by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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This Shabbat, a week before Purim, is Shabbat Zachor when we remember what Amalek did to our forefathers when they left Egypt. Haman, the villian of the megillah was a decendent 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)
It was despicable in his (Haman's) eyes to assault Mordecai alone for they told him Mordecai's people, so Haman desired to destroy all the Jews throughout Achashveirosh's kingdom the people of Mordecai.
"The despised (from "despicable" in the verse) one the son of the despised one. Has it not said (referring to his forefather, Esav) "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 it's 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 Esav, 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.
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 Esav 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 over react 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 Mordecai because he had affronted his inflated ego by not bowing down to him. But killing Mordecai 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 Mordecai, 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 is unfortunately familiar.
Esav and Haman shared the common trait of striving to justify an immoral act by deceiving themselves by over reacting emotionally in order to quiet their conscience.
The Midrash's psychological acuity is breathtaking.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
The Institute has published a new volume on Megillas Esther. It is titled: "What's Bothering Rashi - Megillas Esther. It analyzes both Rashi and selected Midrashim on the megillah. Ask for it at your local bookstores or order from Feldheim Publishers on the internet.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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