Purim 2021–Who is Charvonah…

…and why is he mentioned along with the big shots of the story?

Charvonah is a seemingly insignificant character in the Purim story. He is one of the king’s attendants who appears at the beginning with those who convey the kings fateful summons to Vashti and then again at Haman’s demise. It is here, in this second mention, that he delivers his single line:

   וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִן-הַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּה-הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר-עָשָֹה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-טוֹב עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו: י   וַיִּתְלוּ אֶת-הָמָן עַל-הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר-הֵכִין לְמָרְדֳּכָי וַחֲמַת הַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁכָכָה  

And Charvonah, one of the eunuchs, said before the king, “Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, stands in the house of Haman”. Then the king said, “Hang him on it.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified. [Esther 7:9-10]

Shoshanat Yaakov, a poem recited after the Megilla, mentions Mordecai and Esther, Haman and Zeresh (his wife), and then, out of the blue, it instructs us to also remember Charvonah for good. Why would the rabbis single him out for this honor?

The answer hinges upon how he knew all those details about Haman’s secret plan. There are two opinions.  One is that Charvonah was among the friends consulted by Haman who advised him to build the gallows and hang Mordecai on them.[TB megilla 16a]

When Haman saw that Mordecai did not stand nor stir for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai. Haman … called his friends, and Zeresh his wife….[who] proposed: Let a gallows be made fifty cubits high, and tomorrow speak to the king that Mordecai may be hanged on it…The thing pleased Haman and he had the gallows made.[Esther 5:9-14]

And now, with Haman in disgrace, Charvonah conveniently applies his inside knowledge to betray his old friend and curry favor with the king. In this opinion Charvonah is a bad guy—a pretender and, probably, would not be “remembered for good”.

A second opinion (and the prevailing one, it seems) is that Charvonah is Eliyahu HaNavi or, perhaps, he is just temporarily “occupied” by Eliyahu in what is popularly called, a “walkin” and which kabbala calls Ibur.[Esther Raba 10:9] The idea being that Eliyahu did not actually die, but rather ascended in a fiery chariot (as described in the Bible).[Kings 2:2:11] Consequently Eliyahu moves freely through the planes of reality, enclothing himself in whatever is the appropriate “substance” of each world. [TB Eruvin 43b]

Eliyahu appears down here, sometimes, in human form and there are abundant reports of such encounters in the literature. But even more common is what’s called, “gilui Eliyahu” which is a synonymous term for “ruach hakodesh” (Divine inspiration), at least as presented by R. Tsadok HaKohen.[1] A gilui Eliyahu is when a person experiences an insight that is way beyond what they could have “figured out” on their own.  It is clear that it was a gift from on high. And so it’s depicted as a transmission from Eliyahu.  From this perspective Charvonah knew of Haman’s secret plans because he was privy to Eliyahu HaNavi’s heavenly vantage point.

And so, since the identity of Charvonah and Eliyahu HaNavi merge in this story, it is fitting to hint to Eliyahu’s presence by singling out Charvonah and then appending the phrase zachor l’tov to signal that he’s actually Eliyahu in disguise, for Eliyahu is the only person whose name is customarily followed by those words.[2]

But the question remains, why of all the characters in the story and attendants to the king, why did Eliyahu pick Charvonah as his “cover.” R. Tsadok explains that ruach hakodesh follows will. Meaning that the themes of our life—the desires and curiosities, drives and motivations that have stuck around for decades—these create our channels of ruach hakodesh.  They determine what insights come down, what assistance we receive, what providence we draw forth.

Rav Tsadok traces all these back to an even more fundamental layer of psyche called breath of the bones (hevlei d’garma). It’s clear that when the rabbis use that term they are describing something with properties nearly identical to what we know as DNA.[3] The soul constricts and congeals as it moves down through the worlds and prepares to incarnate. At each stage it presses out from itself a garment that matches the “materiality” of that level of reality. To enter the physical plane (of maximum constriction and density) it presses forth a kind of essential oil that encodes its quintessence in physical form. This material expression of the soul’s essence is the DNA that directs the body’s development and the individual’s absolutely unique life path. The soul then enclothes itself in this body and together they actualize the potentials of their hevlei d’garma—their shared genome.[4]

The desires curiosities and strivings that were present in youth and continued through adulthood derive from this bedrock level of soul called hevlei d’garma. It is said that parents have a glimmer of prophesy when naming their children, and that a person’s name really does convey something of the soul mission that’s encoded in their hevlei d’garma starting point.

Charvonah’s (חרבונה) name is inherently paradoxical.  It combines the contrary polarities of churban (demolition)—חרב—and boneh (construction)—בונה —thus capturing the essence of that particular moment in history when the (prophesied) “seventy years of churban” were about to end, and the Temple was soon to be rebuilt.

