Haftaras Zachor

The haftarah for parashas Zachor recounts Shaul HaMelech’s war against Amalek. Hashem told Shaul to eradicate all the Amalekites and all their possessions. Shaul deviated from Hashem’s command, however, sparing the life of the Amalekite king Agag and saving the choice livestock to bring before Hashem as offerings. Shmuel HaNavi rebuked him, saying (Shmuel Alef 15:22-23): “Does Hashem desire burnt offerings and peace offerings as heeding the voice of Hashem? Behold, to obey is better than an offering, to listen than the fat of rams. For rebelliousness is like the sin of sorcery, and insistence is like the perverseness of idolatry.” The Maggid, in his commentary on the haftarah in Kochav MiYaakov, sets out to analyze this rebuke.
The Torah often describes offerings as producing a “pleasing aroma unto Hashem.” This phrase is used several times, for example, in this week’s parashah. Accordingly, Shaul thought that the offerings he would bring with the livestock he saved would produce a “pleasing aroma unto Hashem,” more so eradicating them as Hashem had told him to do. Shmuel told Shaul that his thinking was misguided. Does Hashem desire offerings? Do they have any effect on Him? Do they benefit Him in any way? Hashem does not derive any benefit from any of the mitzvos we perform. As the Midrash puts it (Bereishis Rabbah 44:1): “Does it make a difference to Hashem whether a person slaughters an animal at the throat or at the back of the neck?” Likewise, Hashem is not affected in any way by whether we eat kosher or nonkosher food, or by whether or not we sit in a sukkah or fulfill the mitzvah of the four species on Sukkos. And if a person violates a mitzvah, this does not cause, far be it, any loss to Hashem.
Among the positive mitzvos, it is in regard to offerings that a person is particularly prone to make the mistake of believing that Hashem derives some benefit from the mitzvah, because of the Torah’s use of the phrase “pleasing aroma unto Hashem.” Shaul made this mistake and Shmuel rebuked him, telling him that even if someone brings a nice, fat animal as an offering, he does not benefit Hashem in any way. The only thing that Hashem gains from an offering is the “satisfaction” He derives from having His word obeyed. This principle is reflected directly in Shmuel’s words, for the phrase שְׁמֹעַ מִזֶּבַח טוֹב, to obey is better than an offering, can also be read as meaning obedience is the [sole] good derived from an offering (reading the prefix מ- as meaning from rather than better than). It is the adherence to Hashem’s word in bringing an offering, and this alone, that constitutes the “pleasing aroma” that the offering produces.
And among the negative mitzvos, it is in regard to the prohibition on sorcery and idolatry that a person is most prone to make the mistake that violating the mitzvah causes Hashem some harm or loss. This is why Shmuel mentions these sins specifically in his rebuke, as opposed to other sins such as Shabbos desecration or failure to perform a circumcision. This matter calls for in-depth examination.
The Gemara in Chullin 7b describes sorcery as an act that “overturns the heavenly council.” In his commentary on this Gemara passage, Rashba explains that the term “heavenly council” refers to the system of laws of nature that Hashem built into the world. The Torah forbids sorcery because it is Hashem’s wish that the world be left to run without interference according to the regular laws of nature that He instituted. Ramban expounds on this idea in his commentary on the passage in Devarim 18:9-13 discussing the prohibition on sorcery and similar activities. Ramban also expounds on this idea in his commentary on Vayikra 19:19 regarding the prohibitions stated there on cross-breeding different species of animals, planting in one place a mixture of seeds of different types, and wearing clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen. He explains that the common denominator behind these prohibitions is Hashem’s wish that we not tamper with the natural order of the world – for when a person does so, it is if he is saying that the world Hashem created is unsatisfactory and in need of improvement.
Thus, the evil associated with sorcery lies not in that it causes Hashem harm, far be it, but rather in that it constitutes an effort to controvert Hashem’s will. This is what Shmuel is teaching in his rebuke. Shmuel says: חַטַּאת קֶסֶם מֶרִי. This statement is usually understood, as we rendered it at the outset, as saying that rebelliousness is like the sin of sorcery. But the statement can also be read, more easily in fact, as saying that the sin of sorcery is rebelliousness – the sin consists simply of a desire to overturn Hashem’s will. Shmuel continues by saying: וְאָוֶן וּתְרָפִים הַפְצַר. This statement is usually understood as saying that insistence is like the perverseness of idolatry, but it can be read alternatively as saying that the evil associated with perverseness and idolatry is insistence. Insistence involves applying pressure to get a person to do something he does not want to do. That is, it is an effort to overturn the person’s will. Shmuel is teaching that, similarly, idolatry involves an effort to overturn Hashem’s will – and this alone is the evil it produces.
In short, in his rebuke to Shaul, Shmuel is saying the following: “When someone performs a mitzvah, even one as precious as bringing an offering, he provides Hashem no benefit aside from adherence to His will. And when someone commits a sin, even one as severe as sorcery and idolatry, he causes Hashem no harm aside from controverting His will. All that Hashem seeks from us is to obey His will. Why, then, did you save the Amalekites’ animals to bring as offerings rather than obey Hashem’s command and eradicate them?” 
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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