PurimBurst, 1997 / 5757

PurimBurst, 1997

Haman recounted to them the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him… “Even Esther the queen invited no one but myself to the banquet that she had prepared for the king…Yet all this avails me naught as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the kings gate [and refusing to bow to me].”[1]

In our generation the war with Amalek is an inner war, and Haman’s is the voice of our narcissism.  From the moment of evil’s appearance as the serpent of Eden, it has lured us with its promise that we can “be as God”.[2]  This most clever of “beasts” knows our secret lust.  Since the spark of each person really is part of G‑d, each thinks the universe ought center around him.  Behind every sin is the serpent’s ruse, “Take…Be as G‑d,”  “Rage…Be as G‑d,”  “Get high…Be as G‑d.”  A narcissistic craving always lies at the root of sin.

And the Lord G‑d made to grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; also the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.[3]

Tree of Life consciousness, says Rambam, is to see the world through a perfectly rectified lens of True-and-False: to touch the spark of each moment and whole-heartedly choose its most spiritually productive response.  The Tree of Knowledge, in contrast, is a much lower state.  It only holds consciousness of Good-and-Evil, which are True-and-False distorted by emotional judgment and personal attachments.[4]

True-and-False says: Any option that violates G‑d’s will is a hype; its gains will be swallowed by even greater losses, its pleasures by pains.  Its problem is not its moral corruption, its problem is that it is false, it is an optical illusion, it is a fraud.

Good-and-evil says: Whatever option hurts less, causes the least offense to moral sensibilities, or avoids ego stress, that is the one I will choose.

Good-and-Evil distorts truth by making it subject to narcissistic approval.  Every time we rework the facts to support our need to be top, center, and correct, we repeat Eden’s sin and eat again from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The mongrel voice that rewrites history with us at its center is our personal Haman.  Our sages ask, “Where is Haman’s root in Scripture.”  What loosed his energy into the world that it should  join the queue of unfolding lives and appear millenniums later in the Purim story.[5]

They identify the first rebuke of creation’s history as the fateful moment.  The serpent enticed Adam and Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge with its promise that they would become “as G‑d.”  They ate, and True-and-False collapsed into Good-and-Evil.  Haman (המן)[6] was “born” from this act:

From (המן) the very tree which I commanded you not to eat from it, have you eaten?[7]

On that day Haman (המן) entered our psyche and has plagued us with his narcissistic tantrums every since. Unchecked his lust to be god is insatiable.  He cannot bear that others exist as autonomous beings oblivious to his imperial will.

…Yet all this avails me naught as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the kings gate [and refusing to bow to me].[8]

And so he precipitates a crisis (often survival-threatening) which ripples out in a chain of cause and effect and all who are touched must react to his will.  As the scene’s creator he is also its god.  At virtual gunpoint he manipulates a caste of supporting players terrorized by his drama.  His tantrum always works; there is seemingly no defense for one who is the object of narcissistic rage.

The political analogies are clear…but the mirror never lies.  Whatever is happening “out there” must also be inside as well.  Perhaps more subtle, perhaps carefully hidden…the mirror never lies.[9]

One could despair of ever wresting free of Haman’s tyranny if not for Esther’s precedent.  She is the mistress of this holy war.  She is Haman’s nemesis, her craft a family secret:

What did Esther see that she invited the king and Haman to a private wine party?  She applied a principle that she learned in her father’s home, “If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat and if he is thirsty give him water to drink, for you will heap coals of fire on his head and the Lord will reward you[10].”[11]

Heichal HaBracha explains that in Esther’s three days of fast and retreat she worked her way through all the veils of ego, layer after layer, chamber after chamber, cleaning and refining self, dirty and arduous work.  In those seventy-two hours she bore lifetimes of purgation until she birthed ayin (אין), pure selflessness, from ani (אני), ego.[12], [13]

Esther had to become perfectly immune to the serpent’s bait.  There could be no place inside that quickened to his bribe, “Take…Be as G‑d.”  She accomplished her work.  Esther transcended narcissism and in consequence she forced her hidden G‑d into revelation.  HaShem’s name does not appear in the megilla except as the first letters of Esther’s invitation to the king, “יבוא המלך והמן היום (Let the king and Haman come today…).”[14]  With these four words she pressed a diamond out of darkness.

The surest way to topple an impostor is to maneuver a meeting between the two claimants.  A self-appointed god is only credible if the real One stays hidden.  Once HaShem agreed to attend the party, once Esther secured His Presence, Haman’s fate was sealed.

May the mitzvot of this holy day – of giving, sharing and unselfconscious celebration – draw God’s Presence into our wine parties and bring a speedy toppling to all the world’s false gods, both inside and out.

[1] Esther 5:10-13.

[2] Genesis 2:5.  “And the serpent said to the woman, surely you shall not die; For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

[3] Genesis 2:9.

[4] Rambam, Guide to the Perplexed, I:2.

[5] TB Chulin 139b.

[6] See PurimThemes, p. 19.

[7] Genesis 2:11.

[8] Esther 5:14.

[9] TB Kidushin 70a.

[10] Proverbs 25:21.

[11] TB Megilla 15b.

[12] R. Y. Y. Safran of Kamarna; Hechal HaBracha, Ketam Ofir, Esther 4:16

[13] The terms ayin (selflessness) and ani (self or ego) are built from the same three Hebrew letters, though rearranged: אני – אין.  Many chassidic and kabbalistic writings speak at length about this relationship.  See Leshem, HaDrush Olam HaTohu, Miut HaYareach 10

[14] Esther 4:4.  The scroll of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not contain any explicit mention of G-d.  None of G-d’s “names” appear in the Book of Esther at all.  Yet in this verse, where Esther invites the king (and King) to her wine party, the most holy four-letter name of G-d appears as an acrostic.

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