We find in Haftaras Parashas Zachor (Shmuel 15:33) that Shmuel kills Agag as a murderer. The question is, why doesn’t he kill him because Agag is Amalek?
If we focus on Sefer Mitzvos of the Rambam (Aseh 188), we see that the mitzvah is to kill the people of Amalek. Rashi (end of Parashas Ki Seitzei), however, learns that we must kill any remembrance of Amalek, even the animals they own.
Rashi’s source is the Mechilta (end of Beshalach): “Rabbi Elazar HaModai says, Hashem swears on His throne ‘if I will leave a son or grandson of Amalek under the Heavens. So that no one should say this is the camel of Amalek, this is the sheep of Amalek.’”
Yet, we are left with some questions: How does the Rambam relate to these words of Chazal?
Why does it specify son and grandson? Surely they are all equal members of the Amalek nation! They should be called Amalek, not sons or grandsons.
What is the connection between the sons and grandsons and the obligation to kill their animals?
To answer these questions we must start with some facts. The Gemara (Kiddushin 67b) teaches that the personal identity of a non-Jew depends on the father. The example of the Gemara is concerning the nations of Canaan. Even if the mother is of a different nation, the identity of the son is determined by the Canaanite father. So, too, if the father is not from Canaan, though the mother is, the son is not a Canaanite.
Therefore, for the Rambam’s mitzvah of killing the descendants of Amalek, obviously they must be related through the father. This, we have learned, is always the halachah of identity of a non-Jew.
But, it would seem, for Rashi’s mitzvah of destroying any remembrance of Amalek there should be no such restriction. Even those who are only related to Amalek through their mother certainly qualify as a remembrance of Amalek. Now we can answer one of our questions. The Mechilta lists the son and grandson of Amalek because they are only related through their mother to Amalek; their father is from a different nation. Therefore, the requirement to destroy them is parallel to the destruction of the animals which also are only a remembrance of Amalek. This is because Rashi (and the Mechilta) have two separate mitzvos with regard to Amalek. First, like the Rambam, to kill the people of Amalek. This is defined as one’s father being Amalek. Next, there is a mitzvah to kill the remembrance of Amalek, which includes also matrilineal descent from Amalek. Since the Rambam has no requirement to kill the animals of Amalek (such is the explanation of the Rambam in Minchas Chinuch ), therefore, he only has the mitzvah to kill Amalek as defined by the father.
Now we have to learn another Rambam. In Moreh Nevuchim (Section 3, Chapter 50) he asks: Why does the Torah list so extensively the generations of Esav? “This is because of one mitzvah. Hashem commanded to destroy the remembrance of Amalek. Amalek was the son of Elifaz. But there is no mitzvah to kill the rest of the descendants of Esav… And Esav has married with the sons of Seir… and they are not all descendants of Amalek. They are merely called Amalek because their mother is from Amalek.” Such is the text in the standard Vilna translation. We find explicit in the words of the Rambam that one whose mother is from Amalek is not killed. Perhaps the Rambam learns our Mechilta as describing how Hashem Himself will deal with Amalek and not our mitzvah of destroying Amalek.
We can now address our first question. Why did Shmuel kill Agag as a murderer and not as Amalek? Look at Ahavas Yehonasan by Harav Yonasan Eibschutz on our Haftarah. “It seems that Agag was descended from Amalek through the mother’s family and not through the father’s side. And this was Shaul’s error. He thought that there was no mitzvah of killing Agag and therefore he had mercy on him. In truth, non-Jews’ identity is established by the mother. As we find that a non-Jewish woman with a Jewish man produces a non-Jew.” This idea is difficult. His premise that Agag descends from Amalek only on his mother’s side is in explicit contradiction to Targum Sheni on Megillas Esther (beginning of Chapter 3) that Agag is a direct descendant of Amalek on his father’s side. Furthermore, we learned the Gemara above that a non-Jew’s identity is established by the father’s side and not the mother’s family (the opposite is true. It is Jewishness that is established by the mother’s side). Therefore, we could modify this idea and suggest that the reason that Shmuel killed Agag as a murderer and not as Amalek is because he is not descended through his father’s side from Amalek.
Now we need to learn another Mechilta. “Rabi Elazar says, Hashem swore on His throne that if any non-Jew should come to join the Jewish People, accept him. But Amalek and his house do not accept. As it says (Shmuel 2:1:5): ‘Dovid [Hamelech] said to the youth, from where do you come? And he answered, I am an Amaleki ger.’ Then Dovid remembered what was told to Moshe Rabbeinu. If any non-Jew should come to be a ger, accept him. But Amalek and his house do not accept. Therefore, Dovid said, ‘Your blood is on your head because your mouth spoke against you.’”
Many meforshim have asked against this Mechilta: How can it be correct if the Gemara (Gittin 57b) declares that the grandsons of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak? Surely this implies that Amalek can become a ger. The Emek Brachah answers that the prohibition is only because there is a mitzvah to kill Amalek. Therefore, this prohibition is only l’chat’chilah. Due to this prohibition, Dovid did not believe that the Amaleki was really a ger and therefore killed him. However, b’di’eved, Amalek can become a ger.
Let’s expand on what we have learned. For Rashi there are two mitzvos in destroying Amalek. One is to kill Amalek proper. The second mitzvah is to destroy any zecher of Amalek — even animals and one whose mother is Amalek. For the first halachah there is no distinction between the father and his son. The next generation is as much Amalek as his predecessors. But for the second mitzvah, the zecher means there is a connection to the father/grandfather who is Amalek. One is destroying the remembrance of the previous generations.
Now we can suggest a further step. Perhaps there is a distinction in the two mitzvos concerning the halachah of accepting them as geirim. As the Emek Brachah has explained, the requirement to kill Amalek preempts the possibility of him being accepted as a ger. But for the halachah of zecher Amalek, his geirus should break his connection to the previous generations of Amalek. Therefore, we should be willing to accept a potential ger whose only connection to Amalek is on his mother’s side. There is no mitzvah to kill him per se, just to eradicate the connection to the previous generations of Amalek. For this, the regular halachah of every ger that he is k’kattan she’nolad, like a newborn child, should suffice. Therefore, according to the chiddush of Rav Yonasan Eibschutz that Haman descended from Amalek only on his mother’s side, we now understand why Haman’s grandsons can be geirim and teach Torah in Bnei Brak.