The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #16: Haman's Advisors: Fate vs. Divine
By Rav Yonatan Grossman
Returns Home (6:12)
Following the scene of the horse, the narrator describes Haman as
"hastening (nidchaf) to his house, mourning, and with his head covered"
(6:12). The root d-ch-f appears four times in all of the Tanakh,
meaning "hurriedly," "in haste."
One instance of this root occurs in Divrei Ha-yamim, in the description
of Uziyahu's leprosy; it appears there in the same form as in our chapter
(passive case): "Azaryahu, the head priest, and all the priests, turned to him
and behold – he was leprous on his forehead, and they hurriedly removed him from
there, and he too hastened to leave, for God had stricken him" (26:20).
The other three appearances are all from Esther: there is the description
of Haman in our chapter; there are the couriers who "depart in haste
(dechufim)" to publicize Haman's decrees in the beginning (3:15), and
again to disseminate Mordekhai's decrees at the end (8:14). Since this is such
an unusual expression, being featured here demands some comment.
Indeed, the connection between the various instances of "hastening" in
Esther is clear: Haman, who urged the couriers to leave the palace and
publicize his decree, ended up hastening himself to return home, in great shame.
And later on, the same couriers once again emerge "hurrying and hastening," this
time to cancel Haman's decree.
question is: should the narrator's use of this specific verb be viewed as a
deliberate reference to the story of Uziyahu?
Are we meant to compare the scene in which Haman "hastens to his house" with the
one in which Uziyahu is struck with leprosy, and therefore "hastens to leave"
God's House? I have my doubts in this regard, but it is interesting to note that
there are two more parallels between the two narratives. Firstly, the verb
"b-h-l" (hurry) is also mentioned in both of them: Uziyahu is "hurried"
out of the Temple by the priests ("They hurriedly removed him from there");
likewise, after Haman returns home, the king's servants come and "hurry him"
from his house to the party that Esther has prepared ("They hurriedly brought
Haman" – 6:14). This verb, too – in its context in both narratives – denotes
haste and rushing,
and hence is related to the "haste" discussed above.
in both scenes, the downfall of a person who "hastens" and "is hurried" finds
symbolic expression on his head. In the story of Uziyahu's leprosy, the disease
manifests itself "on his forehead." This is an important piece of information,
since the text contrasts the status of Uziyahu – who seeks to offer incense –
with that of the priests, by highlighting this very part of the body: "Azaryahu,
the head priest, turned to him." This unusual expression ("kohen
ha-rosh" instead of "rosh ha-kohanim") seeks to emphasize the "head":
the head of the priests, on one hand, and the leprous head of Uziyahu, on the
other. Apparently, the head is selected specifically as the site of Uziyahu's
leprosy so as to show that the confrontation in the story is one of leadership,
of who will be "at the head." Obviously, Haman, too, hastens as he is "mourning
and with his head covered." In Haman's case, too, this image is important, since
Haman had suggested to the king that the man whom the king sought to honor (as
Haman understood it, this meant himself) should be led upon the horse with the
royal crown "upon his head" (6:8). Now, instead of bearing the royal crown,
Haman's head is covered in shame, as a sign of mourning. We may conjecture that
perhaps Uziyahu, too, covers his leprous head as he is hurried out of God's
House, just like Haman, and since there is no mourning more severe than that of
a leper (see the relevant laws in Vayikra 13:45, which are the laws of
mourning), therefore Uziyahu, too, was mourning…
similarity between Uziyahu and Haman continues in the results of these two
scenes: Uziyahu is forced to vacate his royal throne in favor of a replacement
because of his leprosy ("He dwelled in the house of separation, being leprous,
for he had been cut off from the House of God, and Yotam, his son, was over the
king's house, judging the people of the land" – II Divrei Ha-yamim
26:21). Haman is likewise about to vacate his position in the king's house,
while his replacement – Mordekhai – is about to inherit him.
As noted above, it is difficult to know whether the author is
deliberately hinting at this connection, but if it is indeed intentional, and
hinted at in the unusual term "nidchaf," then our text is in fact hinting
that Haman's shame is not the result of the actions of King Achashverosh, but
rather caused by the King of kings: "For God had stricken him"! And just as "a
leper is comparable to one who is dead," so Haman is already doomed…
But the significance of the connection between the two narratives goes
deeper. To illuminate its depth I will refer to yet another narrative that may
be hinted at here. As stated, the narrator describes the manifestation of
Haman's mourning (over his public humiliation) in the covering of his head. This
custom is also hinted at in Yirmiyahu's prophecy "concerning the droughts":
"Yehuda mourns, and its gates are gloomy… they are ashamed and confounded, and
they cover their heads. Because of the ground which is cracked, for there has
been no rain on the land, the farmers are ashamed; they cover their heads"
(Yirmiyahu 14:2-4). The "covered head" is mentioned in one other biblical
narrative, which is clearly connected to our discussion. In the description of
David, who is forced to leave Jerusalem during Avshalom's rebellion, we read:
"David went up at the ascent of the Mount of Olives, going up and weeping, and
he had his head covered, and he went barefoot, and the people who were with him
covered each man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went" (II
Shemuel 15:30). Although the connection between Haman and David comes as
some surprise, we cannot ignore the parallel between the two scenes: during a
competition between two rivals, the party who has lost the "battle" covers his
head. Moreover, in both scenes the concept of rebellion against the king has
special weight. It is, after all, the central theme in the story of Avshalom's
rebellion, and as we recall, Haman comes to the king with the intention of
claiming that Mordekhai is a rebel and a traitor – but the king has begun to
suspect that it is his closest advisor who entertains plans of this nature.
It appears that the connection between these images – also characterizing
the story of Uziyahu – lies in what we may refer to as "making way"; i.e.,
someone who holds a respected position vacates it for his rival. Haman is forced
out of his very senior role in the kingdom, and Mordekhai is about to step into
his shoes, Similarly, Avshalom seeks to rule in place of David, just as Uziyahu
seeks to minister to God in place of the priests. Alongside the "covering of the
head" on the part of Haman and David, and alongside the leprosy that breaks out
on the head of Uziyahu, there is a movement on the part of the hero: David
leaves Jerusalem ("vacating" it for Avshalom); Haman hastens home – "vacating"
the street of the city and the courtyard of the palace for Mordekhai, who
returns to sit "at the king's gate" (!);
Uziyahu leaves the Temple – "vacating" it for those who are worthy of serving
there, and to Azaryahu, the High Priest. The covering of the head (with a
garment, or with leprosy), then, becomes a symbol of the covering of one
character for the purpose of introducing or advancing a different character on
stage. The covering of the head is a sign of self-abnegation, a vacating of
If this is so, then attention must be paid to the difference between the
ending of David's story and that of the two other narratives: David is destined
to return to Jerusalem and regain his place as king, while Uziyahu vacates his
throne forever, and Haman has another "covering of the head" waiting for him
("They covered Haman's face" – 7:8), and a hanging on the gallows. Is this
different ending hinted at already in the image that we discussed above? It
would seem that the answer is in the affirmative, and is related to the word
pair that serves as a sort of leitvort throughout the narrative:
a-l-h (or k-u-m) – arising, and n-f-l (or y-r-d) –
descending, falling. When David leaves Jerusalem, along with the description of
the covering of his head, the text emphasizes the ascent: "David went up
at the ascent of the Mount of Olives, going up and weeping… and
the people who were with him covered each man his head, and they went up,
weeping as they went up" (II Shemuel 15:30). In contrast, when
Haman enters his house, he hears from his advisors the opposite verb: "If
Mordekhai, before whom you have begun to fall, is from the seed of the
Jews, then you shall not prevail against him; you shall surely fall
before him" (6:13).
As we shall see below, the verb n-f-l will reappear in the next scene
and, as noted, it should be regarded as a key verb in the fall of Haman.
For our purposes suffice it to note that while David takes leave of Jerusalem,
apparently vacating his place for his rebellious son, a future "ascent" awaits
him. Haman, in contrast, takes leave of the king's gate, but is destined to
at Home with his Advisors (6:13)
The reaction of Haman's close advisors in view of his humiliation is most
surprising. Haman tells them "all that happened to him,"
and we would expect them to encourage him and raise his spirits. Not only do
they not encourage him; they exacerbate his despair by foretelling his imminent
downfall. What has happened to Zeresh and to Haman's friends, who only yesterday
proposed that Haman prepare a tall gallows and hang Mordekhai upon it? What has
caused them to suddenly change their tune, declaring that Haman is doomed to
The actual wording of their reaction only compounds our perplexity: "His
wise men, and Zeresh, his wife, said to him: If Mordekhai, before whom you have
begun to fall, is from the seed of the Jews, then you shall surely fall before
him" (6:13). Were they then unaware until now that Mordekhai was a Jew? Was
Haman's decree of annihilation for the whole Jewish nation not related to the
refusal by Mordekhai, as a Jew, to bow before him?
Moreover, what is the meaning of the expression, "Before whom you have begun to
fall"? How does the humiliation that Haman has experienced this day influence
his future? Why do they not suggest that Haman shelve his plan to hang Mordekhai
(since it has become apparent that the king seeks to honor him), but continue
with the plan to annihilate all the Jews? What is it about the scene of the
horse that has brought about such a radical change in their forecast for the
Chazal propose an interpretation that sheds new light on the title
"Jew" in the context of the verse, thereby explaining the reaction of Haman's
Mordekhai is of the seed of the Jews (Yehudim)...' …Concerning Yehuda it
is written, 'Your hand is upon the neck of your enemies'; the others (other
tribes) for it is written, 'Before Ephraim and Menasheh arouse your might'"
to this reading, the title "Jew" (Yehudi) in the verse hints at certain
tribes (the children of Rachel) against whom Haman cannot hope to prevail. As
Rashi comments (ad loc.), "There is some seed among the Jews that if he is
descended from them – you will not prevail over him." This reading seeks to
emphasize the national battle between Israel and Amalek, stretching back over
the generations, that is symbolized through the private confrontation between
Mordekhai and Haman. "Amalek" cannot prevail over the children of Rachel!
Indeed, Haman's advisors give special prominence to Mordekhai's national
identity in this scene, where it is connected to their perception that Haman has
no hope of succeeding in this battle.
However, it is possible that the emphasis in their reaction is not on the fact
that Mordekhai is "a Jew," but rather on the beginning of Haman's downfall,
which will now be impossible to halt.
On the level of the literal text, the answer to this riddle may lie in
the specific characterization of Haman's group of advisors. In the description
of Haman's words to Zeresh and his other companions, we are told: "Haman told
Zeresh, his wife, and all his close friends (ohavav – literally, those
who loved him) all that had happened to him." In their reaction, however, the
text refers to them in a different way: "His advisors (chakhamav –
literally, his wise men) and Zeresh, his wife" (6:13). There are two obvious
differences. First, Haman, expecting to receive moral support, addresses himself
principally to Zeresh; only afterwards is mention made of "his close friends."
In their response, the other members of the group are mentioned before Zeresh.
Seemingly, this group does not fulfill Haman's expectations; the associates do
not respond in their capacity as Haman's personal friends, but rather in a
different capacity, such that Zeresh occupies a secondary position – as we shall
soon explain. Secondly, Haman addresses himself to "his close friends," but is
answered by "his wise men." It is clear that these are the same people, but the
change in title demands some explanation.
