Esther 3:5, Question 1. Why does Haman wait until he sees this to become angry?

ה וַיַּרְא הָמָן כִּיאֵין מָרְדֳּכַי כֹּרֵעַ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן חֵמָה

5. And Haman saw that Mordechai was not kneeling and bowing to him, and Haman became filled with fury.

  • As human beings, things often do not register until we actually see them for ourselves. In Acharei, after the death of two of Aaron’s sons, H-Shem teaches the laws of the Yom Kippur service. Explaining the Torah’s reason for relating these two events in his commentary there (Vayikra 16:1), Rashi brings a parable from a Midrash (Toras Kohanim, Parshasa 1:3-4) that has one doctor ordering a patient to keep a certain regimen. Then, a second doctor comes in to order that patient to keep the very same regimen, but with the precaution that he should do so in order not to die as did so-and-so. This second doctor is more convincing because his using the story of so-and-so as a cautionary tale made the reality of the threat to his life more concrete for the patient.
  • Malbim points out that Haman was observing Mordechai at this point. Apparently, hearing the words of these men caused Haman to pay attention to the behavior of the people around him. Perhaps we can say that he simply did not believe them. The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) teaches a famous dictum: “kol haposel b’mumo posel” (“all who invalidate, in their own negative trait invalidate”). In other words, people judge others as reflections of their own characteristics. Being a dishonest, evil person himself, Haman thought everyone was dishonest, and simply would not accept the words of anybody.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:9) quotes Tehillim (69:24) “the eyes of the evil one are darkened.” What evil people see brings them to their ultimate destruction. The Midrash continues to bring numerous verses of evil people seeing something that causes their downfall. The opposite is true for the eyes of the righteous, because they raise them up. The Dubno Maggid asks why vision is the focus of this Midrash. That certainly cannot be the only difference between the good and the evil! He answers that we were all born spiritually equal, and evil people became such by looking at things in the wrong perspective, and thus making physical choices that negatively impacted their spirituality. In our verse, for example, Haman is upset that Mordechai is not bowing to him – whereas he would just as easily have focused on the positive fact that 99.99% of the population was bowing to him. Instead, he focused on the negative – that one person was not bowing to him. That negative focus is the trademark of the evil.

Esther 3:4, Question 5. What exactly is Mordechai’s claim?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) teaches that, by answering that he is a Jew, Mordechai really intended to emphasize that, as a Jew, he is forbidden to worship anyone or anything besides H-Shem.
  • Rav Shlomo Kluger says that “Mordechai’s words” indicate his reporting the plot of Bigsan and Seresh. Mordechai wanted to see if his demonstrated loyalty to the king would be enough to excuse him (and perhaps the other Jews) from this bowing.
  • The Chasam Sofer says that the words “that he is a Yehudi” refers to Haman. As mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 15a), Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai. Yalkut Shimoni (953) tells us there was rebellion against Achashverosh in one of his Indian states. Haman and Mordechai were chosen to command two of Achashverosh’s battalions. Due to his spending practices, Haman ran out of provisions. Mordechai, due to his righteous care for his resources (see Rashi to Bireishis 32:25 and Talmud, Chullin 91a), did not. Haman begged Mordechai for some of his rations, on condition that Mordechai sell himself to him as a slave, to which Haman agreed. Having nothing on which to write handy, Mordechai wrote the deed on his shoe, or armor he had on his feet. That being the case, a slave to a Jew who then goes free becomes Jewish, himself (Talmud, Chagigah 4a and brought down in Halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 267:3-5, 11). According to the Chasam Sofer, then, Mordechai was saying that he does not have to bow down to him since Haman was once his slave. For that reason, according to the Midrash, every time Haman would pass by, Mordechai would point down to his shoe.
  • The verse makes it sound as though the servants did not trust Mordechai, and Mi’archei Lev writes that Mordechai gave them reason to respond this way. After all, it was well-known that he was from Benyamin, but he aroused suspicion by saying he was a Yehudi.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that Haman felt confident about conquering Mordechai as he was from Benyamin. Here, Mordechai is pointing out that he comes from another tribe as well – Yehudah. Yehudah, being the tribe of Moshiach, is the great challenge to the power of Amalek. Mordechai represents the Yehudi who can conquer the power of evil. Rav Eibshutz also writes that Haman set up a test for Mordechai by one time coming out without a statue. Nevertheless, Mordechai still refused to bow to him. Even though Mordechai knew there was no statue, other people didn’t know, and this would constitute maaris ayin.

Esther 3:4, Question 4. Why are the servants reporting to Haman?

  • The Vilna Gaon points out that, had Haman seen Mordechai not bowing to him, the servants would have no need to report this information to him. However, filled with self -love and pride, with his chin in the air, Haman never even bothered to see this phenomenon for himself!
  • Megillas Sefer says that the king’s servants were acting out of a sense of curiosity. In the Book of Daniel (3:19-23), Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya all survived the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnetzer. These servants wanted to see if the same would hold true for Mordechai, as well.
  • Me’am Loez notes that it is interesting that they reported Mordechai’s conduct to Haman rather than to the king who issued the decree Mordechai is ignoring. Had they told the king, Mordechai would have been summarily executed. Informing Haman allowed the possibility that Mordechai would have been tortured until he submitted. Psychologically, these servants could then feel better about themselves and their behavior. This, coupled with preserving the status quo, is a powerful motivator. From their selfish perspective, it would certainly be better than turning Mordechai into a martyr.