Parshat Vayikra ZACHOR 2019
What if we have it all wrong? What if, instead of saying “Cursed be Haman” on Purim, we should say “Blessed be Haman”? That subversive suggestion, proposed by Rabbi Ari Kahn, is not as farfetched as it may appear. However, it is only in hindsight that we can attribute any goodness to a villain as base as Haman. To comprehend how such a reversal can occur, we have to put the story of Esther and Purim into historical perspective.
We are after the destruction of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews have been exiled from their land, their Temple has been destroyed, the warning words of the prophets have become facts of life and no light appears at the end of the tunnel. That’s the picture Megillat Esther gives us. “There is one nation spread out and divided in all of the countries of your kingdom,” says Haman to the king. There is no country. There is no hope. There is no unity.
That’s what makes the Jews such as easy target. Who will care if they are killed? They won’t even be able to get themselves together to resist! The perfect patsies on which Haman can build his own dreams of greatness.
But just as we say “Man plans and God laughs” about our own plans, the same happens to Haman, and from a most unexpected source. Who could have imagined that the woman chosen as queen in place of the royal Vashti would actually be one of THEM, a Hebe, a Jew, an outsider! Certainly not Haman, Not even the Jews themselves. Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, made sure Esther didn’t reveal that fact to anyone. And why is that?
Perhaps he did not want to spark any antagonism – look at those pushy Jews. They come into the country and now they’re even taking over the palace. Perhaps he didn’t want to spark controversy among the Jews. Some Jews would say how great that one of us is in the palace, while others would say For Shame! how dare a Jewess go to bed with that goy! There was enough disunity as it was.
Whatever the reason, Esther enters the palace tabula rasa in terms of her background, which serves everyone’s purpose. Interestingly, when the Haman-incited edict is issued by the king, announcing the killing of all Jews on such and such a date, Esther is unaware of it. In other words, she is cut off from current events, even those connected to her own people.
Mordechai is Esther’s Shushan news source. He is also her handler, pushing her to take her life in her hands and approach the king! Why is she so hesitant? Obviously because her life is at stake. But could it also be that she doesn’t want to endanger her royal cocoon? There is no real support for this in the Megillah, but still…. It could be.
But she does decide to act, and her action is two-pronged. First she wants to save her people (and her own life). But she also wants to unite the Jews. And this is where Haman and his plan begin to boomerang on him and help us.
Nothing brings Jews together like a common enemy from outside. Take this country, today. In 1973 we were on the brink of civil war – religious vs secular, Ashkenazi vs Sephardi, haves vs have-nots, Tel Avivians vs the rest of the country. But then our enemies stepped in and saved us by starting the Yom Kippur war. The same with Haman in Shushan.
Through Mordechai, Esther’s call goes out for ALL the Jews to fast and pray for three days. God is important, but so is unity among the people. And here they have a shared enemy, a shared cause and an immediate goal – to save their own lives. It’s true that even if they do unite and offer a united front, if God does not do His thing and the king does not change the edict, they are going to die. But at least they will die united. No, that’s not very comforting, is it?
All of this is Haman’s doing. Without Haman, without his threat to our survival, the people would have remained apathetic, defeated, alienated from one another. Thanks to his insidious plan, the Jews were now involved, united and….triumphant.
And so Haman saved us. Again, after the fact his actions can be interpreted as having served our interests. And of course, only because he didn’t succeed. We cannot say that others of his ilk who hatched even more reprehensible plans over the ages were beneficial to us. Think the Inquisition and the Shoah. But in the Purim story, we see the silver lining and none of our people had to pay the piper. Perhaps that’s why we celebrate Purim as avidly as we do. We won. He lost. Let’s eat and drink.
Parshat Zachor, which we read today, reminds us to remember Amalek – the Haman of each generation – and to eradicate their memory. Today we have plenty of Amaleks to fight, those surrounding us in Israel and those in too many other places around the world. Zachor commands us to remember and to be careful. Purim reminds us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach