Desire and Fulfillment in the Purim Story

  • Harav Yehuda Amital




Parashat KI TISA - PURIM



Desire and Fulfillment in the Purim Story

Translated by Elli Fischer





If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Mishlei 25:21)


            The Maharal explains that man is defined by his characteristic of lacking. God can only complete what a person lacks once that person becomes aware of what he is missing. A similar idea underlies prayer – a sense of incompleteness and need of God’s assistance is necessary for prayer to warrant a response.


            For this reason, the punishment of the primordial serpent was that its diet would consist of dust – something available everywhere. Its punishment was that it would always be satiated and never lack anything, and therefore never have anywhere to progress. The lack of ability to advance is the greatest possible punishment!


            Based on this idea, it is possible to explain why Esther invited Haman to a party. She wished to implant a sense of honor and satisfaction within him so that he felt satiated. Only in such a state, when he did not feel any lack in his honor or wealth, would it be possible to engineer his downfall. As long as he still had the drive to advance, it was very hard to bring him down. Only when Haman thought that he had nowhere to advance anymore and that he had reached the pinnacle of his desires, could Esther pull him down into the gutter.


            Indeed, this is the subject of the verse in Mishlei: If you wish to defeat your enemies, fulfill their every wish. Only in such a state, when they are satiated, will you be able to lead them to their demise.




            In its aggadeta on Megillat Esther, the Gemara states:


“A Song of Ascents, of David … If God had not been with us when a man rose against us” (Tehillim 124:1-2) – a man, not a king [Rashi: this man is Haman]. (Megilla 11a)


            The Maharal, in his work Or Chadash, explains that the objective of this aggada is to express the extraordinary wickedness of Haman. According to him, a king would subjugate a nation in order to obtain cheap labor. Haman, however, did not plot against Israel to obtain a workforce or some other benefit, rather, but rather to exterminate them. Haman did not obtain any benefit from it. Thus, the aggada states, according to the Maharal’s explanation, that the decree of a “man” – the wicked Haman – is more terrifying than the decree of a “king.”


            The Maharal goes on to explain why Haman attempted to destroy Israel without any prospect of personal gain.


            Man was created alone. Furthermore, the first blessing that he was given after being created was: “Fill the Earth and subdue it” (Bereishit 1:27). Thus, it became part of man’s nature to want to rule the world and return to its primordial state – in which man was the sole ruler over all creation, without competitors. That being the case, how can man exist within society? The Maharal explains that the “man” within each of us is subject to the “king” above him – the Supreme King of Kings, God. Only be recognizing this Higher Authority can he refrain from imposing himself on those around him. In other words, the balance to our quality of being “man” is the recognition of the existence of the “King.”


            Haman, however, did not recognize the existence of any “King” and lived his life with the consciousness of “a man, not a king.” Therefore, he truly lived with an awareness that he must rule over everyone, and he dedicated all of his resources to that objective. As a result, specifically Haman allowed himself to destroy an entire nation without reason or hope of profit – for no cause other than the attainment of absolute control.




            Kohelet Rabba (end of parasha 2) states:


“For to the man who is good before him he gave wisdom, understanding, and joy” (Kohelet 2:26) – this refers to Mordekhai; “but to the sinner He gives the idea to gather and hoard” – this refers to Haman.


            The Maharal explains that the sinner obtains the ability to gather and hoard wealth and assets in this world, only so that everything he gathered will ultimately be given to the righteous. If so, why can the wealth not be given directly to the righteous? Why must it get to him through the agency of the sinner?


            The Maharal explains that the sinner achieves wealth and property because he always feels lacking in the material realm. Therefore, he is constantly pursuing more glory and power, to address that sense of lack. In contrast, the righteous are satisfied with what they have, and therefore do not pursue money. For that reason, the righteous cannot accrue wealth and property in this world by themselves.


            The Maharal continues and explains that in order for the righteous person to gain in mundane terms as well, God gave sinners the power to gather and hoard – that is, that sense of constant lacking that fuels the need to keep hoarding more money. Ultimately, God will arrange things so that the righteous obtain the wealth that the wicked pursued. Since those characteristics that relate to the pursuit of money are unbecoming of the righteous, God lets the sinners do the “grunt work” and ultimately gives the fruit of their labor to the righteous.


            This idea is borne out in the megilla itself. Mordekhai could not have become vizier on his own, since he did not have the characteristic ambition and lust for power that Haman had. Therefore, Haman sought the ministry by virtue of his negative traits, and only later, at the culmination of a Divine process, was the ministry handed to Mordekhai without him needing to exert himself for it. Ultimately, the righteous profits without being affected by the negative attributes that are inextricably linked to that profit. Thus, “wisdom and understanding” refers to Mordekhai, whereas “the power to gather and hoard” refers to Haman.


            Practically speaking, this idea underlies Rav Kook’s vision of the reconstruction of the Land of Israel. According to him, the State of Israel was built by secularists since material construction requires characteristics that generally exist only amongst those who are not imbued with spirituality and in the quest for “wisdom and understanding”; physical construction mandates the pursuit of conquest and glory. Therefore, only secularists could build the State on Israel. Ultimately, however, the righteous will win the state from its irreligious builders, since that is how the world must be run.



(This sicha was delivered on Purim 5762 [2002].)