(Torah Portion Tetzaveh) An Unusual Relationship
Since I was young, one of the most fascinating tidbits of information for me regarding the Purim story is Mordechai’s unusual relationship and connection with the wicked Haman.
The Medrash tells us, that years before the miracle of Purim unfolded, both Mordechai and Haman were appointed by the King as generals of squadrons of troops. While Mordechai wisely rationed his food allowance for his troops, Haman and his troops quickly depleted their provisions. Haman pleaded with Mordechai to share his food. They worked out a deal where Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai in return for some food. The agreement of sale was written on Mordechai’s boot and signed by Haman.
Years later, when Haman was promoted to the highest position in King Achashvairosh’s cabinet, Haman had an insatiable thirst for honor, and with the king’s consent Haman demanded that all people he encountered must bow down to him.
Haman was sly and clever; he hid an idol beneath his clothing – and essentially anyone bowing to him bowed to an idol. The Jews became aware of this, and avoided encountering Haman.
The exception was Mordechai. Being a member of the king’s Parliament he steadily came into contact with Haman, and when Haman would pass, Mordechai would stand perfectly erect. Not only that, he also flashed his boot, to remind Haman that he had previously sold himself as a slave, and Mordechai had no business bowing to his own slave.
This infuriated Haman to the point that not only did he wish to kill Mordechai, he wished to kill all the Jewish people as well.
The Megilla relates that those who witnessed Mordechai refusing to bow to Haman asked Mordechai why he disobeyed bowing to Haman. Mordechai told them that, “he was a Jew.”
But didn’t the questioners already know that Mordechai was a Jew, and Jews don’t bow to idols? After all, Mordechai was a leader of the Jewish people, who was exiled from Israel to Babylonia prior to the destruction of the First Temple and retained the position of the Head of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court. If so, what did Mordechai mean when he replied that “He was a Jew?”
I came across the following fascinating explanation offered by the Chasam Sofer: By Torah Law, a non Jewish slave that is acquired by a Jew, becomes the Jew’s property and a quasi Jew. If he is freed, he automatically becomes a full fledged Jew.
Haman was acquired by Mordechai as a slave. Therefore, essentially, Haman was in some degree considered a Jew – of course against his will.
When Mordechai told his questioners that “He was a Jew” he meant that Haman was a Jew because he was the slave of a Jew! That infuriated Haman more than anything, and caused him to go ballistic and push for an enactment of genocide against the entire Jewish nation.
What was the source of Haman’s extreme hatred towards the Jews? Haman was a descendant of the wicked nation of Amalek, the great nemesis of the Jews, about whom the Torah demands that we always remember their hate and that they are to be wiped out at the appropriate time.
Having said all this, the Talmud tells us the following surprising information; eventually some descendants of Haman actually studied Torah in Israel!
How is it possible that after such extreme hatred, a descendant of Haman would convert and have the distinction and privilege to study and observe Torah?
Commentators explain that Haman’s edict of genocide of the Jews had a positive effect – it awakened the Jews to reconnect to the Almighty through prayer, repentance and by furthering their commitment to Torah and observance. The positive spiritual energy brought about by Haman, albeit in a roundabout way, made it possible for one of his descendants to have an opportunity to embrace the sacred mission of the Jewish Nation.
This idea gives us a glimpse how much power and energy we create when we actively and positively promote, endorse and support Torah. Certainly when we identify and involve ourselves and our families in its observances, we merit bringing great blessings into our lives!
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks