If we cannot have it all, would we rather none at all?
Chazal have a tradition that the main characters of the Purim story can be found in veiled allusions throughout the Torah, written prophetically many years before the events of Megillas Esther (Chulin 139b). Where is there a Biblical reference to Haman? The Gemara identifies the verse at the beginning of Chumash in which Hashem chastises Adam and Chavah for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (B’reishis 3:11). The Hebrew words in this verse, “ha’min ha’eitz (from the tree)” can also be vowelized Haman ha’eitz, referring to the wicked Haman who would later be hanged on the wooden gallows (eitz) he had prepared for Mordechai.
It’s a cute play on words, “Purim Torah” at its finest. But what is the deeper connection between Haman and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?
Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l (d. 1953) explained that the root of Haman’s evil ways can be traced back to the first sin in history. Haman had it all. He was promoted to the highest of positions and had the whole world “bending over forwards” to honor him. He had it all. Well, almost all. There was this one Jew who refused to bow to him – but that should have been easy to ignore in the face of the millions of admirers, right? Unfortunately, this was not Haman’s perspective. “But all this is worth nothing to me, every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13). Instead of focusing on all that he had, Haman focused on the one thing he could not have – Mordechai’s respect – and the ensuing madness drove him to attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish people all over the world!
Have we ever seen such disastrous obsession before?
Yes, we have – way back in the Beginning. Adam and Chavah were told that they could partake of all the trees of the Garden with the exception of the Eitz HaDaas (B’reishis 2:16-17). Instead of focusing on all the millions of wonderful fruits they could enjoy, they fixated on the one item that was off-limits, rejecting all the goodness to pursue this dangerous obsession. As a result, many curses entered the world, including the potential of death for people all over the world. Sound familiar?
Haman was the personification of Hashem’s rebuke of ha’min ha’etiz: “Did you really forfeit all that you had because of your obsession with the one thing you could not?!” Fittingly, this “hang-up” with Mordechai eventually led to Haman’s hanging atop the gallows that symbolized the irrationality of his obsession. With this perspective, it is quite easy to find Haman’s name and persona within the phrase “ha’min ha’eitz.”
We each have millions of wonderful blessings from Hashem on which to focus our attention. Why should we fixate on the one thing we feel might be missing?