Purim Showdown

Let’s pose the following question: who can take an almost irrelevant item and grant it great importance while at the same time render an item of utmost importance all but irrelevant? A human being. Humans have the ability to grant value or strip value from anything. It may not be readily apparent, but the Purim story focuses on two individuals who demonstrated this concept to its fullest. One tried to destroy everything of value and one gave value to everything.

The opening shot in this battle of Destruction vs. Value was fired by Mordechai. When Haman declared himself an avodah zara and demanded that people bow to him, Mordechai stood up, refusing to bow. Avodah zara is an attempt to devalue the importance of Hashem by attributing divinity to that which isn’t divine. Mordechai showed that he wouldn’t bow to Haman, even at the risk of his own life. Mordechai gave tremendous value to avodas Hashem, thereby coming into direct conflict with Haman’s attempt at ideological destruction. Now we’ve outlined the commencement of this conflict – but where in the Megillah does Mordechai “conquer” Haman?

The Talmud in Megillah relates that as Mordechai saw Haman approaching to parade him around Shushan, Mordechai thought Haman was coming to kill him. He immediately wrapped himself in his tallis and prayed fervently as his talmidim encircled him, learning Torah.

When Haman arrived, he waited for Mordechai to complete his prayers and then asked Mordechai what he had been learning. Mordechai replied that when the Bais Hamikdash was standing, Klal Yisrael brought the korban omer and offered a kemitzah from it on the Mizbei’ach. Haman replied, “Your kemitzah of barley outweighed the 10,000 talents of silver I offered the king.” Mordechai replied, “You evil man, whatever a servant owns his master owns.”

This give-and-take between Mordechai and Haman implies that Haman was telling Mordechai that he saw, based on what Mordechai was teaching, that Mordechai had won and that this was the beginning of Haman’s downfall. At face value this is a very intriguing statement; what would make Haman think that the korban omer was causing his downfall?

The Maharal in Ohr Chodosh explains that the korban omer gives Klal Yisrael a special protection. Why? The korban omer shows that Klal Yisrael understands that Hashem controls nature, not us. It is an expression of bitachon, a statement that Hakadosh Baruch Hu runs the world. Therefore, in the zechus of the omer, Hashem performed miracles throughout history for Klal Yisrael. During the time of the Purim story, Hashem performed a miracle as well, this time in a natural fashion.

The Pachad Yitzchak explains that Amalek was the epitome of letzanus — mockery — that tried to destroy every vestige of importance in the world. Haman, a descendant of Amalek, carried on his nation’s mission of eradicating from the world all that was important. As the leader of Amalek, Haman was acutely aware of his nemesis, namely Hilul, or the power to give chashivus — importance — to everything. Haman saw Mordechai and his talmidim learning about the omer, Klal Yisrael’s recognition that every little thing, even animal food, comes from Hashem. When that happened in conjunction with Achashveirosh’s orders to honor Mordechai, he realized that this act of elevating the mundane to remind us Hashem runs the world overpowered his attempts of destruction.

Before Haman’s daughter poured garbage on his head, before Haman’s wise men warned him of his downfall, and before the second feast, at which Esther made her accusation, Haman realized that Mordechai had defeated him.

The power of mockery can threaten to destroy the entire world; however, a moment of true realization of what is really important can shine forth and bring about a complete vinahafoch hu, a total turnaround of events.

As we approach the holiday of Purim, let us make sure to always keep in mind that which is truly important and to look for the Hand of Hashem that is hidden in the world around us. As we recognize Hashem more and more in our daily lives, this should elevate us to new spiritual heights. Just as the Jews were redeemed in the zechus of the realization that occurred in the times of Purim, may our sparks of realization be a zechus for us all to merit the Geulah sheleimah b’karov. Amen.