SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, March 19, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Gemara in Masekhet Chulin (139b) raises the question of where we might find an allusion to Haman in the Chumash, and it answers by citing a verse from Parashat Bereishit (3:11).  After Adam and Chava ate from the forbidden tree, God spoke to Adam and asked, “Ha-min ha-etz asher tzivitikha le-vilti akhol mimenu akhalta” – “Have you eaten from the tree from which I had commanded you not to eat?”  The word “ha-min” can be read as “Haman,” and this verse thus presents a veiled allusion to the future nemesis of the Jews in Persia.

            How might we understand the connection implied by the Gemara between Haman and Adam and Chava’s sin?

            Rav Aharon Kotler (as cited and explained by Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman) answered that the Gemara refers here to one particular flaw in Haman’s character, the flaw which led him to his downfall.  In one of the most comical yet poignant series of verses in the Megilla (5:11-13), we read how Haman gloated to his family about the wealth and prestige he enjoyed as the highest ranking official in the kingdom besides Achashverosh, and then lamented, “But all this is worth nothing to me, whenever I see Mordekhai, the Jew…”  Haman achieved what most people spend their lives aspiring to – wealth and honor.  He lived the kind of life that most others dream about, enjoying all the wealth and luxury imaginable, as well as near absolute power and authority.  And yet, he was dissatisfied: “Ve-khol zeh einenu shoveh li…”  Everything he had was worth nothing because of the one person who refused to bow to him.  Haman was incapable of enjoying what he had because of the tiny bit of honor he could not have.

            The Gemara is teaching us that while we might marvel or laugh at Haman’s dissatisfaction with his life, in truth, it expresses a tendency ingrained within human nature since the time of the very first human being.  Adam and Chava, not unlike Haman, had just about anything they could have wanted.  They enjoyed an idyllic existence in Gan Eden, with everything ready and available – except for one tree whose fruit was declared off-limits.  Unable to cope with this sole restriction on what was otherwise a life of unbridled blessing, they felt dissatisfied and insisted on taking the forbidden fruit.

            The Gemara is alerting us to the fact that even in Gan Eden, and even when a person rises to the greatest heights of prestige and power, there will always be a “tree” we cannot have.  Life and human nature are such that we never feel entirely satisfied.  There is always something we want but cannot have.  People tend to point to something they want and assume that once it is achieved, they will experience joy and contentment.  But the stories of Adam and Chava and of Haman remind us that no matter what we have, we will always want more. 

The solution is to focus on the blessings in our lives and to remind ourselves that we can feel content and fulfilled even if many dreams and desires remain unfulfilled.  Haman could not enjoy his blessings because of his one source of frustration.  We must strive to find contentment with what we have notwithstanding our quest for that we still lack.  In this way, we can experience “Gan Eden” even in our very imperfect world, recognizing that there are far more “trees” which we are able to enjoy than those which remain unattainable.