"Obedience is better than offering, attentiveness than the fat of rams” 1 Samuel 15:22
Parashat Tzav deals with the laws for sacrifices, as if this were the core of our religion. But there is a time for sacrifices and a time for not to offer them, as the haftarah for Shabbat Zachor shows.
The haftarah tells a story where the good intention to thank God was wrong. Remember what Saul did, warns the haftarah, when he was told to strike Amalek; he intended to praise God by sparing the choicest of the booty for an offering of thanks. While Amalek once had attacked the weakest, Saul now spares the strongest. Amalek sought to destroy, Saul intends to sacrifice – and one would have thought, that this would have been the better idea.
But both were wrong. In consequence both were rejected. Even Saul’s repentance is not accepted. Saul’s problem was in listening. Nothing seems to be more difficult; even in our days of mass communication, people who listen are rare. Saul thought that what he did by following the usual military procedures of biblical times was what he had been told.
But that had not been asked this time. Saul followed the routine of the religious ritual. But obedience towards God is new and unpredictable every moment. Following the routine may thus sometimes become a sin – as was the case with Saul. We are asked to listen to what is demanded in each special moment. Sometimes political action is better than spirituality.