Thoughts and Teachings: Shabbat Zachor

The Parasha for this week is Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 to 5:26.[i] This is also the second special Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim, which includes a special maftir reading, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, and a special Haftarah, I Samuel 15:2-34. The Haftarah narrative recounts King Saul’s failure to be obedient to the LORD’s command to utterly destroy Amalek (15:3). The historic foundations of this command are found twice in the Torah; first in Beshalach,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)

Then in Ki Teitzei,

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

While these two passages have the same intended outcome, there are two different methods of accomplishing the outcome. Both call for the “blotting out the memory of Amalek from under heaven,” the Exodus passage states that the LORD would accomplish the action while the Deuteronomy passage stats that Israel would do the “blotting out.” It would appear that is was during the time of King Saul, the LORD was satisfied with Israel’s status in the surrounding neighborhood and therefore tasked King Saul to fulfill the command in Deuteronomy. Sadly, for King Saul, he chose not to follow the letter of the LORD’s command but reinterpreted the LORD’s command to fit his wants and desires. (Compare I Samuel 15:20-21 to 15:3.) One of the reasons for reading this Haftarah before Purim is the warning in Exodus 17, “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Haman, though not an Amalelite, fit the modus operandi of Amalek, “Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them,” (Esther 9:24). One has to wonder, if King Saul had been obedient, if Amalek had been totally destroyed; how would the history of the Jews and the world been altered?

This week’s passage also contains probably one of the most well known and often scriptures;

“Does Adonai delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obeying the voice of Adonai?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
to pay heed than the fat of rams.”
– I Samuel 15:22

The passage seems to compare offerings and sacrifices to obedience, in that one is better than the other, the better being the obedience. While this is true, in context, this passage is not making a blanket comparison between obedience and sacrifice. What it is actually referencing is King Saul’s desire to use the fruits of his disobedience to placate Samuel and ADONAI by offering the “best” of Amalek’s herds (15:21) – which had been slated for destruction in the first place (15:3). It would appear, that in King Saul’s mind, his disobedience was covered or atoned for by his willingness to sacrifice Amalek’s herds. That is almost like a bank robber paying his court fees with the funds stolen from the bank. In Hebrew, that would be call chutzpah (חֻצְפָּה), impudence, gall, or audacity. Neither from King Saul nor from us today will the LORD accept the fruit of disobedience, He requires our very best, “From all your gifts that you receive, you are to present the best and holiest from them as Adonai’s portion,” (Korach, Numbers 18:29).

Putting aside the “disobedience” issue for a moment, the rational mind looks at the situation and says “wait a minute, there are some perfectly acceptable animals here that would be eligible for sacrifice if under proper Jewish ownership, so what’s the problem?” The problem remains, if one desires to serve the LORD, he or she has to do it according to the LORD’s directions not man’s own understanding or interpretations. According to Likuteo Sichos, “Samuel delivered the eternal message that, despite the importance of serving God with understanding, it must be preceded and be subservient to a firm commitment to accept the will of God whether or not it conforms to limited human intelligence.”[ii] In other words, there will be times in our walk with ADONAI, that following His guidance may not make sense to the natural mind, in fact the natural mind, rational understanding might very well seem to lead in a completely opposite direction. In that situation, we must, unlike King Saul, bring “every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah,” (II Corinthians 10:5b) following the teaching of Rav. Shaul as he affirmed, “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” (II Corinthians 5:7). For whatever reason, King Saul chose not to walk in obedience, by faith; instead he chose to walk in his own understanding and it cost him the kingdom. “Then Samuel said to him, ‘Adonai has torn the kingship over Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you,’” (I Samuel 15:28). Thus King Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, forfeited the kingdom to his neighbor, David of the tribe of Judah.

Instead of repeating King Saul’s folly, consider this exhortation to the believers in Rome;

I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Rubin Edition of the Prophets: Samuel I & II. Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications Ltd., 2002. p 99

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.