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Mordechai Corrects King Saul’s Mistakes Print E-mail
Friday, 11 March 2022

Both King Saul and Mordechai were from the same family:

Shmuel I 1-2:

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of substance. He had a son whose name was Saul, an excellent young man; no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people.

Ester 2:5

(5) In Shushan HaBira lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Yair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite.

In the Haftara for Parshat Zachor, King Saul is given the task to fight Amalek and not take from the spoils:

Shmuel I 15:1-9:

Shmuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over His people Israel. Therefore, listen to the LORD’s command! “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt. Now go, attack Amalek, and destroy all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys!” Saul mustered the troops and enrolled them at Telaim: 200,000 men on foot, and 10,000 men of Yehuda. Then Saul advanced as far as the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the wadi. Saul said to the Kenites, “Come, withdraw at once from among the Amalekites, that I may not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they left Egypt.” So the Kenites withdrew from among the Amalekites. Saul destroyed Amalek from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is close to Egypt, and he captured King Agag of Amalek alive. He destroyed all the people, putting them to the sword; but Saul and the troops spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the second-born, the lambs, and all else that was of value. They would not destroy them; they destroyed only what was cheap and worthless.

Unfortunately, King Saul failed to complete the task of fighting Amalek.

Shmuel confronted Saul:

Shmuel I 15:14-15:

“What,” demanded Shmuel, “is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of oxen that I hear?” Saul answered, “They were brought from the Amalekites, for the troops spared the choicest of the sheep and oxen for sacrificing to the LORD your God. And we destroyed the rest.”

King Saul did not follow directions. He did not fully destroy Amalek and he took their possessions.

In contrast, we see in Ester 8:11 that the Jewish people were permitted to take their enemies spoils during the war:

The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions—

Yet we read in three places that the Jews did not take from the spoils:

Ester 9:10:

…But they did not lay hands on the spoils.

Ester 9:15-16:

And the Jews in Shushan mustered again on the fourteenth day of Adar and slew three hundred men in Shushan. But they did not lay hands on the spoil. The rest of the Jews, those in the king’s provinces, likewise mustered and fought for their lives. They disposed of their enemies, killing seventy-five thousand of their foes; but they did not lay hands on the spoils.

We see from here that although Mordechai and the Jews of his generation were permitted to take from the spoils, they did not. They corrected  King Saul’s transgression in their war against Haman,  a descendent of King Agag,  a descendent of Amalek.

May Israel dwell securely Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 March 2019

In the Haftara of Parshat Zachor, we read about King Saul’s battle against King Agag of Amalek.

The name Agag is only found once in the Chumash, in Parshat Balak, as part of Bilam’s curse to B’nai Yisrael which God miraculously transforms to a blessing, Bamidbar 24:7, “Water flows out from his buckets and his seed will have an abundant flow; his king will be greater than Agag and his monarchy will be uplifted.”

Did Bilam already know that Agag who was not even born yet would one day fight B’nai Yisrael’s king?

According to Rashbam and Ramban, all of the kings of Amalek were called Agag in the same way that all of the kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh, all of the kings of the Plishtim were called Avimelech and all of the kings of Jerusalem were called Tzedek (justice).

Ramban agrees with Rashi’s interpretations that the first king (Saul) will conquer Agag, king of Amalek and that Yaakov’s kingdom will be exalted more and more because David and his son, Solomon will continue after Saul.

Ramban elaborates, when Bilam tells Balak “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov,”, “How goodly are Yaakov’s tents”, he is referring to the period that they would dwell in tents until they enter the Land of C’naan and “Mishkenotecha Yisrael”, “the dwellings of Israel” implies that they will dwell securely after the conquest and division of the Land. Israel will be full of all goodly things as it says in Yishayahu 58:11, “like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” and that Israel will conquer Amalek because he attacked him and he will destroy his memory. And the kingdom of Israel will once again be exalted, because they will have mighty kings who will be exceedingly elevated.

Bilam explains that Israel will dwell in the Land safely, fearing no people “as a lion and as a lioness that do not fear any ravenous beast” (Yishayahu 35:9). Balak decided to give up on fighting Israel for he realized that if he were to fight against him, he would truly be destroyed, for Israel would eat up all her adversaries in the same way that he would destroy Amalek because he attacked him. Therefore Balak told Bilam to flee to his place.

How the words of the Ramban ring true. Enemies on all sides are still looking to curse and attack Israel, yet with God on our side and a strong army, Israel will continue to dwell securely.

Are women obligated in Parshat Zachor? Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 February 2018

This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Purim, we read Parshat Zachor from Dvarim 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek perpetrated against you on the way when you were going out of Egypt…do not forget.”

