Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. — Esther 3:6
This week Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, the Divine deliverance of the Jewish people from certain annihilation, in the events described in the book of Esther. Please enjoy these devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, in his loving memory.
— Yael Eckstein, President
When two people don’t get along, someone might metaphorically say that there is “bad blood” between them, meaning that they have a history of not getting along. Perhaps they have radically different views, or have clashed over a perceived insult or wrong. Typically bad blood results from something outside the relationship that could conceivably be changed with negotiations, a third-party intervening, or a change in attitude between the two.
But when prejudice is involved, someone might not get along with another person simply because of his or her “blood” or race — something that is beyond that person’s ability to change. Sadly, this kind of racial prejudice has often been displayed toward the Jews. Today it is called anti-Semitism, but the reality of hatred toward the Jews can be traced as far back as the time of the Persian Empire, when the Jews faced government-sanctioned extermination.
In the book of Esther, there was bad blood between Haman and Mordecai. Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1) or a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king (1 Samuel 15:8), and Mordecai was a Jew. The history of not getting along dated all the way back to when the Amalekites attacked Israel (Exodus 17:8–16). But when not getting along becomes an attack on an entire race of people, it has gone too far.
Oftentimes, prejudice spreads because of the venomous thoughts and words of others. Haman had not taken notice of Mordecai so he was not personally offended until the royal officials informed him of Mordecai’s insubordination “to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew” (Esther 3:4).
Prejudice is often characterized by broad generalizations. Haman’s anger was not simply at Mordecai’s actions (of not bowing), and not just at the person, but at all Jews. Haman’s anger went way beyond Mordecai, to all that Mordecai stood for. He hated a group of people because they had a different belief or culture.
As in the situation with Haman and Mordecai, prejudice is often perpetuated with lies. Haman falsely accused the Jews of being disloyal to the king, saying “There is a certain people . . . whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws” (Esther 3:8). However, Mordecai had already demonstrated his loyalty to the king (Esther 2:21-23) so this was clearly untrue.
Additionally, prejudice grows out of personal pride — thinking that you are better than others. Haman had a lust for honor and public recognition. He was willing to destroy others in an attempt to elevate himself. In the end, Haman was punished for his arrogance (Esther 7:9–10), as will be all who look down on others because of a difference in belief or culture, for God will judge.
Certainly there are lessons for all of us from the story of Mordecai and Haman. We need to search our hearts for people with whom we have strained relationships. Ask God for help to restore these relationships and look for ways we can build bridges of understanding with each other. Then see how God will honor and bless these efforts.