Who are these "advisors," these "wise men"? They seem to recall the wise men of
Pharaoh, when that king sought to understand the meaning of his dreams and he
called "all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men" (Bereishit
41:8); they seem to recall the wise men of Nevukhadnetzar, who were unable to
tell the king what it was that he had dreamed and what it meant, and were
therefore put to death – "…He commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be
destroyed. And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain…"
(Daniyel 2:12-13). "Wise men," then, are those who know how to interpret
dreams, those who are familiar with divination and soothsaying, astrologers and
– as hinted at the very start of Esther – "Wise men who knew the times"
It is reasonable to posit that these wise men are hired by Haman to advise him
as to the hidden powers that are active in the world, influencing success and
failure, prosperity and downfall.
Indeed, the crux of their message concerns not the fact of Mordekhai's Jewish
identity, but rather what follows: if you have already begun to fall before him,
the continuation of your descent is assured.
That is how fate works. Just one day previously, when Haman felt himself on top
of the world (after all, Esther had even invited him to a party together with
the king), the same wise men/close friends had advised him to quickly
build a gallows, and that the very next morning Haman should be hanged upon it
("And in the morning, speak to the king, and let Mordekhai be hanged upon
it"). The construction of a gallows fifty cubits high is not a simple task, but
Haman got hold of the builders and had the gallows completed right away. All of
this was because his wise men had seen, through their divinations, that the one
who had begun to rise would continue to rise, while the one who had begun to
fall would continue to fall.
In fact, Haman's wise men were right; they read the situation correctly.
Haman, on the other hand, read it backwards. Esther's invitation of Haman to the
party together with the king was not a sign of any special honor; rather, it
laid the foundation for his downfall. Truly, then, the one who had begun to fall
(Haman) would now continue to fall, while the one who had begun to rise would
continue to rise – to the extent that even Haman's house would be given to
As mentioned previously, the key word employed by Haman's group of
advisors – "falling" – continues to serve as a leitvort in the next
scene, too, when Haman "was fallen upon the divan upon which Esther lay" (7:8).
Later on in the narrative, too, special use is made of this verb: "Many of the
peoples of the land became Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon
them" (8:17); "No-one could withstand them, for the fear of them fell
upon all the peoples. And all the rulers of the provinces, and the satraps, and
the governors, and the royal officials, supported the Jews, for the fear of
Mordekhai had fallen upon them" (9:2-3). All of these "fallings"
reinforce the forecast of Haman's advisors that Haman and his followers, who had
started to fall before Mordekhai, were destined to continue their descent.
The theme that is hinted at here, then, is part of one of the deeper
messages of the narrative: the attitude towards the lot and the world of
divination. Haman plans his actions in accordance with a close, ongoing reading
of the fluctuations of time and their meanings. At the very start of the
narrative the reader encounters Achashverosh, who likewise makes no move without
first consulting with "the wise men who knew the times." Haman casts the lot in
order to choose the right day to attack the Jews, even before going to the king
to propose his idea (3:7). The narrator, in his usual fashion, refrains from any
explicit statement of his disapproval of these views, but in his quiet, veiled
way he scorns them. Ultimately, the 13th of Adar does turn out to be
a day destined for bloodshed – as the person who casts the lot before Haman
asserts. And, indeed, the one who has begun to fall, continues to fall – as
Haman's wise men assure him.
The message underlying the narrative, then, is that reality can be turned
upside down. After the Jews called for fasting, the wheel of salvation began to
turn and to overcome even the supposedly inherent qualities of the times. The
most important motif of the narrative – "it was reversed" – assumes theological
significance, in this context, disdaining the pagan perception that relies upon
fate and divinations, unaware that God's will can turn the whole of reality
upside down, such that Haman's "lot" (pur) becomes the Jews' very own
The literary role of Haman's wise men, then, is to represent the pagan
view of history as being tied to fate and divination. From within this
atmosphere, which surrounds Haman, the king's chamberlains come and rush him off
to the party prepared by Esther. Perhaps Haman is calmed by the sound of the
chamberlains approaching: a party is a good opportunity for reconciliation with
the king, and in any case – some good wine will certainly wash away his own
by Kaeren Fish