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Our March Limmud Study: Haman

Rabbi leading group of men in the reading of the book of Esther for the Jewish holiday Purim. R. Vilenskiy/FJC

Haman: The Role of the Villain

For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction.— Esther 9:24

Most of us are familiar with the book of Esther which recounts the events that took place in Persia (modern-day Iran) 2,300 years ago. During that time the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation, but were ultimately saved by a series of events that were serendipitously arranged by the hand of God.

Typically, studies of this book focus on Esther, the heroine, or Mordecai, the hero. However, in this month’s Limmud, we will concentrate on Haman, the villain of the story. While the book of Esther is primarily the story of the Jewish people in exile and an important part of our history, the story of Haman is equally as important if we are to fully appreciate the experiences of the Jewish people then and now.

There is a Haman in every generation, whether it is Hitler or Ahmadinejad. As our Jewish sages teach, “In every generation someone tries to destroy the Jewish people and God rescues us.”

Confronting Evil Then and Now

Why does God place us in such danger in the first place?

The study of Haman is a study of evil. To study Haman is to ask and probe the question of why God allows cruelty to exist in a world over which He is Master.

The book of Esther prescribes the holiday of Purim which celebrates our victory over evil. However, interestingly, the holiday’s name, Purim, is Hebrew for the word “lots.” The holiday gets its name from verse 9:24, “For Haman… the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction.”

Haman deliberately used a lottery system to determine the date of destruction for the Jews in order to underscore his evil philosophy — that everything in life is random and that there is no God running the show. Calling the holiday “lots” — when Haman’s plans were foiled by our God who worked behind the scenes, yet clearly controlled everything that happened — emphasizes the fallacy of Haman’s outlook and the validity of the truth that there is a God.

As our world faces many kinds of evil today, it is critical for us to understand that we are fighting an ancient battle, one that began before Haman and that continues even today. As we study Haman’s character, philosophy, and ambitions, we will gain a better understanding of the evil in our own world. We will also gain insights into the purpose of the “Hamans” in our own lives and in the world at large.

Most importantly, we will learn how to combat evil and destroy the illusion that we are subject to it. We will come to understand how, in spite of the ugliness and threats facing us today, God continues to protect us and goodness will ultimately conquer evil.

- Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Tags: Inspiration

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