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The King Ahashverus and the rise of the evil Haman

The Purim Story  - Part 1

"The story behind the story"

  1. Ahashverus Becomes King

  2. The Banquet for the Court of Ministers         

  3. Haman’s Proposition to the King       

  4. Mordecai, the Tzaddik (the righteous)           

  5. Queen Vashti’s Banquet for the Women         

  6. The Summons, and Vashti’s Refusal to Appear

  7. The Punishment of the Evil Queen Vashti                  

  8. Selecting a New Queen           

  9. Esther: A Picture of Modesty              

10. Esther Is Taken to the Palace

11. Esther’s Secret

12. Bigtan and Teresh

13. Haman, the Agagite

14. Mordecai, the Righteous Jew

15. Casting Lots

16. The Evil Haman Complains About the Jews

17. Haman Gets His Way

18. The Decree Is Issued 

19. The King and Haman  Celebrate

20. The Jewish Children and Haman   


1. Ahashverus Becomes King

Ahashverus ruled over a kingdom that was made up of 127 different states.  His empire stretched from a country called Hodu – identified by some as India – to a country called Kush.

When he was young, Ahashverus had worked in the royal stables, caring for the horses of Balshatzar, who was then the ruler.  Later Ahashverus gained great wealth.  He bought up entire cities and vast districts, over which he ruled.

Eventually, he became the richest individual in the kingdom, and was able to buy his way to the throne and rule over the entire empire.  He was very pleased with his accomplishment and wore the crown with great satisfaction.

2. The Banquet for the Court Ministers

Ahashverus decided to hold a gala banquet for the officials of all the states that made up his kingdom.  He ordered his guests to appear at the banquet dressed in elegant white garments, and he seated them on divans of gold and silver.  For six months – 180 days – Ahashverus feasted and entertained his guests.

Each month he chose a different way to impress his company.  This way he hoped to impress upon them his great wealth and stature, despite the fact that he had started out life as a mere stable hand.

The first month, he exhibited treasures from the royal estate.  The second month, he paraded before his company every royal messenger and courier who arrived at his court, from near and from far.  During the third month, he displayed the myriad gifts which the couriers brought with them from the various lands over which he ruled.

The fourth month was devoted to a survey of the vast libraries accumulated by the previous rulers of Persia and Media.  Included in this collection was a Jewish Torah scroll.

The fifth month was distinguished by a display of precious gold vessels, many of them embellished with precious stones. Among them were the vessels that had been used in the first Temple, before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it. 

3. Haman’s Proposition to the King

The prolonged celebration in the royal palace was the talk of the day in the capital.  Although it was only the ministers and officials who were invited to the extravaganza, the entire city heard of the extraordinary partying that went on at the palace.  Each month’s events were discussed by one and all in the city of Shushan.

There was a risk that the local populace would be jealous, and resent the fact that only the high officials and ministers were being treated to all the festivities.

Haman, one of the king’s ministers, used this fact to his own ends.  He had always hated the Jews.  He often tried to persuade Ahashverus to take measures against them, but with no success.  He would tell the king, “You don’t know what they are like!  They live all over your empire, and wherever they are, they have to be different.  They don’t fit in anywhere.  Just look how they dress!  They always look different, and they speak their own language.  They don’t keep your highness’ laws.  Why can’t they just blend in with everyone else?

“They make a whole religion out of being different; it’s not good for the interests of the empire to keep them here.”

Ahashverus was no great lover of Jews, but he was afraid.  “Look what their G-d did to Pharaoh, in Egypt.  I can’t afford to take a risk like that.  When people start up with the Jews, their G-d protects them.”

Haman continued to argue.  “That’s only when they listen to Him.  When they fulfill His commandments, He protects them.  But when He is angry with them, you can do what you like to them, and nothing will happen to you.  Let’s make a banquet for the residents of Shushan, so they won’t be jealous of the ministers.  Everyone will come, from the most important to the least significant.

“We’ll invite all the Jews, from all over the kingdom, and get them good and drunk.  Then they will be sure to forget their G-d and to sin.  After all, they’re only flesh and blood, like anyone else.  You’ll be able to kill them all without fear, because their G-d will be so angry with them.”

“Once we get them to sin, and their G-d is angry with them, we can do what we want to them, without fear.”

The king liked Haman’s suggestion, and decided to hold the feast for the residents of Shushan.  Of course, the Jews were included on the list of guests to be invited.  The banquet was held in the marvelous gardens of the palace, which were famous for their breathtaking beauty.  Long rows of fruit trees exuded an aroma of blossoms, and the overhanging branches formed a canopy of shade that protected the revelers from the rays of the sun.

For the week-long banquet for the Shushanites, the tables were laden with exotic fruits and sweets and every imaginable delicacy.  The ground was paved with stone inlaid with jewels. Marble pillars were set up, ropes were strung between them, elegant tapestries were hung from them by golden hooks.

Ivory divans were set out next to the tables.  The servants were ordered to show the greatest regard for the guests as they served them the finest foods and most delightful wines.  The king wanted to be certain the local residents would enjoy themselves fully and not be resentful.  In addition to the banquet, with its feasting and entertainment, he granted them a tax exemption as well.  The rejoicing was great, and the king’s name was mentioned with gratitude and praise by one and all.

The Persians had a strange custom.  Whenever they held a feast, wine was served to the guests in particularly large, ornate goblets.  The guest was compelled to empty the goblet, down to the very last drop of wine.  It was unthinkable to refuse, but not everyone was comfortable with this custom.

It became the habit of many to fill their pockets with small gold coins before attending a banquet.  Then they would bribe the attendants to allow them to leave some wine in the goblet when they were served.

Ahashverus decided that he wanted his guests to enjoy themselves, above all.  Therefore he declared that at this banquet, each guest would be allowed to drink only as much wine as he wished.  Each guest was served the wine he preferred, in a golden goblet, and then presented with the goblet as a gift, a memento of the king’s banquet.

Ahashverus surveyed the garden, bedecked in exquisite tapestries, full of happy subjects delighting in his gracious hospitality, and his heart swelled with pride.  He recalled how he had risen from a lowly stable boy to the ruler of the greatest empire of his day.

“There is nothing I cannot accomplish,” he thought to himself.  “Just look how far I have come!”

G-d saw the conceit in his heart, and took note of it.  “How do you presume to say there is nothing you cannot accomplish?  Can you satisfy the wishes of every one of your subjects?  What will you do if the sailors of one ship pray for a southerly wind, and the staff of another vessel plead for a northerly wind?   What if they are next to each other, in the same spot on the ocean?  How can you fulfill the request of them both at once and the same time?

“What will you do when Mordecai the Jew and Haman the Agagite will both come before you with petitions that conflict with each other?  Will you find a way to satisfy them both?

“You will yet bear witness that you are not able to do everything.  Only I, the Creator of the world, and its Master, can do everything.”

4.  Mordecai, the Tzaddik (the righteous)

At the time, there was a righteous Jewish scholar living in Shushan.  He was named Mordecai, the son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin.  He was scrupulous in keeping G-d’s commandments and fulfilling His will, and was therefore recognized as the leader of his generation.

He was called Ben Yair, the son of the one who gives light, because he enlightened the eyes of Israel with G-d’s Torah.  His name “Ben Shimi” refers to the fact that G-d heard (shama) his prayers.  The name “Ben Kish” alludes to the fact that he knocked (heikish) on the gates of Heaven and they were opened to him.

When Haman demanded that everyone bow to his idol, Mordecai categorically refused, even though that put his life in danger.
Before the Jewish people went into exile from the Land of Israel, Mordecai had been a member of the Sandhedrin; as such, he was required to be familiar with seventy languages, so that he might understand the testimony offered by any possible witness.

He was popularly know as “Mordecai the Jew” because of his firm stance against bowing to Haman’s idols.  He was the greatest scholar of his time and his opinions and advice were respected by all.  Before the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylonia, Mordecai taught Torah in the Land of Israel, until he was sent into exile in the days of King Yoachin.  In Babylonia, he found no peace, and therefore returned to Israel.  However, when he learned of the death of his uncle, who left a daughter, Esther, orphaned of both her parents, he returned to Babylonia to raise the child as his own daughter.

When Cyrus and Darius conquered Babylonia, many Jews, including Mordecai, moved to the capital city, Shushan, and settled there.  In the capital city, Mordecai established an advanced Talmudical Academy, where he taught his people Torah, lest they forget their Jewish Heritage in the land of their exile.

When King Ahashverus invited the Jews to his banquet, Mordecai warned them not to attend.  The sages of the generation, and those who were learned, heeded his words, and did not derive any pleasure from the event.

Unfortunately, there was a large number of Jews who were not strong enough to stand up to the moral test involved, and not only attended the banquet, but ate the food served there, drank the wine, and joined in the festivities together with the gentiles, against G-d’s commandments.

Ahashverus appointed Mordecai, as the head of the Jewish community in Shushan, to be present during the meal and to supervise the waiters assigned to serve the Jewish guests.  At one point, Ahashverus ordered a display of the golden vessels conquered when the Temple was destroyed.  When Mordecai beheld how these holy vessels were paraded before the guests in order to flaunt the power of Ahashverus, his heart broke within him, and he prayed to G-d: “Please, avenge the honor of Your Holy Temple from this man of evil, who has presumed to desecrate Your holy vessels before the entire assembly here.”

Other former members of the Sanhedrin also prayed when they learned of the desecration of the Temple vessels.  Their prayers were accepted on High, and the process of retribution began to unfold.

5. Queen Vashti’s Banquet for the Women

While Ahashverus was busy with his banquet for the men, the queen, Vashti, was entertaining the women at her own banquet in the women’s quarters of the palace.   Vashti, the daughter and granddaughter of monarchs, was proud and vain.  The gathering of women afforded her a welcome opportunity to parade her wealth before one and all.  Each day she would take them on a guided tour of another section of the palace, in order to flaunt her wealth and impress the others.  She served delicacies from the Land of Israel, and displayed her jewels before them.

Then she was summoned to appear before her husband, King Ahashverus.

6.  The Summons, and Vashti’s Refusal to Appear

The king and his guests had enjoyed too much wine, and began to quarrel among themselves.  Some of the ministers maintained that the women of Persia were far better looking than those of Media.  Others argued to the contrary. 

King Ahashverus caught wind of the controversy, and stepped in to render a decision.  “You are all mistaken,” he told them.  “It is neither the women of Persia, nor of Media, who are the finest.  The women of Babylonia are the finest.  Just look at my queen, Vashti.  There is none to compare to her, and to prove that I am right, I shall order her to come and appear here before you all.”

The suggestion of the drunken king was warmly accepted by his guests, who waited eagerly to catch a glimpse of the beautiful queen whom Ahashverus praised so highly.

Servants were quickly dispatched to the House of the Women, bearing the king’s orders that Vashti prepare herself to appear before Ahashverus and his guests.  Ordinarily, Vashti would have been only to happy to oblige, but, at this point, Heaven intervened to punish her for her cruelty to the Jewish serving girls whom she had mistreated and humiliated.  Suddenly, Vashti broke out in an ugly rash.  Her body was covered with leprosy, which made her repulsive to look at.

She looked at herself in the mirror, and was repelled by her own image.   “What shall I do?  I cannot appear before his majesty looking like this!”

This was part of her punishment for forcing Jewish girls to work on Shabbat, and for humiliating them by taking away their clothing. Now she was humiliated and disfigured by a sudden attack of leprosy.

She went out to speak to the servants who had been sent to summon her to the feast of the men.  “Tell King Ahashverus that I replied to him thus:

‘Why have you become so drunken with your wine, My Majesty, that you do not realize what your mouth is uttering!  Have you lost your mind altogether?  Have you forgotten that I am a princess, the daughter of King Belshazar, and granddaughter of the mighty Nebuchadnezzar?

“How dare you demand that I come to appear before you?

“Do you suppose that I have forgotten that you are not of royal blood?  If only my father were still alive, he would not have agreed that I marry a former stable boy like you!”

The royal messengers were aghast.  They quickly returned to the king and reported Vashti’s reaction.  King Ahashverus was livid with anger, and sent his men back to Vashti with a dire warning that, should she refuse to obey the king’s orders, she would suffer a bitter fate.

This time Vashti replied in a different tone.  She ordered the messengers to return to the king and to tell him as follows:

“Your honor and your prestige are of prime importance to me.  Therefore, I refuse to appear as you requested.  Should I fail to find favor in their eyes, they will mock you, and say: ‘Is this the woman about whom you bragged to us so?’

“And if I do find favor in their eyes, they will murder you in order to take me for themselves!”

7.  The Punishment of the Evil Queen Vashti

Vashti’s refusal to obey his highness infuriated Ahashverus.  He was humiliated before all the guests whom he had intended to impress with his power and wealth.  He was determined to punish Vashti for the affront to his esteem.  He decided to consult his advisors as to the best punishment to mete out to the rebellious queen.

Among those whose advice he sought were the elders of the Jewish community.  These sages weighed their words carefully before responding, as they realized the risks involved.  If they encouraged the king to exact a death penalty and he went ahead and followed their advice, he might later deeply regret his hasty decision, but then it would be too late.  In that case, he would be angry with the advisors who suggested the death penalty in the first place.

On the other hand, should they suggest a more lenient approach, it might appear to the king that they were not as concerned as they ought to be at the flagrant insult to the crown inherent in Vashti’s arrogant behavior.  In either case, they would incur Ahashverus’ wrath.

Consequently, the sages replied that they themselves could not advise his highness on this matter, but the sages of Ammon and Moav would be likely to have a good suggestion.

The king took their advice and summoned his council of seven advisors.  He asked them: “Vashti refused to follow my order.  How shall I punish her?

Memuchan, one of the ministers, said to the king: “The queen sinned not only against the king by refusing to come.  From now on, all the women of Persia and Media will follow her example and refuse to obey their husbands.  If it is good in the eyes of the king, let his highness order that she be given the death penalty.”   The other ministers agreed, and Vashti was hung. 

A few days later, after he had recovered from his bout of drinking, Ahashverus ordered his men to summon Vashti.  The servants were astonished.  “How can we bring her before Your Highness?” they asked.  “She was executed a few days ago.”

The king did not believe what his ears were hearing.  “Who was so brazen as to send forth his hand against the queen of all Persia and Media?”

The servants were dumbfounded.  “We only carried out Your Majesty’s orders!  His Highness ordered that she be hung because she refused to appear at the king’s banquet.”

“And whose idea was it to hang her?” Ahashverus demanded to know.  He had no recollection of what he had done when he was drunk.

“The seven counselors…” answered the servants warily.

“Let them all be hanged!” shouted the king in anger.

8.  Selecting a New Queen

When he realized what he had done, Ahashverus became very depressed.  He paced about the palace and the grounds tense and angry.  When his advisors observed the state he was in, they said to him: “It is not good for the king to be alone.  You are a highly respected sovereign.  Any young maiden would be thrilled to be your queen.  His highness must order that the pretty young maidens from all the kingdoms of his empire be brought before him.  Then the king can choose the one who finds favor in his eyes, and crown her as queen in place of Vashti.”

The king liked the idea.  He issued a decree throughout his kingdom: “Let all young maidens come to the palace to present themselves to me so that I can choose a new queen.”

Young women flocked to the palace.  They used oils and cosmetics and wore expensive jewelry to adorn themselves when they appeared before Ahashverus so that he might choose the wife he liked best.  A portrait of Vashti was hanging right where he could see it while seated on his throne, and each time a maiden appeared, the king would compare her with the picture.  Many many maidens came before him, but not one of them was as beautiful to him as Vashti, his first wife.

9. Esther: A Picture of Modesty

Esther had grown up in the home of her cousin, Mordecai the Jew.  She was pleasing and well-liked.  When the king’s order for all maidens to gather at the palace reached her ears, she quickly went into hiding, as she had no desire to be taken to Ahashverus.  For four years, Mordecai managed to hide her in his home.

10.  Esther Is Taken to the Palace

Four years had gone by since Ahashverus had started his search for a new queen.  He still had not found someone who could replace Vashti in his eyes.  He was more determined than ever to find a new queen.  A new decree went out from the palace: “Any maiden who does not report to the palace will be executed!”

He sent his men to every city in the kingdom to look for young ladies who were hiding from him.  Esther was discovered and taken to the palace against her will.  There, together with all the other maidens, Esther waited until it would be her turn to be presented to the king.  The others would anoint themselves with perfumes and oils, but Esther did not ask for any cosmetics or jewels from Hagai, the official in charge of the maidens.  She also refrained from eating the food served at the palace, because it was not kosher.  She drank only water and ate seeds.

The others spent time dressing themselves elegantly and styling their hair, but not Esther, who dressed simply and tried not to stand out.  Hagai, whose job it was to provide for the needs of the women, was uneasy when he saw that Esther did not ask for anything.  He was afraid that when she came before the king without jewels or cosmetics, he would be blamed for neglecting her needs.  Therefore he insisted that she wear jewelry even though she did not want it.

When Ahashverus first saw Esther, he was struck by her inner beauty.  As was his habit, he glanced up at the portrait of Vashti, and found that Esther was far more beautiful.  For the first time, he felt that he had found someone worthy of the crown.  He had the portrait of the former queen removed.  It was soon replaced by a painting of the new queen, Esther.

In her new role as the wife of Ahashverus, Esther had a large staff of servants to serve her.  In addition, the new queen appointed seven Jewish serving girls, a different one for each day of the week.  She did this so that she would be certain not to forget which day of the week was Shabbat (Sabbath), and gave the servants names that recalled the days of the week.

From the day that Esther was first taken to the palace, Mordecai made it a practice to walk along the grounds of the Women’s Court.  He wanted to receive news of Esther and to guide her as to how she should conduct herself in her personal exile among the gentiles.

11. Esther’s Secret

After she was chosen to rule as queen, Mordecai warned Esther not to reveal her Jewish background to anyone, not even to the king himself.  Esther indeed followed Mordecai’s instructions.

Ahashverus was very curious as to Esther’s background.  Several times he asked her where she was from, and who were her people.  His empire comprised many different ethnic groups, and he was curious as to Esther’s origins.  However, true to Mordecai’s instructions, Esther cleverly managed to avoid answering.

Ahashverus decided to trick Esther into revealing her homeland.  He began sending precious gifts to different nations under his control.  He assumed that Esther would want her own people to benefit from his generosity, and would therefore reveal her origin.  When this strategy did not work, the king grew angry with Esther.  He even threatened to gather all the maidens of the kingdom once again, in order to choose a new queen instead of Esther.  However, this threat did not move Esther to revealing her people; she continued to remain silent.

12. Bigtan and Teresh

Two of the men assigned to the security forces that guarded the king and his palace were named Bigtan and Teresh.  When Ahashverus learned that the Jews of Shushan had an extraordinary scholar as a leader, Mordecai, he had fired Bigtan and Teresh and appointed Mordecai in their stead.

The former guardsmen were appointed as stewards in the royal dining hall, instead.  This was a less prestigious position.  They were angry with the king for demoting them, and very resentful toward Mordecai in particular, and the Jews in general.

The two were humiliated, and they decided to vent their wrath on Mordecai through a clever plot against the king.

“We’ll poison Ahashverus, and everyone will see that this Jew is not doing his job!” they declared.  “While we were in charge, nothing went wrong, but when the king fired us, and took that Jew, suddenly he was poisoned.  It will prove that he was wrong to fire us, and we’ll get even with him.”

The two men stood and wove their plot, even though they were standing near Mordecai, because they were certain that the Jew would not understand a word they said.  Little did they suspect that Mordecai, as a member of the Sanhedrin, knew their tongue well and fully understood what they were saying.

Mordecai quickly contacted Esther and told her of the plot against the king.  She reported it to Ahashverus, in the name of Mordecai.

