Monday, March 01, 2010

is there a mitzvah to kill the animals of Amalek

My son’s Rebbe once asked the following question: Rashi on chumash (Devarim 25:19) explains that the mitzvah of destroying Amalek applies to every man, woman, and child, and even the animals which belonged to Amalek, so that Amalek should not be remembered by people saying “This is the ox of Amalek.” Yet, in Sefer Shmuel in the haftarah which describes the command to Shaul to eradicate Amalek, Rashi explains that the animals had to be destroyed because Amalek were experts at witchcraft and could make themselves appear to look like animals. The implication of this Rashi is that killing the animals to eradicate the memory of Amalek is not inherently part of the mitzvah, except for the fact that an animal may be a person in disguise. Aren’t these two statements of Rashi contradictory?

As we know, Shaul spared the life of Agag and the animals, failing to fulfill G-d’s command. Whatever the fault and sin involved in this act, it is hard to understand the audacious response of Shaul when confronted by Shmuel. He tells the Navi, “Kiyamti es dvar Hashem” – I fulfilled G-d’s command! Could Shaul have been so brazen or so self-deluded to think this statement would go unchallenged?

The Oneg Yom Tov offers a brilliant explanation of Shaul’s logic. Surely if someone purchased an animal from Amalek a month, a week, or even a day before the war started, that animal would not have to be killed. That animal would not longer be the property of Amalek – it would be the property of its new owner, completely divorced from Amalek. Using this legal loophole, Shaul realized there was a way to spare the life of all the sheep and oxen of Amalek. So long as someone from Amalek could relinquish ownership of their animals, those animals would not have to be killed. Therefore, Shaul deliberately left Agag, not to spare his life, but simply to pressure him to first declare hefker the animals of Amalek so they could be acquired by new owners before the battle was over. Shaul figured he could use this loophole both fulfill the technical obligation of waging war and at the same time salvage the animals for better use.

Why did the Navi object? Not because of any fault in the logic of the legal loophole, but because of the use of the loophole itself. G-d does not want us to try to “outsmart” his mitzvos with cheshbonos that depend on the use of every technicality in our legal arsenal to circumvent the plain meaning of his directive. We are responsible for fidelity to the spirit of the law as well as its technical details.

Aside from being a powerful mussar, I think the Oneg Y”T can help answer the contradiction in Rashi. Rashi in chumash teaches that an animal found in Amalek’s possession must be destroyed to obliterate their memory. Rashi in Sefer Shmuel is explaining why even an animal which Amalek declares hefker on the cusp of battle should still be killed lest that declaration of hefker to spare the animal actually serve to spare the life of a disguised Amaleiki.


  1. anon13:19 PM

    In the beis yitzchak dedicated to R'Ahron Soloveitchik ztl, his grandson R'Meir Yaakov Soloveichik wrote an article about halachic issues from sefer shoftim and discussed the whole episdoe of shaul and whether it is a direct fulfillment of the Torah's tzivui or a separte horaas sha'ah ( why was a navi involved to give the tzivui, is the destruction of the animals a basic part of the mitzvah or something added on, etc.) I forget the details but it was an interesting piece on this sugya.

  2. There's a nice vort here in a hagoh:
    not like the Oneg Yom Tov

    pc :-)

  3. Hang on, saying that Shaul was going to spare Amalek's animals is incorrect. He had every intention of killing them but those that could be offered as sacrifices he kept alive for the victory celebration and at that time offered them up. For him, it was all the same thing. At the end of the day, all the animals would be dead, and he gets a few points in with Heaven because of the sacrificial elements. After all, God never did say he had to kill them right away, just that he had to kill them. Similarly, one could argue that he probably planned to eventually kill Agag but hoped to do so at a later time. Same result in the end, right?
    The lesson from Shmuel is that what God says we do without trying to enhance the original command. Since it came from God, it's already perfect. No need to try and improve it.

  4. >>>Hang on, saying that Shaul was going to spare Amalek's animals is incorrect. He had every intention of killing them

    And how exactly do you know this with such certainty?

  5. Garnel Ironheart7:24 PM

    Read the text, specifically Shmuel 1, 15:15: "I have brought them from the Amalekite for the people took pity on the best of the sheep and cattle in order to bring them as offerings to Hashem but we have destroyed the remainder." This corresponds to what 15:9 also states.

  6. chaim b.9:01 PM

    Of course Shaul wanted to use the animals as a korban. The problem is that the command to kill the animals should pasel them, just like a shor haniskal would be pasul. What was he thinking?

    Excuse my being blunt, but you are not going to knock off an Oneg Y"T with an open pasuk.

  7. Ironheart is saying the same as the link.

    Maybe the reason that Shaul thought he could bring the animals as korbonos is Kol cheirem laHashem.

    pc :-)

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