Sunday, March 06, 2011

Haman vs. Mordechai in building the Beis Hamikdash

Summary: Here is a midrash regarding Haman's earlier wicked role. Also informative in terms of placing megillat Esther chronologically.

Post: I'll begin by presenting the beginning of Agadat Esther, a ktav yad of a midrash, from Teiman:

"And it was {vay-hi} in the days of Achashverosh: This is what the verse states {Amos 5:19}:

יט  כַּאֲשֶׁר יָנוּס אִישׁ מִפְּנֵי הָאֲרִי, וּפְגָעוֹ הַדֹּב; וּבָא הַבַּיִת--וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ עַל-הַקִּיר, וּנְשָׁכוֹ הַנָּחָשׁ.19 As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; and went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.

'A Lion', this is Bavel, to whom Israel was given over first, as is written {Daniel 7:4 -- in which Daniel has a prophetic dream, which is explained in the very same perek as referring to kingdoms}:

ד  קַדְמָיְתָא כְאַרְיֵה, וְגַפִּין דִּי-נְשַׁר לַהּ; חָזֵה הֲוֵית עַד דִּי-מְּרִיטוּ גפיה (גַפַּהּ) וּנְטִילַת מִן-אַרְעָא, וְעַל-רַגְלַיִן כֶּאֱנָשׁ הֳקִימַת, וּלְבַב אֱנָשׁ, יְהִיב לַהּ.4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings; I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon two feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.

'and a bear met him' -- this is Medea, who are compared to a bear, as is stated {next pasuk in Daniel}:

ה  וַאֲרוּ חֵיוָה אָחֳרִי תִנְיָנָה דָּמְיָה לְדֹב, וְלִשְׂטַר-חַד הֳקִמַת, וּתְלָת עִלְעִין בְּפֻמַּהּ, בֵּין שניה (שִׁנַּהּ); וְכֵן אָמְרִין לַהּ, קוּמִי אֲכֻלִי בְּשַׂר שַׂגִּיא.5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was said thus unto it: 'Arise, devour much flesh.'

'and went into the house...[and a serpent bit him]' -- they came to build the Beit HaMikdash, and the wicked Haman arose upon them -- he is Shimshai the scribe --

{Josh interjects: see Ezra 4:8:

ח  רְחוּם בְּעֵל-טְעֵם, וְשִׁמְשַׁי סָפְרָא, כְּתַבוּ אִגְּרָה חֲדָה, עַל-יְרוּשְׁלֶם--לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא מַלְכָּא, כְּנֵמָא.8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort--

The perek continues with the contents of the letter to king Artaxerxes, that the Jews are building a city, and it is a rebellious city; the king should check in his royal records and the sefer zichronos to see this; it will cause nezek hamelech, etc. The king responded by forbidding the building, and it only resumed in the days of Daryavesh. See the last pasuk of that perek:

כד  בֵּאדַיִן, בְּטֵלַת עֲבִידַת בֵּית-אֱלָהָא, דִּי, בִּירוּשְׁלֶם; וַהֲוָת, בָּטְלָא, עַד שְׁנַת תַּרְתֵּין, לְמַלְכוּת דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ-פָּרָס.  {פ}24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem; and it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. {P}


in order to cancel the building of the Bet Hamikdash, and Mordechai stood against him. And why? For he was from the tribe of Binyamin, who were extremely dedicated {natan nafsho} for the Temple, for it is written {Devarim 33:12, in veZot HaBeracha}:

יב  לְבִנְיָמִן אָמַר--יְדִיד ה, יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח עָלָיו; חֹפֵף עָלָיו כָּל-הַיּוֹם, וּבֵין כְּתֵפָיו שָׁכֵן.  {ס}12 Of Benjamin he said: The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by Him; He covereth him all the day, and He dwelleth between his shoulders. {S}

