There is a discussion in the Talmud about which is the dominant facet to the Megila (The Book of Esther.) Is it the story from the beginning, the story of Achashveirosh, the Persian king at the center of the drama; the story of Mordechai (beginning Esther 2:5) the Jewish hero of the story; the story of the villain Haman (beginning 3:1) or the story of the miracle (beginning 6:1) when the Jews are saved from destruction?

The story of the miracle starts with the passage, “On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed and he said to bring the book of chronicles and they should be read before him.” (translation my own.)

According the Talmud, Achashveirosh was concerned. His new queen, Esther, had just invited him to a party, a second time, with his favored minister, Haman. Achashveirosh wondered if the two of them were plotting against him. Had he missed something during his reign that would lead someone to resent him and wish to depose him?

The chronicles were read to the king and he was reminded of a plot against him that was uncovered by Mordehchai. When Achashveirosh asks if Mordechai was properly honored, he is informed that he was not.

At that point, the kind seeks advice. In the middle of the night who is prowling around the palace grounds? It’s Haman! So Achashveirosh calls Haman in and asks him how to honor someone deserving of the king’s gratitude. Haman, in an aside, let’s us know that he is certain that the king wishes to honor him. Then he proceeds to answer, “They should bring the royal clothes that the king has worn and the horse upon which the king has ridden upon whom the royal crown has been placed.” Haman then explains that one the king’s officers should then dress the favored subject and parade him through the streets, crying out, “So should be done to the man whom the king wishes to favor.”

The brazenness of Haman’s response is astounding. The king asks him for advice and his response is to convey that he really wishes to be king. The king responds tersely,  ”… hurry, take the clothing and the horse as you spoke, and do so to Mordechai the Jew, who sits by the gate of the king. Do not omit a single detail from all that you have spoken.”

According to the 19th century Rabbi, the Malbim, Haman’s response was a wake up call to the king. Achashveirosh now realized that Haman’s rise was undeserved and it was Mordechai who was deserving of the king’s favor.

Of course the central miracle of Purim is that the Jews who had been marked for death by Haman and with the connivance of Achashveirosh were spared, when the king heeded Esther’s plea. (The actual rescue was not that the king reversed his decree, but that he issued a new decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves.) However the rich details in the story of Esther show a series of smaller miracles that made the main miracle possible. Haman’s overreach in answering the king’s query helped seal his fate.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who noted that I wrote “Hamas” in the last paragraph instead of “Haman.” It’s fixed now.

 
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