Purim is my favorite holiday, and I love to share the joy. I have spent previous years wandering around my neighborhood in costume. This year, I fully intend to celebrate with full cheer, and I want everyone to know why I plan to spend the day in costume, singing Shoshanat Yaakov at the top of my lungs.
Last night, as I was telling my enthralled neighbor the story of Esther, I realized that there was a tremendous hole in the plot. Haman is the all-powerful viceroy to the king. He has the King’s signet ring and he has the power of life and death over everyone around him. As he walks through the streets, trumpets sound and knees hit the ground in homage. Basically, he is the man in charge with the power of life and death, freedom and captivity, poverty and wealth over every person he sees. He has it all.
And yet, one person doesn’t cower before him and Haman goes berserk. The most powerful man in the country stops his busy schedule and decides to engage in a single-minded campaign of destruction against one man with absolutely no power. He most likely could have Mordechai executed on the spot, but even that wasn’t enough.
For comparison purposes let’s take Aishwarya Rai of India who has been called the most beautiful woman in the world by many different magazines. Can you imagine that she would go crazy with anger and revenge if one person didn’t find her the most beautiful? I imagine that she would confidently walk past him, convinced of her own beauty and self worth.
The viceroy here has no internal self worth and confidence. A single powerless person has defied him and he is utterly consumed by this defiance. The only thing that can make Haman feel better about himself is to commit genocide. That is more than using an elephant to crush an ant; I would argue this is using an atomic weapon to destroy the ant.
And in pursuit of that goal, he’s willing to give ten thousand talents of silvers to the king. For those of us in the modern world, a single talent is 67 pounds. That’s more than three tons of solid silver. Silver is around 33 dollars an ounce. At my calculations, that’s more than 35 million dollars. There’s a lot of people I dislike, but I’d much rather have the cash than trash them. So why did Haman flip out in such a self destructive way?
The answer came to me today as I cried on the shoulder of a friend. For the past two years I have been working in Israel advocacy. Dealing with bureaucratic board members, hostile organizations and just nasty people can wear on a person.
Sometimes, I would fantasize about letting out my anger in a vicious tirade. At desperate times, I would dream of getting some sort of revenge by going to the Dean or prominent organizations to get them into trouble. I knew I was right and I wanted the people who impeded the rightness of my cause to be held accountable and apologize for the damage they had wrecked upon the Jewish community. And yes, I know it would have gotten me nowhere – and that is my point. Revenge turns a logical feeling of distaste for injustice into a futile and ridiculous tilt at windmills.
At best, revenge is a distraction from your real goal, and at worst, it becomes a trap that ensnares and destroys those caught in it. Haman may have been a sociopath, but that wasn’t his fatal flaw. He just didn’t seem to know what his real goal was. Although I don’t know the man well, I imagine his goal was to achieve power.
Haman started out right. He had managed to survive the whims of a drunken and capricious king; he admits he has everything in the world. The sight of one measly person refusing to bow should have been annoying to him, but not something worth more a few moments of irritation. There was definitely no intelligent reason to go on the warpath like he did and we all know how well that ended. Once the most powerful man in the empire, he is today best remembered for a dessert that resembles his ears.
Haman’s fatal flaw of hubris made him unable to see past his own ego. It didn’t matter how much power he had, any slight flaw in his tapestry of life could not be tolerated. He could not see anything but his own dignity and missed the big picture, instead reverting to genocide as the revenge on one man. He was too ego-driven to realize that power is not something that is only external, but must be matched by an internal dignity.