Monday, February 22, 2010

Haman’s Ingratitude

The following is something I wrote almost a year ago, when I was still playing with the idea of starting a blog. It’s the first piece I ever wrote with the intention of posting. Now it’s finally the right time of year to put it up.


The Artscroll Kol Dodi on Megilas Esther is “adapted from the shiurim of R’ Dovid Feinstein.” It has the Hebrew text of the Megillah, Artscroll’s English translation, and a semi-detailed explanation that draws on midrashim and meforshim and follows the Megillah almost word-for-word. This morning during megillah reading I was flipping through my copy reading entries at random. Some were interesting, some I had issues with, and one particular entry was an incredibly convoluted piece of illogic.

“…explained Haman’s animosity for her [Esther’s] people. Saul had waged war against Amalek and killed most of the Amalakaites, the nation of Haman. On the other hand, Saul had spared King Agag, and it was only because of that misplaced mercy that Haman had come into existence – where was his gratitude? Haman represented an extreme example of a familiar, if unpleasant, aspect of human nature that people resent those who help them.” (7:5, p.119)

Stop and think about this a moment. Saul “waged war” on Amalek and wiped out nearly the entire nation, men, women, and children. (Even the farm animals were killed, just in case any of the Amalaikim had magically transformed themselves into livestock to escape the sword.) It would seem perfectly natural that anyone who survived what can only be described as genocide would be justified in hating the nation that had destroyed his ancestors. But no, here we learn that Haman hated the Jews because Saul had been kind to his great-great-etc.-grandfather. And what was this great kindness Saul did for Agag? He let him live!

This reminds me of one of Aesop’s fables. A wolf got a bone stuck in his throat. Desperate to get it out, he asked a bird with a long beak to pull it out for him. The bird understandably did not want to put his beak down the wolf’s throat, as this would put his head between the wolf’s jaws. “You have nothing to worry about,” the wolf assured him. “I’ll even give you a reward.” Enticed by the promise of a reward, the bird pulled the bone from the wolf’s throat. Free of the painful bone the wolf started to trot away. “Wait,” the bird called after him. “What about my reward?” The wolf stopped, turned back to him and replied, “I let you stick your head in my mouth and didn’t snap it off. Isn’t that reward enough?”

Much like the wolf in the fable, the author of this megillah seems to feel that if one could have killed another and doesn’t, it is a gift bestowed upon the spared party.

[Incidentally, the moral usually paired with this particular fable, called “The Wolf and the Crane,” is: “In serving the wicked, expect no reward, and be thankful if you escape injury.”]

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