One day, Bigtan and Teresh provided a pitcher of water to be served to the king.  Forewarned, Ahashverus ordered that the water be poured onto the ground.  The matter was investigated, and Mordecai’s warning was proven to be valid. A royal investigation verified that the two men indeed planned to do away with the king.  They were arrested and executed, and the episode was recorded in the royal chronicles, including the fact that it was Mordecai who discovered the plot and thwarted the attempt on the king’s life.

Thus, Heaven set the stage for the Jews’ eventual rescue, even though it would take several years yet to come about.

13.  Haman, the Agagite

In a small Persian village there lived a man called Haman, the son of Hamdata, the Agagite.  He had ten sons, but his house was empty.  Even when he worked from dawn to dusk, he could not manage to support his family.   When he saw that nothing he did improved the situation, he decided to try his luck elsewhere.  He wandered from one place to another, and heard that the royal army was looking for mercenaries and that they paid well.  He decided to become a soldier.  Together with the others who had enlisted, Haman went forth to battle.  The struggle was fierce.  When Haman’s troop saw that they were lost, they retreated and fled.  Exhausted and hungry, Haman wandered in desolate no-man’s land, more dead than alive.

Suddenly, he saw a figure ahead.  He drew nearer, and saw that it was a Jew.  The stranger approached Haman, and seeing the state that he was in, offered him half the food and water that he had with him.  Haman fell on the provisions eagerly, and was revived.  When he felt somewhat stronger, he said to the Jew: “I have no money with me to pay you for your kindness.  All I own right now is my body.  I will be your servant all the days of my life, in payment for saving my life.”

As he spoke, he pricked his finger.  Then he took a thorn from a plant, dipped it in his blood, and wrote out:

“I, Haman, son of Hamdata, undertake to be your slave for life.”

He gave the piece of paper to the Jew, took his leave, and went off to find his division again.  The name of the Jew who had saved Haman was Mordecai, cousin of the future queen of Persia and all Media.

When he found his regiment, Haman was pleased to discover that they had won the battle which had seemed doomed to failure.  He returned to the base with the rest of the men, and they all collected a handsome wage for their efforts.  The war was over, and now Haman had some money in his pocket.  He gave it to his wife and children, but it did not last long.

Soon the family was as desperate as ever.  Haman said to his wife, “I see that we cannot stay here in this village, or we will die of starvation.  Let us try our luck somewhere else. Perhaps in a big city, where there are many more people, I will be able to find work more easily, and we will not starve.’

His wife agreed, and they set out for the city.  On their travels, Haman discovered a vast treasure.  Hidden in a deep pit, he found the treasures of the kings of Judea and the coffers of gold coins from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  Haman and his family took everything with them to the capital city, Shushan, where they bought themselves a spacious mansion, orchards, groves of fruit trees, and vineyards.  Haman managed his new riches well, and his wealth grew from year to year.  It was not long until the former pauper became famous as one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom.

Reports of the magnate who had recently relocated to Shushan reached the royal palace, as well.  Ahashverus summoned him to the palace, and appointed Haman as one of his advisors.  He became a member of the royal court’s Council of Seven Advisors.

After Esther was crowned queen in place of Vashti, Haman decided to cultivate her good favor.  He had really hoped all along that Ahashverus would choose his own daughter as his new queen, but when he saw that Esther had won the crown, he decided that it was well worth his while to make sure that he was in her good graces.   “If she is happy with me, she will do me favors when I ask them of her,” he thought to himself.  “She will speak to the king on my behalf, and I’ll get what I want, because the queen will be on my side.”

From then on, Haman did his best to be pleasant to the queen and to find favor in her eyes.

14.  Mordecai, the Righteous Jew

After Bigtan and Teresh had been punished, the king decided that from now on, he would appoint only one person to be responsible for his personal safety.  Two men together might plot to do away with him, as had Bigtan and Teresh.  After thinking the matter over, he decided it would be preferable to have only one person in charge, someone who would be completely loyal to him at all times.

He decided that the most suitable person for this position would be Haman, who was only too happy to accept the new position. 

With time, Haman gained the king’s favor more and more.  Step by step, he gained more and more power in the kingdom.  Even the other ministers at court feared him, and would bow before him whenever he appeared. 

With his new position and prestige, Haman forgot the days of his poverty.  He wiped off the slate of his memory the fact that it was a Jew, Mordecai, who had saved his life when he was so close to dieing of thirst.

The more prestige Haman gained at court, the more conceited he became.  His appetite for honors and applause grew from day to day.  His mind constantly sought new ways to hold sway over others.

At one point, he had the image of his personal idol whom he worshipped embroidered on all his clothing.  That way, when people bowed down to him at court, they would also be bowing to his idol.

Only one person at court refused to bow to Haman: Mordecai, the Jew. 

“Aren’t you afraid of what he will do to you?” asked the others, when they saw that Mordecai refused to give in.

“I am afraid only of the Creator, who fashioned Heaven and earth,” answered Mordecai.  “Who is Haman, that I should prostrate myself before him?  No more than flesh and blood, like all the rest of us!  Why should he demand this of us?