According to Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 603, women are exempt from the mitzvah of Zachor and do not need to listen to Parshat Zachor: “This mitzvah applies only to men and not to women since men and not women must wage war and take vengeance from the enemy.”

In Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Mitzvah 189, there is no specific exemption for women from Parshat Zachor which leads us to believe that women are obligated.

The Minchat Chinuch teaches that the mitzvah of Zachor, “remember” is not a positive precept dependent on time (especially since it also includes the negative commandment to “not forget”) and therefore women are not exempt. As well, in an obligatory war, all go out to fight including a bride from her bridal chamber (Mishna Sotah 8). Therefore all Israelites are obligated.

In the Responsa, Binyan Tzion 8, we learn that according to the Gaon Natan Adler, women are obligated to hear Parshat Zachor, in fact he insisted that his maidservant hear it as well. It is not a positive precept dependent on a set time for there is no insistence on a specified time, only that it be read once a year, therefore women are obligated.

Rosh, Brachot 7:20 states that the public reading of Parshat Zachor is DeOraita (a mitzvah from the Torah). Therefore women should hear Parshat Zachor in synagogue.

According to Magen Avraham, remembering the blotting out of Amalek is fulfilled by hearing about the incident with Amalek, “And Amalek came” (Shmot 17:8) which is the Torah reading on Purim morning. Mishna Brura disagrees since the incident in Shmot does not mention the blotting out of Amalek and therefore requires the reading from Dvarim.

We see from here that according to many opinions, women are obligated in hearing Parshat Zachor. Many synagogues read Zachor again at the end of the service as well, just in case not everyone was there during Torah reading including parents of young children.

What is all of the noise about? Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 March 2016

On Purim, we make a lot of noise when Haman’s name is mentioned. Where did this custom come from?


To gain some insight, let’s look at the Torah readings from Purim and Shabbat Zachor.


In the Purim morning Torah portion, we read the story of how Amalek attacked B’nai Yisrael at Refidim. In Shmot 17:14 God said to Moshe: “Write this as a remembrance in the Book (Torah) and repeat it in Yehoshua’s ears, for I will totally obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”


This Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, the Maftir is read from Devarim Chapter 25. In sentence 19 we read: “When HaShem your God gives you repose from all of your enemies around, in the land that HaShem, your God gave you to inherit, you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from beneath the sky; do not forget.”


In the Purim reading we see that God will obliterate the memory of Amalek. In the Shabbat Zachor reading, we are told to obliterate the memory of Amalek.


What can we do to obliterate Amalek’s name?


Since Haman is a descendent of Amalek, it makes sense to obliterate his name each time it is heard. Haman’s name is mentioned 54 times in Megillat Ester so that gives us the opportunity for a lot of obliterating!


How is this done?


In some communities all present at the Megilla reading would stomp on the floor or bang on a table.


In other congregations the children would draw Haman’s face on two stones and rub them together, thus erasing his picture.


Another custom was to make dolls or pictures of Haman and then burn them (that didn’t go over too well with the rabbis).


Today in most shuls noisemakers, groggers (in Yiddish) or raashanim (in Hebrew) are sounded each time that Haman’s name is mentioned.


Groggers actually have many other uses, aside from drowning out the name of Haman.


In the 19th century, before whistles were used by the police in England, they used police rattles which looked exactly like our groggers to make noise and get attention.



The grogger that we are accustomed to using today is a musical instrument called a ratchet.


It is also called a football rattle and is used for cheering at soccer games in England.


The fact that this object can also be used for music and celebration shows that when we are swinging them we are not only drowning out the name of Amalek, we are also cheering about the fact that the Jews were saved.

For the Miracles in Those Days, At This Time Print E-mail
Sunday, 08 March 2015

There is a religious supermarket in Jerusalem that has been playing Purim music in honor of the upcoming holiday. The music puts the shoppers in the Purim spirit and may also cause the shoppers to buy more products in honor of Purim.

While shopping there a few days ago, they were playing the song “Al HaNisim”, “For the miracles.” The cashier didn’t understand why they were playing that song which is often associated with Chanuka. I explained to her that we recite the “Al HaNisim” prayer during the Shmoneh Esrei (silent devotion) and Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) on Purim as well as on Chanuka.

The Al Hanisim prayer states:

For the miracles and for the salvation and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On Purim we add:

In the days of Mordechai and Esther in Shushan the capital when Haman the wicked rose up against them and sought to destroy, to slay and to exterminate all of the Jews, young and old, infants and women on the same day, on the 13th of the 12th month which is Adar and to plunder their possessions. But You in Your abundant mercy nullified his counsel and frustrated his intention and caused his design to return upon his own head and they hanged him and his sons on the gallows.

