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8 Adar II 5760 - March 15, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Shmuess for Shabbos Zochor

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

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 Amoleik.

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 the way"?

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 rascal?

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 warm.

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 by it.

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 forgotten!"

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 umizeh".' "

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 cause.

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 here?

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 contemplate.

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 unknown].

"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.

Acknowledging Guilt

"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, shlita.

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