“No, I will bow down only to G-d, who is more powerful than any man, Haman or anyone else.”

When Haman saw that Mordecai refused to bow before him, his fury burned within him.  He spent many days and nights contriving a plot to break Mordecai and to take revenge for his refusal to bow before him.

15.  Casting Lots

Seething with rage, Haman decided that it would not be enough to exact revenge from Mordecai alone.  He would wipe Mordecai’s entire nation off the face of the earth.  “Bring me a wooden branch,” he told a servant.  “I’ll cut it up into pieces and cast lots to find out which day it is best to slay Mordecai the Jew and all his people.”

Heaven heard his evil boasting, and answered: “Wicked one, the son of the wicked!  The lot will not be cast against the People of Israel, but against you yourself!  The Jews will be blessed with relief and succor!”

Haman took the pieces of wood and cast lots to see which day of the week would be most favorable for murdering the Jews.  Then he reviewed the months of the year in his mind, and decided on Adar. He was pleased to note that the sign of the zodiac for Adar is Pisces, Fish.  “Just as fish are easily caught in a net, so, too, will I easily trap the Jews!” he gloated to himself.

G-d heard his arrogant boasting, and said: “Wicked one!  Your gloating is premature.  Don't you know that just as fish are easily swallowed up in a net, so, too, do they easily swallow up others?  The Children of Israel will not fall into your hands; it is you who will fall into their hands!”

16.  The Evil Haman Complains About the Jews

Haman knew that without the king’s approval, his hands would be tied.  There was no way he could execute all the Jews of the kingdom without Ahashverus’ permission.  He went to the king, and spoke to him as one aristocrat to the other:

“Your Highness, my gracious master.  I have toured the entire kingdom in order to ascertain that all the peoples under your rule are loyal to Your Highness.  At each location I visited, I made inquiries and I examined the evidence.  Your subjects indeed work for the benefit of the crown, in all 127 states of the empire.  My investigation has demonstrated that there is no ruler to compare with Your Highness.  Everyone is loyal to you and serves you faithfully.  There is only one group which is an exception. It is scattered and separated among the peoples.  They do not mix with the people around them, but make it a point to be different from those around them.

"Their customs and practices are distinctly different from others, with no logic or reason.  It is harmful to the kingdom for His Majesty to allow them to live within His empire.  I am referring to the Jews, Your Majesty.”

Ahashverus was not yet convinced.  “Even if what you say about the Jews is correct, what difference should it make to me if they are not like their neighbors?  So long as they are loyal to the crown, what do I care about their religion?”

Haman continued with his poisonous words.  “My sovereign, if the Jews kept your laws faithfully, I would not bring up the matter.  But the fact of the matter is that they do all they can to avoid serving you.  They take pride in getting out of serving the crown.  Each time they offer a different excuse for their idleness.  Once, they claim it is their Sabbath.  Another time, they declare that they have a religious holiday and cannot comply with His Majesty’s regulations.”

Each time Haman came with a new complaint against the Jews, it added another negative impression in the king’s mind.

“These Jews hardly work, Your Majesty.  They are not productive,” Haman declared one day.

“If they don’t work, what do they do all day long?” asked the king.

Haman was ready with the “facts”: “They just laze around most of the time.  The first hour of the day, they spend reciting the Shema.  The second hour, they spend on their morning prayers.  The third hour is devoted to breakfast, and the fourth hour, to reciting grace after meals and thanking their G-d for what they have eaten.

“They first go to work only in the fifth hour.  They stay there only a short while.  By the seventh hour, it is time to go home.  Their wives set a meal before them and urge them to taste the delicious dishes they have prepared for them.  Soon it is evening, and the day has gone by without their having accomplished anything.

"On the seventh day of their week, they refuse to do any kind of work whatsoever.  They gather in their places of prayer, pray to their G-d, read from the words of their prophets and curse Your Majesty and the ministers of his court.

“Every new moon, they celebrate the first of the month.  Once a year, in the month of Nissan, they clear their homes of all leavened bread, and celebrate for eight days.  They read from their holy book and pray to their G-d, saying ‘Just as we have cleansed our homes of all leavening, please cleanse the world of the evil kingdom, and rescue us from the hand of the foolish king, Ahashverus.’

"In the month of Sivan, they again have a holiday.  They pray and read from their Torah book and curse us.  Afterwards they scatter roses and apples on the roof of their prayer house, and then gather them up as a sign that G-d will gather them from their exile among the nations and return them to their homeland.

“On the first of Tishrei, they mark the beginning of their new year.  On this day, all the people of this strange nation gather in their houses of prayer, read in their holy book, and sound the ram’s horn.  They cry out: ‘On this day, may the Master of the world remember us for the good.  May the merit of our forefathers stand us in good stead!  May all our enemies be remembered for the bad before the Master of the World!’

“On the ninth of the month of Tishrei, they partake of a festive meal, with much feasting and drinking, and on the tenth day, they all fast.  The men, women, and children fast an entire day.  They have no pity on their little children, and do not let them eat or drink.  They call this day Yom Kippur.  They remain in the house of prayer the entire day, and curse Your Majesty’s name and the names of your servants.  They plead with their G-d to atone for all their sins, and to destroy the foolish king Ahashverus.