Therefore the wicked Haman arose against him {Mordechai} to nullify his plan. {J: I think this how to parse the previous statement. Alternatively, therefore he {=Mordechai} arose against him, the wicked Haman, in order to nullify his plan. But besides being awkward, according the Ezra, this letter was successful in preventing the building.}

And so it is written {Ezra 4:6}

ו  וּבְמַלְכוּת, אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, בִּתְחִלַּת, מַלְכוּתוֹ--כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה, עַל-יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם.  {ס}6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. {S}

Therefore, Israel cried "Vay, Vay!" "

Rashi on sefer Ezra puts Shimshai as a son of Haman, rather than a name of Haman himself. In Midrash Panim Acheirim, it puts it as Shimshai son of Haman. See Buber's comments on this.

Whether it is Haman himself or a son of Haman (especially if not one of the ten) could have ramifications on trying to place this chronologically, before or after the Purim story. Though it seems like all this happened beforehand. Though how would Mordechai be in any position of power at the beginning to influence politics? (Perhaps he could have been. It depends how one interprets him sitting beshaar hamalech. The other day, I heard Rabbi Amnon Bazak explain it as a position of some power, since judges sat at the shaar haIr. If so, perhaps he was active in the royal court.)

Some clarification. Achashverosh corresponds to Xerxes, while Artachshasta corresponds to Artaxerxes. There were actually three Artaxerxes, and apparently the one in the time of Ezra is Artaxerxes I. Apparently, Josephus also makes this identification of Achashverosh with the recipient of the letter from Shimshai:
Josephus wrongfully claims that the Ahasuerus (Xerxes) of the Book of Esther is this Artaxerxes I., and also that the Artaxerxes of Ezra and Nehemiah is Xerxes.
See also Ibn Ezra for a chronology and an identification of the various kings. It is not an easy thing to chronologically place the story of Esther. But having Jews already back in Eretz Yisrael at this time, trying to rebuild the city and the Temple, certainly introduces an interesting perspective. This could readily be cast as the sin prompting the danger from Haman. Not the partaking in the king's great feast, but not returning from the exile. And Mordechai and Esther were also among those who did not return.

I can see the temptation in equating these various characters. Not only Achashverosh occurring in both places (though it might have been a common name for kings), and not only Chazal's general closed-canon approach, which is the law of conservation of Biblical personalities. There are linguistic and thematic parallels as well. For example, talking about the harm to the king, telling him to look in his sefer zichronot, and maligning the Jews by saying that they are rebellious and not loyal to the king. I wonder at the name. Is it because he gave a gift to the king to influence him against the Jews?

I'll close with this: Often enough, it seems that a midrash takes a verse, or sequential parts of verse, entirely out of context. This is fine; this is hyper-literalism; this is midrash. But in the process, we can lose out on the color and taste of the source pasuk in its peshat sense. In this instance, though, I think that the midrash is true to the theme of the pasuk, and we can gain much by refocusing on the pasuk in {Amos 5:19}:

יט  כַּאֲשֶׁר יָנוּס אִישׁ מִפְּנֵי הָאֲרִי, וּפְגָעוֹ הַדֹּב; וּבָא הַבַּיִת--וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ עַל-הַקִּיר, וּנְשָׁכוֹ הַנָּחָשׁ.
19 As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; and went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.

Note the word ka'asher, meaning that it is intended metaphorically. What picture is this? A man is outdoors and a lion spots him and pursues him. He manages to escape, only to meet up with a bear! Finally, he escapes even that, and gets to the safety of his own home. He feels secure. Finally able to get some rest, he leans on the wall of his own home for support. And just then, when he least expects it, a serpent, perhaps from within the wall, bites him!

Compare to the situation of Bnei Yisrael in Exile. One could cast it in the same light. First they had to contend with Bavel, and then with Maday. Then, it was time to go home, and a bunch actually did go back to Eretz Yisrael. And they even starting to build the city of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash, when the snake at home caught them unawares. They had to contend with Shimshai the scribe, who either was Haman or was a Haman equivalent.

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