[Avodah] Haman and Amaleik

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Feb 26 12:31:43 PST 2013

On Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 02:06:07PM +0000, Kenneth Miller wrote:
: You seem to be saying that those who killed Haman, and those who killed
: his sons, and those who killed other Amalekim of the day, did not fulfill
: a mitzvah thereby, because there were other Amalekim still alive, and
: the destruction of the nation was only partial.

The Rambam (Melakhim 5:5) says the mitzvah is le'abeid zera Amaleiq.
And in Seifer haMitzvos (188), "lehakhris zera Amaleiq" alone from amongs
all the other descendents of Eisav, and he places it in the context of
yishuv EY and having a king. There he points us to Peirus haMishnayos
(Sotah 8) -- also about milkhemes mitzvah.

The Rambam doesn't seem to say there is a mitzvah outside the context of
war. But perhaps not all-or-nothing. (Between ibud via killing and ibud
of their Amaleiq identity via making geirei toshav and geirei tzedaq.)

: If so, I'm curious where you get this. My guess is that you might
: be getting it from the haftara about Shaul, who supposedly ignored the
: mitzvah by allowing Agag to stay alive. But I would have thought that
: each Amaleki is a separate mitzvah, and that Shaul DID fulfill the mitzvah
: with the others he killed, but that he was m'vatel this one other mitzva.

R' Reuvein Zeigler adapted an address by RALichtenstein to the YU Rabbanic
Alumni at <http://vbm-torah.org/archive/develop/06develop.htm>. This quote
is roughly what I remember seeing in Leaves of Faith vol II, perhaps someone
who owns a copy can compare. RAL argues that sparing Agag showed that Shaul
thought killing Amaleiq was moral, rather than an incomprehensible command
one must obey. And a king who thinks he can justify genocide is too dangerous
to keep in power. To quote the adaptation:

    after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, I published an open letter
    to the Prime Minister.Among other things, this letter dealt with the
    use of force and the motivation behind it. I asked: Why was it that
    King Shaul was punished for not killing Agag, King of Amalek? Was it
    simply for not having killed the last remaining Amalekite? I suggested
    that he was punished not just for sparing Agag, but because the fact
    that he refused to kill Agag placed in a totally different light
    his killing of all the other Amalekites beforehand.

    Shaul had been commanded to take a whole people and kill them --
    and this is, morally, a frightful thing. The only justification lies
    in it being a response to an unequivocal divine command. Therefore,
    if Shaul had been motivated in his actions purely by fear of God,
    by obedience to the tzav, then he should have followed the command
    to the letter. God didn't say, "Kill Amalek but spare Agag." Now,
    if he didn't kill Agag but killed everybody else, what does that
    indicate? It indicates that what motivated him in killing the
    others was not the tzav of God, but rather some baser impulse, some
    instinctive violence. And the proof is that he killed everyone, but
    spared his peer, his royal comrade. If that is the case, then Shaul
    was not punished for sparing Agag: rather, he had to be punished
    because of the Amalekites he did kill! Why? Because he killed them
    not purely due to a divine command (which is the only thing that
    can overcome the moral consideration), but rather out of military,
    diplomatic or political considerations.

    Subsequently, I heard that a leading Religious Zionist rabbi in
    a prominent yeshiva had taken thirty minutes out of his Gemara
    shiur in order to attack what I had said. I called and asked him,
    "What did I say that merits this great wrath?" He replied, "I think
    it is a terrible thing to speak in this way, describing the divine
    command to destroy Amalek as asking a person to do something which
    ordinarily is not moral. This poses an ethical problem."

    I said to him, "Wiping out Amalek does not conform to what we would
    normally expect a person to do. Normally, you should not be killing
    'from child to suckling babe.' But I'm not saying, God forbid, that
    it is immoral in our case, where God has specifically commanded
    the destruction of Amalek -- 'A faithful God, without iniquity,
    righteous and upright is He' (Devarim 32:4). Although generally
    such an act would be considered immoral, it assumes a different
    character when God, from His perception and perspective, commands
    it. The same holds true of the akeida -- it demanded that Avraham
    do something which normally is immoral. But in the context of the
    divine command, surely it partakes of the goodness and morality of
    God. We must admit, though, that there is a conflict in this case
    between the usual moral norm and the immediate tzav given here."

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             When you come to a place of darkness,
micha at aishdas.org        you don't chase out the darkness with a broom.
http://www.aishdas.org   You light a candle.
Fax: (270) 514-1507        - R' Yekusiel Halberstam of Klausenberg zt"l

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