Parashas Zachor: Following Our Leaders

In the haftarah of Parashas Zachor we learn of the time Hashem instructed Shaul Hamelech through Shmuel Hanavi to wipe out Amalek.

Shaul Hamelech undertook his mission, waged war on Amalek and defeated it. However, he took pity on Agag, the king of Amalek, as well as on some of their cattle, and did not kill them at once.

When Shmuel Hanavi rebuked Shaul for failing to completely fulfill the command of Hashem, Shaul first defended his actions, but then acknowledged that he had erred, saying “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the word of Hashem and your word; for I feared the people and hearkened to their voice.”

Chazal tell us that that it was due to Shaul Hamelech’s decision to spare Agag that the Amelekite nation survived to continue their battle against Klal Yisrael. This error of Shaul Hamelech cost him his kingdom.

The meforshim explain that Shaul’s decision stemmed from his inherent humility. He feared the people and hearkened to their voice because he felt himself unworthy to oppose them.

Shmuel Hanavi told him, however, “Though you may be small in your own eyes, you are the head of shivtei Yisrael; Hashem has anointed you King of Yisrael!” As a leader of Klal Yisrael, his humility was misplaced, and the fact that Shaul listened to the people rather than to the word of Hashem would have tragic repercussions.

Centuries later, a descendant of Shaul Hamelech was in a leadership position in Klal Yisrael. When Achashverosh made his massive feast and invited the Jews to attend, Mordechai Hatzaddik took an unpopular stand. He ruled that Jews may not attend the feast, even though the food was kosher and the wines (according to some meforshim) were served in a way that would prevent them from becoming yayin nesech.

In contemporary vernacular, Mordechai, who was imbued with daas Torah, could be considered a “fanatic.”

Many Jews of the time did not listen to Mordechai. They felt that they knew better, and saw no possible harm resulting from attending the feast. Perhaps they even felt that by turning down an invitation of the king they would be offending their ruler.

According to the Midrash, it was attendance at the feast that was the cause of the terrible decree against all of Klal Yisrael.

Later on, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, even when he was not wearing an idol. There were presumably those who deemed this refusal “uncalled-for extremism.”

When Haman successfully asked Achashverosh for permission to wipe out the Jews, it could be assumed that the Jews of the time would blame Mordechai for their misfortune, accusing him of provoking Haman.

But they didn’t.

At that crucial moment, they deeply regretted not having listened to Mordechai earlier. They obeyed his call for taanis and tefillah, and flocked together under his leadership. They acknowledged that it was for them not to question Mordechai Hatzaddik’s decisions, but to listen to his voice.

Shaul Hamelech listened to the voice of the people and allowed Agag to live, a decision that allowed for Haman to be born. His descendant Mordechai followed the view of the Torah, ignored the opinion of the masses, and saved Klal Yisrael from the plot of Haman.

As the meforshim explain, because Mordechai did not derive any enjoyment from the feast of Achashverosh he merited to play a crucial role in the salvation of the Jews.

The Gemara (Pesachim 42a) tells us that Rav Yehudah taught: “Matzah [for Pesach] may only be kneaded with mayim shelanu,” water that was stored overnight.

When Rav Masna taught this halachah to the people of Papunia, they misunderstood him. Since shelanu can also mean “ours,” they assumed that he meant that all of them would have to use Rav Masna’s water to knead matzos, and the next morning they showed up at his door for the water.

Why did the Gemara see fit to tell this story, which seems to imply that the people of Papunia were ignorant of the halachah?

One explanation is that the story is actually told in praise of the people of Papunia. Although they misunderstood Rav Masna, they had followed his ruling as they understood it, without question. It may have seemed strange to them that they had to use only water they got from Rav Masna, but nevertheless they all trooped down to his house to get the water.

Obeying our Torah leaders — even when we do not fathom their ways — is crucial to our existence as a people. Those who merit to be imbued with daas Torah know what the masses do not, and it is our obligation to follow their directives without question.