Shaul haMelech’s expression when he greets Shmuel after the war with Amalek is striking: “Baruch atah l’Hashem, hakimosi es dvar Hashem.” (Shmuel I 15:11) It’s almost like he is reciting a nusach habracha here, and the statement “hakimosi es dvar Hashem” could not be more brazen given that he left Agag alive. What was Shaul thinking?
Shmuel goes on to criticize Shaul, “Ki chatas kesem meri, v’aven terafim haftzar…,” (15:23) comparing Shaul’s sin to kesem and terafim, sorcery and avodah zarah practices. Shaul surely realized the seriousness of being accused of rebellion against G-d. Why did the Navi have to lay it on thicker and add this comparison?
Ramban on the pasuk of “Arur asher lo yakim es divrei haTorah hazos” (Devarim 27:26) quotes a Yerushalmi that explains that the pasuk refers to someone who has the ability to strengthen Torah observance in others and fails to do so. The Yerushalmi writes that this is what spurred King Yoshiyahu to start his mass campaign to eradicate avodah zarah throughout Eretz Yisrael – he realized that he had a responsibility to the public.
If there is an “arur” for one who fails to live up to that charge, there has to be a “baruch” for one who does.
Chasam Sofer explains that this was Shaul’s agenda. We all know how politics works – you give a little here, you give a little there, but it’s all in the name of building a broad and strong enough coalition to get the main planks of your agenda accomplished. If you are a stickler on every point, it may come at the cost of losing followers and/or the ability to achieve bigger gains. Shaul figured better to give a little here and spare Agag. Better fight bigger battles with the support of the people intact than to make an issue here and lose it all.
“Baruch atah l’Hashem,” I may have spared Agag, but I earned that baruch, because “hakimosi es dvar Hashem,” in the long run, this will allow me to carry the public and be mechazeik Torah in other areas.
Except it doesn’t always work out that way. You can give a little for the sake of fighting another day and willing bigger battles, but the danger is that all people will remember is that you gave a little… and can be relied on to give a little more. Shmuel warned that unlike Yoshiyahu who was able to use his influence to eradicate avodah zarah, Shaul had squandered his influence over the public, therefore he would be unable to stop the spread of avodah zarah.
The backroom politics, horse trading, and cheshbonos are for little people. Leaders need to stand on principle.