If you check in a siddur you will find that the “Al HaNisim” for Purim is much shorter than the “Al HaNisim” for Chanuka.

The reason according to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch is that the danger of Purim was straightforward. Haman wanted to exterminate the entire Jewish nation so the prayer did not need to elaborate. The dangers during the time of Chanuka involved assimilation and purity and therefore needed more explanation.

What does the phrase “in those days, at this time” mean?

The Levush, Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe explains that the verse praises miracles that were performed in those days as well as the countless hidden miracles that are constantly being performed at this time.

We have seen revealed miracles even in our own time on Purim.  The miracle that stands out the most is that the Gulf war in 1991 ended on Purim.

On a daily basis there are hidden miracles which many people never even hear about. Many terrorist attacks are miraculously thwarted due to Israel’s intelligence and the terrorists are often caught before they even reach their destination.

Just this week, Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem intervened during a terrorist attack in downtown Jerusalem. The fact that the mayor was in the right place at the right time and was able to insure that more people were not stabbed was something that we should not take for granted.

As we recite the Al HaNisim this Purim, we must be grateful for the fact that against all odds the Jewish people survived during the time of the megilla and against all odds the Jewish people are thriving in the modern State of Israel today.

Zeresh’s Advice Print E-mail
Friday, 02 March 2012

Zeresh, Haman’s wife is one of the lesser know characters of the Purim story.


In Chapter 5 of the Megillat Ester, Haman is angry that Mordechai will not bow down to him.  In sentence 14 we read: “And Zeresh his wife and all his friends said, “Let them make a gallows fifty cubits high and in the morning say to the king that they should hang Mordechai on it and go to the king to the banquet joyfully.” The matter pleased Haman, and he mad the gallows.”


In Chapter 6, sentence 13 we see Zeresh once again with Haman’s friends and this time Zeresh and the wise men said: “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish stock, you will not prevail against him, but you will surely fall before him.”


The following question was asked in the Midrash in Ester Rabba 9:2: Why did Zeresh suggest that Haman make a gallows to hang Mordechai on?


Zeresh said to Haman: If Mordechai is of Jewish lineage, the only way to overcome him is through wisdom. There is no point in throwing him into the fiery furnace as Chananya and his friends were saved from that punishment. The lions den is also a waste of time since Daniel was saved from there. If he goes to jail he will end up getting out like Yosef did. Sending him to the desert doesn’t make sense since the Jewish people survived there. Making him blind won’t help since Shimshon killed all kinds of people even after he was blind. Let’s tie him on a gallows since we have never heard of a Jewish person being saved from that punishment.


Zeresh was a smart and logical woman who had the power to convince Haman to take her advice. It says in Ester Raba that Haman had 365 advisors but none of them could give advice like Zeresh his wife. Unfortunately she used this power in a negative way.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim from Yerushalayim!

Sharona Margolin Halickman

The Fight Against Amalek Continues… Print E-mail
Friday, 18 March 2011

The name “Amalek” can symbolize a group of wicked people who want to destroy the Jewish people.


Amalek was the nation that (Devarim 25:17) “…struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear God.”


Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (1886-1959) said that Amalek is more despised than any other nation since Amalek wouldn’t make a brave frontal attack. They feared people (not God) and that is why they chose to ambush the Jews who straggled at the rear of the nation, the people who were faint and exhausted and least able to defend themselves.


Unfortunately we are still fighting against Amalek.


The attack that took place in Itamar last week where a father, mother and three children were murdered while they were in the weakest position possible (sleeping), where they didn’t have a chance to defend themselves shows that unfortunately Amalek is still alive today.


The murderers were afraid of man and therefore they attacked in the middle of the night yet they were clearly not afraid of God who is always watching.


The grandparents of the three children who were murdered live a few blocks from my home in Jerusalem. On Thursday morning, I went to the shiva (which took place in a tent since there were too many visitors to fit in their home). Every day, people from all over Israel have stopped me on the street to ask for directions to the shiva house. Many of the visitors did not know the family, yet felt that it was important to show that they care.


This Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, the only Shabbat of the year where both men and women are obligated to listen to the Torah reading which describes the fact the we must remember Amalek’s attack on the Jewish people and that in the Land of Israel we must wipe out the memory of Amalek.


As Purim approaches let’s pray that just as Haman (an Amalekite) was punished for his behavior, so too should the cowards who murdered five members of the Fogel family be caught and brought to justice.

What Was So Terrible About Amalek? Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2009

Sponsored by Sharona, Josh, Dov, Moshe and Yehuda Halickman in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of Eliezer Avraham Weisman


This Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim where we read the psukim about the nation of Amalek from the book of Dvarim 25: 17-19:


“Remember what Amalek did to you by the way as you came out of Egypt; he met you by the way and smote the hindmost of you, all that were enfeebled in your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all of your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”


What was so bad about the nation of Amalek?


