A Study in Contrasts- Esther versus Haman

If we study the characters of Mordechai and Esther it is interesting to see the profound influence one’s middot have over one’s actions and personality.  We see how a refined character and healthy self-esteem can build and give meaning to life while the converse is also true, that a flawed character, someone who refuses to work on his faulty middot will ultimately self-destruct.
When Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, “Haman is filled with anger” (3:5).  It is fascinating to note that Haman had been promoted to viceroy over the entire civilised world (according to one opinion in the Gemara) and despite this when one little Jew refuses to bow, his world falls apart.  This is a sad but common symptom of those who have very big egos, of which Haman was the standard bearer. 
If one’s world is dependent on public adulation and built on what others think of me then when one individual, no matter how seemingly insignificant, refuses to pay homage to me this means my identity, who and what I am is being called into question.  There is now a gaping hole in the artificial edifice which I have built up in my imagination which serves as my identity.  No-one likes being identity-less and a sure consequence of this is insane and blind hatred for those who have robbed me of myself.
The Vilna Gaon points out that Haman did not even notice that Mordechai was not bowing down but had to be told (3:4).  Haman’s nose was so high in the sky he did not notice who or what was going on while he passed along.  Even once he was told he refused and was even scared to accept this news and was prepared to judge Mordechai with the benefit of the doubt that maybe Mordechai did not realise how hurtful this was to Haman.  The loss of one’s identity is not an easy thing to swallow and Haman feared for himself.


In the fifth chapter after Haman is invited to the feast with the king and Esther, his ego is riding high and could not be happier.  It is exactly at this time when his ego built on nothingness is so high that his fragility is exposed.  He leaves the palace and who is sitting there- yes, it is that Jew adamant in his refusal to bow to Haman.
What is equally interesting is to see how Haman copes with this devastating assault on his essence.  This may seem bizarre, yet it is psychologically fully understandable.  Haman runs off to the escape of his wife and his friends, who he drags in.  In a desperate attempt to salvage something of himself he recounts pitifully what everyone knows all too well, boring his wife and friends with his story of promotion at the palace culminating with the pinnacle of his career which is going to be him attending the feast with the king and Esther and nobody else.  This astonishing behaviour is a desperate act to counter the attack Mordechai perpetrated against Haman’s delicate ego.  However, “all this is not worth anything every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the gate of the king”. (5:13)
This fantasy world is played out again when Achashveirosh asks Haman for an idea of what to do to somebody “that the king wants to honour”. (6:6). Of course in Haman’s mind there is nobody else deserving of honour in the whole world.
If we take just a couple of examples we see how Esther is the epitome of modesty, someone possessing healthy self-esteem and consequently and ultimately perfection of character. 
We see at the end of Chapter 2 how when Mordechai thwarts the designs of Bigtan and Teresh, Esther reports this to the king- “And Esther says to the king in the name of Mordechai”.  This willingness to forego great honour and fame for saving the king’s life, by reporting the matter over in Mordechai’s name, we are told in Pirkei Avot brings redemption to the world.  Modesty and an ability to forego the avaricious desire for honour and prestige is the pre-requisite for peace and harmony.
We are also told how Esther doesn’t divulge her origins to Achashveirosh.  The Gemara tells us that this ability not to be “a tell all” to have modesty and not to be compelled to show off all we are and what we do was a midda inherited from Rachel our matriarch that she did not “let the cat out of the bag” when Leah was marrying Yaakov, our forefather, when it should have been her, wanting to preserve the dignity of her sister, G-d Forbid, not wanting to embarrass her.
We can all choose who we want to be disciples of, Haman or Esther.  I know who I would want to emulate….

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