Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayikra
To dedicate this lesson

A Perfect’s Mistake


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Adar 2 5768
Shabbat Zachor’s haftara tells of Shaul’s battle with the Amalekis and his failure to complete Hashem’s commandment, which cost him his throne. How did that tzaddik fall into such a sin, and why did it cost him so dearly?
The gemara (Yoma 22b) deduces that Shaul was troubled by the directions that he received, to wipe out all of the Amalekis he was battling. If the Torah requires an eglah arufa for the death of one person, how much atonement would he need for killing so many? He also did not understand the possible sin of the Amelekis’ animals. A Heavenly voiced scolded him: "Do not be too much of a tzaddik." The gemara, in contrasting the experiences of David and Shaul points out that David sinned twice and was forgiven, whereas Shaul’s throne was taken away from him after this first sin. The gemara concludes that Shaul’s kingdom was taken away because he had no fault, a paradox we certainly need to address.
According to most of the opinions in the midrash (Mechilta D’Rashbi, Beshalach 2) the commandment to destroy Amalekis did not apply to those who were willing to accept the seven Noahide laws and that it was not necessary to destroy their property (see Rambam, Melachim 6:4). Thus, the instructions Shaul received were exceptional, making it easier to understand that compassion made it difficult to carry them out. On the other hand, the gemara posits that Shaul lost the kingdom due to just this event, despite the fact that his cruelty in wiping out Nov, city of kohanim, was a gruesome contrast for which both the p’sukim and Chazal take him to task. Note also that the p’sukim in Divrei Hayamim mention two other sins (consorting with the dead and not waiting for Shmuel). Why does the gemara say that Shaul sinned once and paid for it?
The Torah provides two looks at man as created by Hashem. The first one describes a spiritual person and does not mention his physical side as coming from earth. He does not appear destined to sin, as he was created in Hashem’s image. If he sins even once, it does not appear that anyone will be able to explain away his failure to live up to expectation. The second portrayal of man is of a very physical being, made of earth, who can sin yet be redeemed by repentance. In that way, his lower level is his salvation. The navi refers to both Shaul and David as "adam" (Shmuel I, 17:32 and Shmuel II, 23:3). However, as the gemara describes Shaul as being a person without a fault, he belongs to the first prototype, one who cannot be forgiven for even one major sin. David, in some ways on a lower level, is able to receive atonement for his sin and continuing with his throne.
We pray for the return of the kingdom of David, not a leadership of angels, but of people who may sin but know how to admit fault and seek and receive forgiveness.
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