According to Rashi, all of the nations were afraid to fight against you and this one came and began and showed the others. This may be compared with a bath of boiling water which no creature can get into. Comes along a fool and jumps into it. Though he gets scalded, he has cooled it for others.


Nehama Leibowitz points out that after the Exodus from Egypt “mankind as a whole might have taken one great step further and acknowledged the sovereignty of the God of justice and truth, but then along came Amalek and unrestrained by the dread and awe that kept all the nations in the world in check- jumped into the boiling cauldron and showed the way for the others. What was there to fear? That a people had gone forth from the land of Egypt? But had not others gone forth from the midst of other nations? Who could prove that they had been brought out by God? Didn’t this nation go forth by their own power? Now they were wandering in the wilderness, weary and struggling. Why should they not be spoiled and smitten? This was the way of the world. In this manner, the moment of awe at the mighty hand of God passed away and the atmosphere of astonishment at God’s miracles evaporated. The world returned to its former rut, to the idols of gold and silver, its faith in moral power and brute force. The opportunity had been lost. Who had been responsible? Amalek”.


It is for this reason that God will have a war with Amalek in every generation.

 Today we are in the midst of a war with Hamas (even though the newspapers say that the war is over). According to Arutz 7, Gaza terrorists, including those affiliated with the ruling Hamas, have fired more than 100 rockets at civilians in southern Israel since Israel unilaterally ended the Cast Lead operation in January. 

The war with Amalek continues…

Every Action Has a Reaction Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 March 2006

A wrongful action can cause a bad reaction many years later. On the other hand, a good action can serve as a tikkun (correction) for a wrongful act.

Let's first analyze how a wrongful act can lead to a bad reaction in the future: Yitzchak was sure that Esav, their firstborn, was to be the spiritual heir. Rivka, however, believed that Yaakov was to be the spiritual heir since Esav did not have the proper character traits to be the spiritual leader of the Jewish people.

The liturgical poet, Eliezer HaKalir, draws on the midrash and aggada to describe Esav's bad character traits in a poem that many congregations read on Shabbat Zachor:

Zachor, Remember Esav who caused Avraham to die five years before his time with murder, trickery and adultery, Esav frightened him.

Zachor, Remember the one whose way was the reverse of an honest man, who was a stranger to truth, who blinded his father with incense and idolatry, he planned inwardly to be cruel to his brother.

Rivka may have seen through ruach hakodesh, the divine spirit, that Yaakov would be the proper spiritual heir. However, the way that Rivka put into effect a scheme that would trick Yitzchak into blessing Yaakov thinking that he was really Esav may be looked at as a mistake in judgement that caused Yaakov to suffer greatly later on. It may have even caused Yaakov's descendents, the Jewish people, to suffer until this very day.

Eliezer HaKalir's poem continues:

Zachor, Remember Esav from whom blossomed Amalek.

Amalek was a descendent of Esav. Is it a coincidence that throughout the centuries the Jewish people, descendents of Yaakov have suffered at the hands of Amalek, the descendents of Esav?

When Esav heard that Yaakov took his blessing, he cried out "Vayitzak tzeaka gedolah u'marah", an exceedingly bitter cry (Breisheet 27:34).

Is it a coincidence that years later in Megillat Ester, when Mordechai, a descendent of Yaakov, hears that Haman, a descendent of Esav is about to destroy the Jewish people he lets out a similar cry "Vayizak zeaka gedolah u'marah" (Ester 4:1)?

According to Yalkut Shimoni, Mordechai cried out and said, my ancestor Yitzchak, what have you done to me? Esav cried out and you listened to his cries and blessed him. Now we are about to be sold and slaughtered by Haman, a descendent of Esav.

Yaakov caused Esav to cry and in the end Haman caused Mordechai to cry.

Let's now analyze how a good action can serve as a tikkun (correction) in the future.

Consider the story in this week's Haftara. King Saul fought Amalek. However, he did not fight properly, he took from the spoils and was therefore punished. In Megillat Ester, Mordechai, a descendent of Saul is also fighting Amalek (Haman). Mordechai does not get punished for Saul's mistake, rather he fixes it. Whereas Saul took from the spoils of Amalek and is stripped of the kingdom, Mordechai is described as not touching the spoils on three occasions and therefore he retains the title as second to the king.

Another fixing is that while Saul failed to kill Agag, a descendent of Amalek, Mordechai arranges for Haman, a descendent of Agag to be killed.

Everything that we do has impact. Every action has a reaction. A word or an action can make a whole world of difference. You never know. You just never know.