"A few days later, they celebrate yet another holiday, called Sukkot.  Before the holiday sets in, they cut tree branches and palm fronds and citrons, willow and myrtle branches to use in their religious ceremonies.  On these days as well, they speak against His Majesty and ask their G-d to curse us.

"Once every seven years, they refrain from cultivating the soil for an entire year.   Every fiftieth year, they free their slaves and let their land lie fallow.  They don’t lift a finger for the entire year!  All they do is celebrate and eat fancy meals and while away their time in frivolities.

“It’s not worth Your Majesty’s while to keep them in Persia.  They only bring us harm and cause us losses.  With their conniving, they persuade us to sell them what they need, but when we need to buy something from them, their stores are closed, because it’s a holiday of theirs, or their Sabbath.

“If you would like my advice, Your Majesty, the best step would be to execute them all and confiscate their property for yourself.”   

17.  Haman Gets His Way

Ahashverus listened to Haman’s evil words against the Jews, day after day, and would have been quite happy to give in to his request, if only he were not afraid that he would be punished.

“I believe what you’re telling me,” the king answered Haman.  But they are a strange people, as you say.  I also hate them, but I am afraid of their great G-d. He is very stern and awesome. He loves them, and He severely punishes anyone who touches them. 

“Don’t you remember the terrible plagues He brought on the Egyptians?  And afterwards, He took His people out of Egypt with all sorts of miracles and signs and wonders.  He took them through the Red Sea on dry land.  Six hundred thousand troops of Egyptian cavalry drowned in the sea, because they dared to chase after them. 

"And what about Sisera?  Their G-d enlisted even the stars of the heavens to fight for them.  No one had ever bested Sisera until their G-d delivered him to the Jews, and at the hand of a woman, Yael, no less!  Better leave them alone and not get ourselves into trouble,” concluded Ahashverus.

But Haman did not give up.  He was determined to get even with Mordecai for not bowing down to him.  “Don’t be afraid of their G-d,” he wheedled the king.  “The Jews annoyed Him with their bad deeds, and He is certainly angry with them.  He’ll let you do as you wish with them.”

“Don’t they have any righteous leaders in whose merit their G-d will forgive them all?” asked Ahashverus.

Haman answered: “No!  They all sinned.  Their G-d hates them now, and He will not touch anyone who reaches out to harm them and punishes them.”

“There are a lot of Jews in the country.  If we get rid of them, there won’t be so many people paying taxes to the crown.  We’ll lose a lot of money,” argued the king.

But Haman had an answer for that argument, as well.  “I have checked out the facts; the Jews hardly pay any taxes.  As I said before, they hardly earn any money, because they are lazy, and spend all day on their prayers.

“And listen to this!  If you would like further proof that they are not loyal to you, just summon one of them here and offer him two glasses of wine.  Let a fly fall into one of them.  Then take the other one, and take a sip of it yourself.  Tell the Jew to take one of the two goblets of wine.  You will see that he will take the one with the fly in it, and leave the one from which you have just drunk.”

“Am I more repulsive to them than a lowly fly?” he shouted in anger.  At once he ordered his servant to summon the other members of the Council of Seven.

This last argument made a deep impression on Ahashverus.  He felt very insulted, and began to share Haman’s desire for revenge.  When his advisors arrived, he repeated the information that Haman had given him, and asked whether they agreed.  He would not make a decision without first consulting the other members of the Council of Seven.

When the other counselors heard of Haman’s proposition, they were aghast.  “Your Majesty!  Without the Jews, you will have no kingdom.  The world cannot exist without Jews.  It would not be wise for you to act against them.  Be careful!  If you bring about an end to the Jewish People, you will destroy the entire world.  It cannot endure for even a short while without them.  It was only for their sake that the world was created in the first place.  Without the People of Israel, there will be no sun, no moon, no stars, no dew and no rain.  The soil will not produce its crops if there are no Jews to enjoy them.”

However, Haman paid no heed to the words of the other counselors.  He argued that it was true that the G-d of the Jews had been very powerful in the past, but now, he maintained, He had grown old and was no longer able to defend His people.

“You all know that Nebuchadnezzar was able to enter His Temple in Jerusalem, and to burn it to the ground.  How much Jewish blood did Nebuchadnezzar’s men spill; how many more did he torture and take captive, and their G-d did nothing to defend them.”

When the king and the advisors heard Haman’s argument, they found no answer.  In the end, it was Haman who carried the day.  The entire Council of Seven, together with Ahashverus, decided to draw up the decree to annihilate the Jewish People.

18.  The Decree Is Issued

Once Ahashverus gave his approval to the annihilation of all the Jews in his kingdom, the official scribes sat down to make copies of it to be sent to every corner of the empire:

I, King Ahashverus, together with the Royal Minister, Haman son of Hamdata, have decided to eliminate all Jews from the land.  On the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, I command my subjects to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate every Jew, from the youngest to the eldest, men, women, and children.  The property of the Jews will be divided among us.

