A colossal failure of mammoth proportions.
Shaul HaMelech fails in his mission to destroy the nation of Amalek in its entirety and to this day, we suffer from its ever-present force of evil.
What was it that kept Shaul from completing his mission? Why did he spare the life of Agag, the king of Amalek, giving him the opportunity (before Shmuel HaNavi killed him) to have a child whose descendant was the evil Haman? Why did Shaul not kill all of the animals of Amalek as he was told to do?
The Navi tells us (Shmuel Aleph, 15:17): “Haloh im katan atah b’einecha, rosh shivtei Yisrael atah, ve’yimshachacha Hashem l’melech al Yisrael—Is it not true that though you are small in your own eyes, you are the leader of all the tribes of Israel! G-d has anointed you to be the King of Israel!”
When Shmuel questioned why the animals were left alive, Shaul said that the nation expressed their desire to offer the choice animals as korbanos, and he wanted to fulfill their will. Shaul knew that he was under strict orders from Hashem to destroy all of Amalek’s property and wealth but was apparently afraid to go against the will of the nation. According to the Abarbanel, besides the animals, the nation also wanted to keep Agag alive due to his leadership qualities (perhaps thinking he could be of service to them in some way) and Shaul listened. He was a leader prone to “following the polls” and severely underestimated who he was – and should have been. It is good to be modest and humble but not at the expense of reaching one’s potential, especially one’s spiritual potential. This was Shaul’s “Achilles’ heel.”
And this is a lesson we need to apply to ourselves.
Too often, we look at ourselves and are very disappointed. Will I ever change? Will I ever live up to the resolutions and kabbalos for growth that I make? These thoughts can easily lead to depression and spiritual surrender— the absolute worst possible scenario in ruchniyus. As Reb Nachman of Breslov said, “Depression may not be an aveira, but it’s the biggest aveira.” This is because feeling bad about oneself is the greatest impetus to lowliness.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe in Alei Shur (Volume 2, page 173) stresses that especially in our generation we need to build ourselves up, working on the exaltedness of man, romemus ha’adom, and not knock ourselves down. Once we have established and strengthened ourselves, we can work on our major weaknesses.
In other words, said Rav Wolbe (in his sefer on chinuch), a “fire and brimstone” approach no longer works for most people. As Rav Yitzchok Hutner once said, we are a “soft-drink generation” and have a difficult time ingesting the hard stuff.
Truth be told, though, we have far more temptations and challenges distracting us from avodas Hashem then previous generations. A famous, shocking but true remark from the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, ztl, was “On one single train ride in New York, one is exposed to more immorality than someone in a European shtetl was exposed to over a lifetime.”
Nowadays, unfortunately, we can add to the Satmar Rebbe’s remark and say the same about a simple drive on the highways, shopping in a mall and even a leisurely walk down the streets, due to the lack of tznius so prevalent in the secular world. Not to mention the very serious issues relating to the Internet.
We seem to be living in the generation the Or HaChaim (Shemos 3:8) described many centuries ago:
“The main purpose of exile is to draw out the sparks of holiness which have become severely damaged through the (Jewish People’s) descent into the 50 gates of impurity. We are promised though that in the future, Hashem, the Kel Elyon, will rain down and influence us with an abundance of the living Torah (Toras Chaim) with which to combat and survive the 50th gate (of impurity with the 50th gate of wisdom). We can only achieve the wisdom of the 50th gate by experiencing the exile. This will all occur especially in the last exile. . .The Torah of the last exile will serve to muzzle the mouth of impurity and it will be utterly destroyed.”