The Last Day of Haman’s Life: A Talmudic Midrash

BY RABBI DR. ALAN KIMCHE

The last day of Haman’s life starts off well – but ends poorly. Immensely wealthy and powerful, with his genocidal plan for the Jewish people in full swing, Haman is honored to be invited to an intimate royal drink with the king and queen for the second time in two days. However, by the end of the day he is humiliated, forced to honor his archenemy by parading him publicly in the king’s robes on the king’s horse. Finally, Haman is executed by hanging, the fate he had planned for Mordechai. All this is stated explicitly in the text of the megillah

The Talmudic midrash (Megillah 16a) fills in a rich account of missing details, adding a deeper background story, bringing these events to life and conveying some of the inner messages of the megillah

Firstly the date is significant. In the text of the megillah (3:12) we read about the events of the 13th of Nissan that year. Royal couriers are sent to the cities of the Persian empire, instructing all citizens that eleven months later, on the 13th of Adar, there will be a massacre of the Jews by royal decree. Mordechai immediately rushes to inform Esther of this danger, and she agrees to risk her life in an attempt to change the king’s mind, on condition that Mordechai unites the Jewish people in three days of fasting and prayers. The three-day fast was to start immediately, on the 14th, 15th and 16th of Nissan. 

The Talmud comes to the inevitable conclusion that Pesach was canceled that year because of the fast. No matzah, no seder – everything was canceled. Mordechai’s rabbinic power was sufficient to make that decision, to focus everyone’s mind on prayer and teshuvah

Fast-forward three days to the morning of the 16th. The king instructs Haman to honor Mordechai by dressing him in royal robes, placing him on the king’s horse and declaring him to be a most honored person. 

Where and how did Haman find Mordechai, his most hated opponent, to invite him to be honored? For this we need the Talmudic midrash. It is the turning point in Haman’s fate, from a meteoric rise to power to an instant fall. 

The Talmud portrays Mordechai teaching Torah to his students. On this day, the 16th of Nissan, he had a special topic – inyanei d’yoma. The 16th is the day of the Omer barley sacrifice and the start of the Omer counting for all later generations. In Temple times, this day saw an elaborate ceremony centered around a fistful of newly harvested flour placed on the altar as thanksgiving for the sustenance of the new harvest. 

At the time of the Purim events, approximately 2,500 years ago, the Jewish people had only recently been exiled from Jerusalem after close to 1,000 years of daily Temple service. In the absence of the korbanot, the Torah laws pertaining to each aspect of the Temple service was studied as a substitute for the ritual. This is what Mordechai was teaching. He was teaching the particular method used by the Kohen for grasping a ‘kemitzah,’ taking a fistful of flour, releasing the thumb and little finger, leaving three fingers grasped around a very small amount of flour. This was the central act of the Omer ritual, which permitted the ‘chadash,’ the new crop, to be eaten. 

At this point Haman came to a critical realization – that the eternal destiny of the Jewish people would prevail over his amassed wealth and power, that his genocidal plans would fail and that he himself was doomed. This is the crux of the megillah and the source of the joy of Purim. 

Referring to his offer of a fortune to be granted permission to eliminate the Jewish people, Haman says: “Clearly a few grains of your flour is more powerful than my ten thousand talents of silver.” By the end of that day he was executed. 

There is an interesting parallel in the words of Bilam (Bamidbar 23:10): “Who can measure the dust of Ya’akov?” Rashi explains that even with the dust of the earth the Jewish people are able to perform numerous mitzvot: the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the dust of the Sotah, and the prohibition of planting kilayim. Bilam, like Haman, was determined to destroy the Jewish people, only to realize that Am Yisrael is indestructible. Like Haman, he saw that this is derived from our ability to make use of everything life offers, even seemingly insignificant items like dust, ashes or flour, and by dedicating it to a mitzvah, transforming it into something of eternal value. 

More than ever, we are waiting for a Purim miracle, that the Hamans of our times, insanely driven ‘l’hashmid laharog u’leabed et kol ha’yehudim’ will find that the eternity of our mitzvot is infinitely more powerful than all the wealth of Iran and Qatar, and that the indestructibility of Am Yisrael will once again be clear to all. May we soon see the destruction of our enemies and the return of the hostages.

 

Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche is the Senior Rabbi of the Mizrachi Community in Melbourne. A student of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerach zt”l and Rav Chaim Shmuelewitz zt”l, he holds a PhD in Talmudic Law from University College of London. Rabbi Kimche founded and led the Ner Yirsrael Community in Hendon, London before making Aliyah in 2019.

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