On this Shabbat, as we do every year on the Shabbat before Purim, we read of the commandment to obliterate Amalek and their memory. Our haftara might be seen as a cautionary tale, to temper our excitement in the run-up to our celebration of the miraculous victory over those who hate us and who always seek to destroy us in every generation. Shaul, the ancestor of Mordechai and Esther, is given the opportunity – indeed the commandment – to destroy Amalek once and for all, but he doesn’t rise to the occasion and the evil lives on even until the present day.
The haftara begins with a declaration that ties directly into the biblical text we just finished reading: “I have taken note of what Amalek did to Israel…” (Shmuel I 15:2). The language used here, translated as “taken note,” is the verb pakadeti, from lifkod. We have examined this word before, usually in the context of Hashem “remembering” us for salvation as when Moshe was sent to bring us out of Mitzrayim or in the context of the final redemption, may it come very soon. It’s a word we also use on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to describe how Hashem examines the deeds of every individual and treats him or her accordingly. It is less common to see it used, as we find in our haftara, to describe a negative response.
Maharal, in Gevurot Hashem, discusses the meaning of this word at length in the context of the redemption from Egypt that is the topic of that book. As we stand here today, looking across the vista of Purim towards our celebration of Pesach, it is worthwhile to review this material with the Maharal. In doing so we will prepare ourselves for both the victory over evil that we celebrate on Purim and the triumph of the good that Pesach represents.
Maharal teaches that there are many different meanings to the word lifkod. Hashem oversees the heavenly hosts, ordering the stars and galaxies (Yeshayahu 24:21), He attends carefully to all the natural processes here on earth (Tehillim 65:10), He singles out for misfortune, as in our haftara, and He also designates for comfort and peace. What all of these expressions share in common is Hashem’s careful attention to the detail in every matter, concerning every individual and community of individuals. He governs the stars and planets, each blade of grass or hovering dragonfly, but he also sets the paths of galaxies and the origin of species; tides and weather patterns. Nothing escapes His attention or His control – which is exactly how we use the terminology in the High Holiday liturgy.
Regarding Amalek, Hashem has not forgotten their wickedness nor will He hesitate to visit upon them the destruction that they so richly deserve. The world may forget or nations might tell themselves that there is no divine justice in the world and Hashem cannot or will not punish Amalek for crimes of the distant past and of the present that they seem to commit with impunity. But Hashem, Lord of Hosts, makes it very clear: Whether or not Shaul will perform his designated task, He, Hashem will do His. Hashem has singled out Amalek for misfortune. He doesn’t neglect to punish His enemies, nor should we ever imagine He will forget to reward His servants who love him and remain faithful in the face of every kind of adversity. He has taken careful note of the crimes of Amalek and He has noted the suffering of Israel, and He will surely deliver us from our affliction as He promised our ancestors and us.