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Parshat Zachor(Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

It Was Despicable

This Shabbat, a week before Purim, is Shabbat Zachor, when we remember what Amalek did to our forefathers when they left Egypt. Haman, the villain of the Megillah, was a descendant of Amalek. Let us examine a Midrash from the Midrash devoted to the Megillah - Esther Rabbah (taken from the recently released "What's Bothering Rashi?" on the Megillah).

Esther 3:6

"It was despicable in his (Haman's) eyes to assault Mordechai alone for they told him Mordechai's people, so Haman desired to destroy all the Jews throughout Achashveirosh's kingdom, the people of Mordechai."

 

THE MIDRASH

"The despised (from "despicable" in the verse) one, the son of the despised one. Has it not said (referring to his forefather, Esau) "And he despised the birthright" (Genesis 25:34), as it says here "It was despicable in his eyes...."

The Midrash makes use of one of its most frequent interpretive tools, word-association, called a Gezeira Shavah. The Hebrew word "vayivez" occurs only in these two verses in the Tanach – here in Esther and in Genesis referring to Esau, Amalek (Haman's ancestor). The uncommon word shared by both verses is the basis for the drash.

Can you see more meaning in this than just the verbal similarity here? There is very profound lesson here.

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING THE MIDRASH

An Answer: To begin analyzing this Midrash we must ask: Why did Esau despise the birthright? We can understand that he preferred the instant pleasure of a satisfying meal, but why despise the birthright? Not want it, yes, but despise it, why?

The reason would seem to be that this was a psychological maneuver enabling Esau to protect himself from the inevitable pangs of guilt. He was throwing away a precious heritage of immeasurable value and of inestimable spiritual significance. In order to allow himself to slurp his porridge with abandon, he had to overreact and despise the birthright. Despising the birthright put him at such a distance from its true significance that he could voraciously sate his animalistic desires without the annoying pangs of conscience.

Let us now see what Haman did and how his need to despise was turned by him to good psychological use. Haman desired to do away with Mordechai because he had affronted his inflated ego by not bowing down to him. But killing Mordechai for his personal hurt was too vicious and too transparently self-centered an act even for the self-absorbed Haman. His conscience needed to cover its tracks. So he realized that killing a whole nation could be more easily justified than killing a lone individual. So Haman despised killing just Mordechai. He despised this because had he not rallied his emotional contempt for such a petty act, he would have had to face his own conscience and the murderous impulse he harbored. So instead he decided to wipe out a whole nation. This, his conscience could justify! Strange but true. As the generation which spawned the holocaust, this is unfortunately familiar.

Esau and Haman shared the common trait of striving to justify an immoral act by deceiving themselves, and overreacting emotionally in order to quiet their conscience.

The Midrash's psychological acuity is breathtaking.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: February 22, 2009

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