top of page

7.38 Esther -- the Pride of Haman

Enter the "bad guy" to spoil the picture.  Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, whom Saul had spared and Samuel had killed (1 Sam 15).  The fact that this execution took place over 500 years prior to the time of Esther shows us the longstanding nature of family and ethnic feuds.  They can fester for generations, unless ended by an act of reconciliation between contemporary family members.  No such act occurs in Esther.


Haman’s ostensible complaint, however, did not hark back to family history.  Being a petty man, in the mold of his master, King Xerxes, who was concerned only for his own image and status, he was most upset by Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him when he passed by.  This is a realistic depiction of human arrogance:  promote an unworthy person above his peers, give him real power over others, and he will be quick to take offense at any presumed slight or insult, no matter how insignificant:

          When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged (Est 3:5).


In his response, he acted just like King Xerxes when Vashti didn’t answer his summons, and for the same reason: wounded pride.  Like master, like dog.   And, like the king, he generalized his reaction to all people who were like the person who offended him.  Whereas the king feared Vashti’s offense would spread to all married women and so issued a decree to force them to honor their husbands, Haman decided to retaliate on a grand scale:

          Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of  Xerxes (Est 3:6).

This response is characteristic of all racial/ethnic judgments, and it is the root of racism:  extend negative judgments from the individual to an entire class.  "Mordecai’s conduct offends me, therefore I will kill all the Jews."  This is irrational, this is psychopathological -- yet it is also very much a part of modern history, and not just against the Jews.   Far from being an attribute of "primitive" cultures, this attitude is common in our own times:  as evidenced by national and religious campaigns of genocide in Africa and the Middle East, and parts of southern Europe.  Globalism, it seems, has ushered in not only tolerance but also its antithesis -- mutual loathing and extermination.    


The reason for Mordecai’s disobedience, like Vashti’s, is not explicit.  In refusing to bow to Haman, he was not only defying Haman, but also disobeying the king’s command (Est 3:2).  His motive seems to have been religious:

          he had told them he was a Jew (Est 3:4).

          But what did being a Jew have to do with it?  Did he refuse to bow to other officials or to the king himself?  If it was only Haman he defied, was it due to Haman’s genealogy as a descendant of Agag?   Did Mordecai believe his contempt of Haman was a continuation of the judgment of Samuel?   According to non-canonical Rabbinic tradition, Haman wore a garment with an idolatrous image embroidered on it, to which people were forced to bow.   But this is conjectural.  In any case, the specific principle of conscience at stake here is unclear:  and it nearly led to the eradication of the Jewish people in Persia.   If Haman was the guilty party, Mordecai was the provocateur.

bottom of page