Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Searching for Haman
The Gemara (Chullin 139b) asks, "Where is there an allusion to
Haman in the Torah? As it is written (Bereishis 3:11), 'Have you
perhaps eaten from the Tree (Ha-min ha-eitz) from which I told you
not to eat?... " The word Ha-min ("perhaps from") is spelled (in
Hebrew) with the same letters as Haman. At first inspection, this
appears to be a simple play on words. Upon reflection, however, we
will find that there is more to this "simple allusion" than meets the
I have perhaps done a misdeed in my translation of the above
Gemara. More accurately, the Gemara's question was: Where do we
find Haman in the Torah? If, in its answer, the Gemara points us
towards this verse, we may assume that it embodies the very essence
of the mysterious Jew-hater called Haman.
Haman, we know, was a descendent of Amalek. This is the same
Amalek about whom the Torah instructs us (Devarim 25:19), "You
must obliterate any recollection of Amalek from beneath the
Heavens - do not forget!" Amalek is the nation who, upon seeing a
nation finally freed from the bonds of slavery, takes the initiative of
attacking them while they were still weak and feeble, in order to usurp
from them the dream of being taken to their homeland. Amalek
represents dissention, conflict, strife, and war. Amalek - sefarim write,
is symbolic of everything bad, evil, wicked, and corrupt. And as long
as Amalek survives, we continue to suffer the consequences. Because
there is a little Amalek in each of us.
It is no coincidence that Haman, one of Amalek's most fervent
emissaries, finds his place in the Torah together with the primordial
Snake. According to the Kabbalists, man was originally created
perfect. He had no innate will to do wrong. If man were to sin, it
would not be due to any fault from within, but rather to enticement
and seduction from without. This was the role of the Snake. Once
man sinned, however, evil was drawn inside man. Our task was no
longer to resist temptation from outside sources; the enemy had
breached the walls - the battlezone was now from within.
So when we speak of the zeideh Amalek, and his einikel (grandson)
Haman, and we stamp our feet and clap our hands, we are reminded
of the Haman who threatens us to this very day. Our own personal
Let us then take a moment to examine this Haman character.
Material bliss, it seems, was among Haman's blessings. In exchange
for permission to kill the Jews, Haman offered King Achashveirosh a
cool ten thousand kikar of silver. Just to put that in perspective: The
Jews in the desert were commanded to give a half-silver shekel each.
The proceeds of these half-shekels would be used to purchase
communal sacrifices for the entire year, after which a new collection
was taken. In parshas Pekudei, the Torah gives a total of the silver
collected as a result of the half-shekel census: One hundred kikar.
One kikar of gold was enough to fashion the menorah, which stood
so tall that Aaron needed to stand upon a ladder just to clean out its
lamps. Haman offered ten thousand kikar. Haman was no pauper.
Nor was he lacking in power. He had ascended to the highest
echelons of the Persian Empire, then the most powerful monarchy in
the world. Haman himself gives expression to his tremendous power
and wealth (Esther 5:11-12): "Haman told (his wife and friends) of his
glorious wealth, his many sons, and all the power that the King had
granted him; that he had elevated him above all the officials and royal
servants. 'Moreover, Queen Esther invited only me to the banquet that
she prepared, and I am invited again tomorrow together with the
King.'" There was but one singular item which obstructed Haman's
bliss, preventing him from reaching the pinnacle of accomplishment
and success; a lone Mordechai refused to bow down to him.
So, what do you call a man who has everything - wealth, power,
recognition - with but one tiny kink in his armour? Let's get it from the
horses mouth. The above verse continues (5:13), "Yet all this means
nothing to me as long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the
King's gate (and refusing to bow down to me)!" I have nothing! My
wealth, my power, my reputation, my family - it's all worthless,
because it's flawed. My bliss is incomplete; therefore I have nothing.
Come on Haman! - It's all worth nothing to you? The riches, the
power, your position? All because one man refuses to recognize you?
Perhaps life's not perfect; maybe something's missing. But nothing!
Aren't you exaggerating your situation? No - says Haman - I have
nothing, nothing at all. Nothing I have has any meaning; because of
this one imperfection.
There's a name I have for such spoiled, self-centered cry babies. For
people who have everything, yet whine and fuss over the smallest and
most insignificant imperfections and flaws in their o-so-fragile lives.
For individuals who, no matter how well things may go, and no
matter how numerous their gifts, always find something to kvetch
about. I usually call them - well, me.
Why is it that our focus is constantly fixed on the small imperfections
in our lives? If we were to make a list of all the gifts Hashem gives us
on a daily basis, the small and the big and everything in between, and
then think of everything missing in our lives, things we really need, yet
don't have, we would be overcome with gratitude and joy. How many
times do we allow our concentration during tefilla (prayer) to be
diverted by the most trivial and insignificant matters? I wanted this
and didn't get it... Something broke or was lost... So-and-so said
such-and such... We stand before the Almighty, our lips should
ostensibly be overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for all we have;
and yet we have nothing. We are unable to feel joy and gratitude,
because something just happened, or is about to happen, or might
This is the voice of Haman from within. This is (at least one aspect
of) the Amalek whose recollection we are required to obliterate. It is
the voice of ingratitude and of self-centeredness. It is the voice which
says, "All this is nothing!" Adam too was given the world on a silver-
platter. There was only one thing he couldn't have; the fruit of the
Tree of Knowledge. And yet this was too much to bear. "Perhaps
from the one tree (Ha-min=Haman) which I have commanded you
not to eat - you have eaten?!" So as we ponder the many messages
of Purim this Shabbos, perhaps take a moment to think of all the
things we do have to be thankful for. Focus on the good, and the
bad will wither in comparison.
Have a good Shabbos, and a joyous Purim!