As below so above. On the inner planes, we were also on the cusp of loss and new beginnings. The era of prophesy was about to cease and a new channel of Divine inspiration was opening—the channel of ruach hakodesh and Oral Torah (technically lower than prophesy, but actually superior by some counts).[5] At Sinai we accepted our Written Scripture with open arms (naase v’nishma) but balked at its Oral component—its rabbinic expansions and directives. HaShem (metaphorically) held a mountain over our head and forced our consent. A contract imposed by duress is not binding, yet on Purim we reconsidered and accepted the full package with a whole heart[6] (קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ) [Esther 9:27].

Charvonah then, by name and by essence, embodied the transition that was unfolding, a shift that was equally close to Eliyahu’s heart since he transmits the inspiration that comprises the Oral Torah. Gilui Eliyahu is synonymous with ruach hakodesh (says R. Tsadok).1 The Bible describes Eliyahu’s initiation into the still small voice that a person must access inside themselves in order to receive a gilui Eliyahu. [Kings 1:19:11-13]

Furthermore, as harbinger of Mashiach, Eliyahu is the transition between Mashiach ben Yosef (who dies) and Mashiach ben David (who lives forever/ chai v’kayam). Tradition also ascribes to him the exclusive privilege of inaugurating the era of techiyat hamaytim (or world-to-come) when souls shed their physical bodies (death) and incarnate anew in light bodies. Here as well, Eliyahu occupies the link between churban and boneh.  So it is no surprise that Charvonah and Eliyahu experienced a resonance of hevlei d’garma that bound them in the shared mission that we celebrate as the Book of Esther.

Eat, Drink and Be Holy


[1] … כי החשק הוא עיקר צורת האדם וחיות שבו. כי ביטול החשק משום דבר הוא מן הדוממים שאין לו חיות כלל. והחיות הוא החשק. וההבל דגרמי הוא כולל כל החשקות שלו… אז אותו ההבלא דגרמי מתדבק באותו חשק ונודע לו במחשבתו וחשקו את השייך לאותו דבר כל מה שידוע לאותו הבלא דגרמי שנדבק בו וידיעה זו היא רק שנופל במחשבתו כך וכך. רק שיודע שאין זה מחשבת עצמו רק מצד ההבלא דגרמי של זה ומחשבתו של זה וכאילו הוא מדבר. …והבן זה היטב כי כל התדבקות ההבלא דגרמי הוא רק אל החשק שבאדם. כי כל ההבלא דגרמי הוא החשקות שיש בהם. שזהו עצם החיות כנ”ל:

…והנה כל ההשגות של האדם לחכמה מה שלמעלה מהשגת חכמתו. רק לדעת חכמה שידעו אחרים השייכת לחכמתם ואינה שייכת לו הוא על ידי ההבלא דגרמי זה שהוא למטה בעולם הזה…וכשעושה פעולות קדושות וחשקות טובים השייכים לאותו הבלא דגרמי אז מתדבק באותו הבלא דגרמי וזוכה לגילוי אליהו [שהוא היותר רגיל כי יש לו שייכות לכל אדם. כי הוא נקרא מלאך הברית דכל ישראל שזהו פעולתו ההכרה דכל ישראל הם חלק אלוה בשורשם כנ”ל. ומי שמכיר זה יש לו שייכות עמו. כי יש לו שייכות לכל ישראל שכולם באמת חלק אלוה…וכמו ששמעתי על פסוק (דברים ג’, ט”ו) ולמכיר נתתי את הגלעד. פירוש מי שמכיר ה’ יתברך [שכל כוחותיו ממנו] הוא זוכה לגילוי אליהו. [ר’ צדוק הכהן – ספר דובר צדק – פרשת אחרי מות אות ד]
[2] For example in Birchat Hamazon:

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁלַח לָנוּ אֶת אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא זָכוּר לַטּוֹב וִיבַשֶּר לָנוּ בְּשֹוֹרוֹת טוֹבוֹת יְשׁוּעוֹת וְנֶחָמוֹת
[3] R. Isaac Luria, Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, 1; Leshem, Sefer Haklalim, Klal 18, anaf 8, ot 11 (on tselem).
[4] The mispar siduri gematria of הבל and DNA are identical, they are both 19 (which is the numerical gematria of Chava (חוה)).
[5] בבא בתרא דף יב/א; חדושי הרמב”ן על מסכת בבא בתרא דף יב/א;  רמב”ן פירוש לספר יצירה על דה”מ עשר ספירות בלי מה;רבנו בחיי על דברים פרק לג פסוק ח
[6] TB Shabbat 88a.

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