Haman also sent out messages to all the lands under the rule of Ahashverus.  He, too, ordered the people to destroy all the Jews on the thirteenth of Adar.   The two messages, of Ahashverus and Haman, were both signed and sealed with the king’s official signet ring.  Then the couriers were sent out to every corner of the kingdom bearing official copies of the decree.

Haman was very pleased with his work.  He had accomplished his great goal.  The letters had been dispatched to every district of the country.  Now, he thought to himself, all he had to do was to sit back and wait for the decree to be carried out, and his dream would be fulfilled.  He could hardly wait.

When the news of the decree arrived in distant corners of the kingdom, the enemies of the Jews began to make life miserable for the people of Israel, well before the thirteenth of Adar arrived.  No one would hire a Jew to work for him, and even those who did employ a Jew, refused to pay him his wages.  He knew full well that the Jews’ days were numbered, so there was little the Jew could do to demand that he be paid.   Many became hungry paupers as a result of the decree.  The gentiles merely mocked at the Jews, reminding them that they were destined to die soon anyway, so what difference did it make, whether they died hungry or after a good meal?

All over the kingdom, Jews gathered in their synagogues to weep and to pray that the cruel decree might somehow be miraculously averted.

19.  The King and Haman Celebrate

While the royal couriers were rushing all over the kingdom to deliver copies of the decree, Ahashverus and Haman sat and drank a toast together to congratulate themselves on finally having devised a way to rid themselves of the Jews.

As they were feasting and celebrating, Haman had a new request to make of Ahashverus.  “Sell me all the Jews in your kingdom,” he proposed.  “I will pay you six hundred thousand silver coins for them.”

Haman had another suggestion: “I don’t know how many Jews there are in the kingdom, but I am offering you a silver coin for every Jewish man who left Egypt when they were freed.  I will give you half a shekel for each one, just as the Jews used to give a half a shekel to their Temple, for each and every one of them.  Altogether, it will come to ten thousand talents of silver that I will weigh out for you, and the Jews will be mine to deal with as I wish.”

Ahashverus did not agree.  “The Jews have been entrusted to me, and I am responsible for them as long as they are my subjects.   I don’t have the right to sell them to you.  What will I say when their G-d comes to claim them from me?  What will I say, and how will I justify my actions?

“I have a different suggestion,” continued the king.  “Let’s cast lots between us to see who will get the silver and who gets the Jews.  If it comes out that I get the Jews, I won’t sell them to you.  But if it comes out that I get the silver, I will agree to sell them and to hand them over to you, and you will be free to do whatever you like with them.”

Haman agreed.  The two men cast lots.  On one piece of paper they wrote “Jews” and on the other, “silver.”  Then Ahashverus drew one and opened it up.  It clearly said “silver.”  Thus it was that the Jews of the kingdom of Persia and Media became the personal property of the evil Haman.

20.   The Jewish Children and Haman

Ahashverus and Haman concluded their toast to the success of their joint mission against the Jews.  Haman left to return home.  On the way, he noticed Mordecai the Jew walking behind three little Jewish boys who were on their way home from school.  He quickened his steps so to nearly catch up with Mordecai so that he might hear what the elderly leader was saying to the children.

“What did you learn in school today?” the elderly Jew asked the children.

“Today, the teacher explained the meaning of the verse: ‘Do not fear sudden terror, nor the storm of the wicked, when it comes.’ (Proverbs 3:25)

The second child said: “I reflected on the meaning of the verse ‘Plan a conspiracy, and it will be annulled; speak your word, and it will not stand, for G-d is with us.’” (Isaiah 8:10)

The third child answered: "We learned about the verse:  “And even to your old age, I will remain unchanged; and even to your ripe, old age, I shall endure.  I created you, and I shall bear you; I shall endure, and I shall rescue.” (Isaiah 46:4)

Mordecai was very pleased with the children’s answers.  His heart was gladdened within him.  Haman also wanted to know what the children had answered that made Mordecai’s face light up so.

“What did the children say to you?” he asked Mordecai.

Mordecai answered him boldly. “These children comforted me and gladdened my heart immensely.  They told me not to be afraid of the terrible decree which has been issued against us. Despite the fact that we are in exile, and suffer our fate, G-d will not abandon us.  He will rescue us from the hands of wicked people like you!”

Haman’s mood changed at once.  He was filled with anger, even at the children.  “Because these youngsters made Mordecai confident, I will exact revenge from them first of all,” he told himself.  They will be the first to die when the day comes!”

Thus consoled, Haman went home to tell his family and admirers of his great success during his meeting with the king.  In his heart, he congratulated himself: “I’m far cleverer than my father and grandfather.  There’s no better idea than to exterminate all the Jews in the kingdom.  I’m doing much better than Pharaoh, whose decree was only against the male infants born to the people of Israel.  According to Pharaoh’s plan, the women would marry and bear children, and there would still be Jews in the world.  But I have permission from the king to destroy them all: men, women, and children.  This time there won’t be one of them left under the sun!”

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