Amoleik
walks around nicely dressed in a suit and tie and you can't
see any sign of his evil deeds on him, you just know that
he's a descendant of Amoleik, though he himself has done
nothing wrong? What would we say about doing such a thing?
This was the Shaul Hamelech's mistake. Though he killed the
Amoleikim, on his level of greatness, he failed to see that
although Amoleik were vipers who had led all the nations to
sin and to destruction, the mitzvo to wipe them out is one
that we can understand, not a statute.
Because of this, he lost the throne. When he "argued" with
his Creator about destroying Amoleik, a Bas Kol from
Heaven said, "Don't be too much of a tzaddik," and
when he killed the inhabitants of Nov, the city of
cohanim a Bas Kol said, "Don't be too much of a
rosho." This teaches us, say Chazal (Yoma 22),
that whoever shows mercy to evildoers, will ultimately behave
cruelly towards righteous people. This is why the posuk
(33) tells us, "Shmuel hacked Agag before Hashem . . . "
on which Chazal comment (in the Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel I
remez 123), that he cut Agag into pieces and fed them to
ostriches. Shmuel killed Agag this way to demonstrate to
Shaul that this is a mitzvo that our own understanding also
requires to be done.
When Shaul fought Amoleik, he took Agag alive and he also
left some of the animals for sacrifices. When Shmuel came to
Shaul, who told him (posuk 13), " . . . I have
fulfilled Hashem's word," it was not on the first count that
Shmuel took him to task, only on the second (posuk
19): "Why did you not listen to Hashem's word, swooping
onto the spoil . . . ?" The fact that Shmuel did not rebuke
Shaul for leaving Agag alive as well is proof for the Brisker
Rov's explanation, that it was forbidden to kill him because
he had accepted the fulfillment of the seven gentiles'
mitzvos and could therefore not be killed as an Amoleik.
Why in that case, did Shmuel himself kill Agag? The reason
was that Agag was also a murderer, as Shmuel said to him
(posuk 33), "Just as your sword has made mothers
bereaved, so shall your mother be bereaved among women . . .
" in other words, because Agag had murdered but not because
he was an Amoleik.
"And he [Shaul] said, `I have sinned, now honor me before the
elders of my people and before Yisroel and I will bow down to
Hashem your G-d' and Shmuel went back after Shaul and they
bowed down to Hashem" (30-31). Why did Shmuel at first
refuse to comply with Shaul's request that he go back with
him? (25), "And Shmuel said to Shaul, `I will not return with
you, for you have despised Hashem's word . . . ' " (26), when
afterwards, he did agree to go back with him?
HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman zt'l, answers that the first
time, Shaul explained his mistake saying, "I sinned, for I
transgressed Hashem's command and yours, because I was afraid
of the people and I listened to what they said" (24). This
though, was an excuse and as soon as someone starts to make
excuses, it's a proof that he hasn't yet recognized that he
has sinned. Thus, the first time Shmuel refused. The second
time however, Shaul simply said, "I have sinned," without any
explanations. Once he had realized that he had sinned, Shmuel
agreed to go back with him.
"G-d made man straight" (Koheles 7:29), able to admit
to his failings without trying to find excuses and
sidestepping his guilt. This is why the novi (Yirmiyohu
2:35) says, "Behold I will judge you for your saying `I
have not sinned.' " Our master and teacher asked, if there
was a sin, they need to be judged for the sin itself, not for
its denial. And if they really didn't sin, why should they be
judged at all?
The explanation is that clearly they did sin however, had
they recognized their sin, they would surely have done
teshuvah. If they don't even acknowledge the sin, how
will they do teshuvah? They think that they have
nothing to do teshuvah for! This is why they were
judged for their failure to acknowledge their sin.
This is the lesson with which Megillas Esther ends
(Esther 9:31), "to fulfill these days of Purim . . .
as Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther bade them to fulfill,
and as they accepted upon themselves and their offspring, the
matters of the fasts and of their outcry." They recognized
their sin when Hommon rose up against them and therefore "the
Jews had light and joy"!
This essay, as the other essays from HaRav Sholom
Schwadron, zt'l, is original material that has never
before appeared in print in any language, that was made
available to Yated by HaRav Yitzchok Schwadron,