The moment it came to an end

How could Haman have blundered so badly? Presenting to the king the idea of dressing someone else up as king could only be translated as a potential threat to the throne.

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg, | updated: 05:21

Rabbi Dr. D. Ginzberg
Rabbi Dr. D. Ginzberg

Haman’s rise to power is documented at the beginning of the third chapter of Megillat Esther. He becomes the top adviser to the king, with those in the city of Shushan bowing down to him. Becoming this powerful certainly required a high degree of political savvy.

The Sages point to his guidance as being of paramount importance in the downfall of Vashti, allowing Achashverosh complete and sole authority over the crown. As well, Haman successfully orchestrates the beauty pageant that leads to Esther’s becoming queen. He was a mastermind of the political arena, an exemplar of acumen the envy of even today’s politicians.

Thus, the following question becomes ever more obvious: how could Haman have blundered so badly? How could he have allowed himself to lead Mordechai through the streets of the city?

To put the story in the proper context, Haman is invited to a VIP party with the king and queen. He had already completed his mission of signing the death certificates for the Jewish people. After leaving the party, he sees Mordechai, and now enraged and with the advice of his family and friends, seeks to receive permission from the king to hang Mordechai as soon as possible.

As Haman makes his way to the palace, the story turns to Achashverosh’s sleepless night. The king reaches for his book of records, “discovering” he had not rewarded Mordechai for his demonstrated loyalty in saving him from the assassination plot. He turns for advice, and his top counsellor, Haman, who had come to the palace on a different mission, enters the room (Esther 6:6):

“And Haman entered, and the king said to him, "What should be done to a man whom the king wishes to honor?" And Haman said to himself, "Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?"”

It is easy to jump on Haman’s clear ego-centric thinking; in truth, though, was he wrong? He was responsible for so much of the king’s recent success. Why would he not be the obvious choice to honor?

Haman’s answer is a magnificent display of honor (ibid 7-9):

“And Haman said to the King, "(7) A man whom the king wishes to honor. (8) Let them bring the royal raiment that the king wore and the horse that the king rode upon, and the royal crown should be placed on his head. (9) And let the raiment and the horse be delivered into the hand of one of the king's most noble princes and let them dress the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let them parade him on the horse in the city square and announce before him, 'So shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!' "”

How could Haman have been so careless as to express this reward and honor? Presenting to the king the idea of dressing someone else up as king could only be translated as a potential threat to the throne.

We see a subtle change from the second to third verse. Initially, Haman went as far as to suggest that among the various kingly clothing, the individual to be honored wear the royal crown. Yet, in the next verse, he drops the request. Rashi notes this change and explains that Haman noted a change in Achashverosh’s demeanor. When mentioning the crown, the king appeared to be jealous, and Haman thus modified the request.

This change will be significant in understanding Haman’s error.

Achashverosh pounces on Haman’s advice (ibid 10):

“And the king said to Haman, "Hurry, take the raiment and the horse as you have spoken and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits in the king's gate; let nothing fail of all that you have spoken."”

No doubt, there was a certain glee in the king’s decision.

From the reader’s perspective, the insecurities and paranoia are quite evident in the personality of Achashverosh. The queen invites Haman to a special party. Haman was responsible for the king’s ascension to the throne. Maybe Esther was a stooge for Haman. The point is Achashverosh was constantly concerned about his grip on the throne. Seeing a possible threat from Haman, unable to sleep due to these deep fears, he seeks out new allies. When discovering that Mordechai had saved his life, he saw loyalty, a powerful salve to his intense paranoia.

While it is impossible to know if the king had set up a trap for Haman or not, there is no doubt that the idea of Haman leading Mordechai around the city was the ultimate shaming of Haman. To Achashverosh, he had blunted Haman’s intentions and shattered his ego in a profound manner.

Haman was coming from a completely different perspective.

It is important to emphasize that there is no indication at all that Haman had any designs on the throne. If anything, Haman truly saw himself as the loyal adviser to the king. He played an important role in the king’s success, but that did not mean he desired to be the king. There is a long history of advisers to the throne who were quite happy in their respective positions. One can turn to the story of Joseph and see a viceroy content to assist in any what he could. Haman was not the threat.

This does not mean Haman lacked an unquenchable desire for power. The root of his desire, though, was not the same focus as the king. The king sought to rule over others. Haman sought to prove that humanity was in charge and had no need for God.

When Haman received his promotion and paraded himself in front of the people of Shushan, he was not just seeking their approval and respect as top adviser. He saw himself as representative of the supremacy of humanity in the universe. Mordechai’s refusal to bow, reflecting an ideology dedicated to de-emphasizing the ego of humanity, was a direct threat to his worldview. Ridding the world of the Jewish people would demonstrate the conquest of God. Haman’s ideology could not co-exist with Mordechai’s.

After the party with Esther, Haman’s encounter with Mordechai sends him into a bit of a rage. He needed to demonstrate now, at this moment, that the authority of mankind would be on full display. Why would the king disagree with expediting his nefarious plan?

This leads to the climatic scene with Achashverosh. The king saw Haman as a threat, and his actions reflected someone who wanted his position. While Haman was also desiring power, his focus was not on the throne. The slip occurs with the mention of the crown. To Haman, wearing the crown meant the ultimate demonstration of the authority of humanity. He was not seeking to wear the crown to become king; being number two was just fine. Instead, the crown would further authenticate his ideological view. To Achashverosh, the crown was dominion over other people; to Haman, the crown was humanity’s dominion over the universe.

One can imagine right at that moment, when he mentioned the crown, that he realized he had grievously erred. He never realized how the king would ever see him as being a threat, as he had no interest in the political machinations of being the ruler. Yet the king’s reaction to his suggestion of the crown was his realization he misjudged the situation. He understood at that moment that his entire relationship with Achashverosh had been compromised, and that he failed to understand the depths of his paranoia. His egomania was indeed the obstacle, but it was due to his focus on his ideological supremacy that led to his misjudging of the situation.

The final step was the revelation that it was Mordechai, whose existence was the threat to Haman’s ideology, that would be the recipient of the honor from the king. Haman would lead Mordechai through the streets. It would be clear to all that he was wrong. His entire approach was being undermined at this one moment. No wonder, with the end of this episode, Haman retreats to his home, overwhelmed and at a loss.