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Just Listen

Friday, 6 March, 2020 - 3:04 pm


Have you ever felt compelled to do something against your conscience? It is a terrible feeling when you need to behave contrary to your entire belief system. But sometimes it must be done.

This week during synagogue services on Shabbat we will read the short Torah portion “Zachor” reminding us of the diabolical Amalekite nation who attacked the Israelites after their exodus, for no good reason other than senseless hatred. G-d commanded us to remember the despicable act and to cleanse the world of this evil. In the Haftara we read the story of King Shaul, who was commanded by G-d through the prophet Shmuel to wage war on the Amalekites and ensure nothing remains, no human or animal.

King Shaul obeyed G-d’s command with one caveat. When he realized how prized the cattle and sheep were he reasoned that it would be more appropriate to offer them as sacrifices instead of killing them randomly and he had mercy on Agag the Amalekite king, taking him prisoner instead of killing him in battle.

Destroying everything in one fell sweep seemed to contradict so many Jewish values and Shaul rationalized these slight changes to the divine instruction. After all, Agag and the animals would eventually die in accordance with G-d’s instruction.

But these small changes rooted in his rationalization based on Jewish values proved fatal for Shaul and for the Jews. G-d disqualified Shaul from being King of Israel and Agag sired a child during the last night of his life whose ultimate descendant was Haman, who came dangerously close to annihilating the Jewish people hundreds of years later.

Queen Esther, a descendant of Shaul, corrected her grandfather’s mistake thereby saving her people from Haman’s genocidal plot. When she was drafted to the king’s beauty pageant, her uncle Mordechai, the venerable Jewish leader of the time warned her against disclosing her heritage. She endured extreme pressure from Achashveiros and even endangered her life by keeping silent although she could have rationalized that once she was crowned queen, surely her people would only gain by Achashveiros knowing she was a Jewess. Nevertheless she kept silent, never doubting Mordechai’s judgement.

When word of the decree to kill the Jews was out Mordechai signaled Esther that the time had come to reveal her secret to the king and to plead for her people, but she knew that such a move was certain suicide. Appearing before the king unannounced was a crime punishable by death and was certainly not in sync with her Jewish education. But she obeyed Mordechai, the undisputed Torah authority of her time and the rest is history.

Shaul’s "values" based rationale jeopardized world Jewry; Esther’s steadfast obedience saved it.

The lesson is clear. The most important Jewish value is obedience to G-d. If you manage to understand a certain mitzvah, great. And if the mitzvah boggles your mind for now, just listen to G-d because that’s the surest way to doing things right.


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