It takes only a cursory glance at the Book of Esther to discover the main theme; there is an ongoing confrontation between two of the main characters, Mordecai the Jew, and Haman. Their struggle runs through chapter after chapter, until one of them is completely eliminated from the scene.
A deeper examination of the text leads us to the insight that this was not a confrontation between two individuals, but between the doctrines represented by the two combatants. The life of each of these antagonists, Mordecai and Haman, was the antithesis of his opponent's ideals.
Who was Haman the Agagite? Mordecai reveals us something of his background, indirectly, when he informs Hatach of recent events and asks him to report to Esther: "And Mordecai related to him all that had happened to him."
The Sages note Mordecai's use of the Hebrew phrase, "karahu", literally, "happened to him." (Esther 4:7) They take this as an allusion to a verse in the Book of Deuteronomy, describing an earlier conflict that took place thousands of years previously, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. At that time, the nation of Amalek sent its forces a great distance into the wilderness in order to attack the people of Israel. A similar expression is used there: "asher korcho baderech, who encountered you on the way..." (Deuteronomy 25:18).
At first glance, there seems to be hardly any connection between the two verses, apart from the fact that the same verb appears in them both, albeit in different forms. An additional piece of information makes the connection clearer: Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek, the aggressive nation which rushed out to attack the Jewish People in the desert. The Sages tell us that Haman was Amalek's descendant not only in the physical sense; he also embraced his predecessors' philosophy of life, typified by the expression “karahu” - from the root karah - “happen” which we find both in Deuteronomy and in the Megillah.
Amalek - and Haman, their loyal disciple - regarded all life events as accidents of fate. They denied the existence of a Creator, or a Creation. According to their dogma, this world came into being by chance, and all events took place by chance. Theirs was a world without a Judge, and therefore, without judgment. Good was not rewarded, nor was evil-doing punished. Nations prospered or faltered and collapsed, won wars or lost them, all as a result of blind fate.
In such a world, there was no reason not to attack the Jews, or any other underdog who appeared weak and vulnerable. Assuming, as they did, that the world “just happened” to come into being, and that all events were but accidental, there was no need to consider whether their aggression was right or just, or wrong, immoral, or evil. Theirs was the rule of might, not of right.
Haman was determined to prove that his world-outlook was right, and that those who believed in a Supreme Power and Judge were sorely mistaken. Amalek had no need of conscience or constitutions; the only yardstick by which he measured life was by weighing what personal pleasure or satisfaction he could get out of it.
This was Amalek's “contribution” to the world; they were the first culture to preach ego-centric hedonism. Nowadays, we cannot identify any specific nation as Amalek with absolute certainty, but we have no difficulty locating the spiritual heirs of Amalek's philosophy of life.
At the time of the Exodus, G-d performed miracle after miracle before the eyes of the Jews and the Egyptians. On a wider scale, there were supernatural events all over the globe, with the intention that the gentiles also have the opportunity to observe G-d's might and abandon their idol worship.
The Bible tells us "Nations heard and shuddered, terror grasped those who dwell in Philistia" (Exodus 15:14). Only one nation did not tremble at the supernatural events taking place: Amalek, who, on principle, attributed everything to “co-incidence” and “happenstance.” Unlike the others, Amalek refused to acknowledge any trace of Divine intervention.
Given that, according to Amalek, it was all “fate” and “coincidence,” what was there to fear? And if there is nothing to fear, why not attack? In fact, Amalek felt compelled to attack, lest the nascent Israel become too powerful and win people over to their belief in the Creator.
Why was Amalek so daring, when all others quivered with fear?
This was the essence of Amalek's character. Life had no purpose other than enjoying oneself. Death was not a tragedy, or a loss, because it terminated a life lived with no goal and no purpose. It was just something that “happened”, and that was that. People died, were buried, and those left behind went on their way. If man is born “by chance”, so, too, must he die “by chance.” Why not attack the People of Israel? These so-called “miracles” were just a fortunate combination of circumstances which favored their attempt to leave Egypt on this particular day. Pure co-incidence, and nothing more.
If so, why not attack, before these Jews poison the minds of the whole world with their talk of Heavenly reward and punishment, Divine Intervention and miracles?
So reasoning, Amalek rushed to attack the Children of Israel in the wilderness. There was no territorial threat to Amalek, there was no land to be captured so that they might expand their borders. This was a war of principles; there was no middle way, no compromise. Either man is answerable to his Creator, has a conscience, and a responsibility to G-d and his fellow men, or he is a “chance” combination of random molecules that “happened' to coalesce in a most fortuitous manner that produced homo sapiens.
Haman was a loyal son to the people of Amalek. He, too, lived life as an opportunist, unburdened by the fetters of conscience. For him, might was right. Life had no spiritual significance. Right and wrong did not exist; power and prestige were what mattered. In direct opposition there stood Mordecai the Jew, devout, kindly, responsible, dedicated to serving his G-d and His people. Mordecai taught that life has a purpose, that the universe has a Creator and a Director who manipulates events as He sees fits, and rewards those who obey Him.
Furthermore, this same Mordecai refused adamantly to bow down to Haman; he would not even condescend to offer a slight nod of the head. "Each day, Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the courtyard of the Women's Residence, to find out about Esther's welfare, and what was being done with her" (Esther 2:11). He met Haman repeatedly, making no effort to avoid a confrontation, yet he refused to bow.
This situation carried on for years; the selection of a new queen for Achashverus was a prolonged process. Why did Mordecai persist in following Esther's fate each day for four or five years? He was convinced that all Heaven did was for an ultimate purpose which would become apparent with time. There must be some reason that Esther's presence was required at court. Mordecai was anxious to learn what that purpose was. "It happened that this righteous young woman was taken to a gentile only because some time in the future she will be in a position to save Israel," he told himself. Therefore, he was continuously on guard to see what developed at court and how Esther could play a vital role in helping her people. A loyal son to his people and their Torah, Mordecai knew that nothing happens by chance; everything is directed from Above so that it will eventually fulfill its purpose in Heaven's design for the universe.
True, man is not always privy to G-d's plans for the world, but with time, the significance of events often becomes evident.
The confrontation between these two attitudes to life, finds expression in the events of the Megillah. As it were, the Purim story is the decision that weighs the balance in favor of Mordecai and disproves the theories of Haman. Indisputably, at the end of the Megillah, the victor is Mordecai the Jew.
The conflict did not disappear with Haman's demise, however. It rages yet today. On one side of the battlefield are arrayed the combatants who acknowledge only those phenomena which can be grasped and measured by man's five senses; matters of the spirit are for the mystics.
On the opposite side of the field are those who see the Creation as a revelation of its Creator's unfathomable wisdom. These “soldiers” may use scientific tools and methods to examine and explore the world, just as their opponents do. When they draw up the final report of their findings, however, these investigators have an added dimension which fails to appear in the reports of their opponents. Their new knowledge deepens their appreciation not only of the Creation, but also of the Creator whose work they have studied.
Today, Science is slowly coming to acknowledge the boundaries of its jurisdiction and the limitations these impose. Many honest men of science today will readily agree that there are additional dimensions to man's existence in which a different set of laws applies, those of the spiritual world. These are thinkers and investigators who look not only at the terra firma on which they have firmly planted their two feet, but also upward, to the realm of man's soul, where they enjoy the infinite world of the spark of divinity which the Creator implanted in His greatest creation, Man himself. This is the realm of Mordecai, who yet today has so much to teach us.