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Ca’as and Purim
By: SFW Students & Alumna
Elinor Solomon (SFW 08)
Two of the main characters in Megilat Esther to get angry are Achashverosh and Haman. There are two instances where we clearly see a display of their anger: The first is when Vashti refuses to come to Achashverosh, as it says:
”But Queen Vashti refused to come at the King’s command conveyed by the officers. The king was furious (vayiktzof) and his anger (vechamato) burned within him.” (1:12)
The second is when Mordechai refuses to bow down to Haman:
”When Haman saw that Mordechai would not kneel or bow low to him, Haman was filled with rage (chaima) (3:5)
The words that are used in the pasuk to describe Achashverosh’s fury and anger are ‘vayikztof’ and ‘vechamato’. We could ask what is the difference between the two? Both the Malbim and the Gra say the word ketzef is an external manifestation, where as chama remains inside, not visible to the outside world. Ketzef can also mean foam and froth, connoting fury. The image it creates is an image of a furious man foaming at the mouth – it’s an external visible sign. Chama, from the word cham - meaning hot - refers to a burning sensation one feels inside when becoming angry.
One of the first times the root cham appears in Torah is in Beresheit (27:15) where Rivka took “et bigdei esav b’na hagadol hachamadot” (Esav’s clothing while he was hunting) and gave it to Yaakov. But what does the word “hachamadot” mean? One of Rashi’s explanations is that Esav stole it from Nimrod. Perhaps we can see from here a connection between the word lachmod – to covet, want or desire something, and the word cham, to be angry. When someone doesn’t get what they want or desire, it can easily lead to becoming angry, which can lead to stealing and much worse.
We also know that Esav was known for doing Avodah Zarah – as Rashi says in Bereishit (25:22) that when Yaakov and Esav struggled inside Rivka, it was because if she would pass a place of Torah, Yaakov would try to come out and when she would pass a place of Avodah Zarah, Esav would try to come out.
So now we have a link between desiring something, becoming angry, stealing and Avodah Zarah. In fact all these things can be linked to what it says in the Gemara in Shabbos that “The man who loses himself to anger is considered to have worshipped idols.”
Consequently by looking at Esav who was the ancestor of Amalek and therefore an ancestor of Haman too, we can see how all these negative character traits have been passed on throughout the generations to Haman. Looking at Megilat Esther we can see how Haman wanted honour – he wanted everyone to bow down to him and he got angry when even one person didn’t do what he wanted, and how that manifested itself in wanting to kill the entire Jewish nation. Esav was particularly known for being blood thirsty as Rashi says about the word admoni regarding Esav – that this was a sign that he would spill blood. The character traits that we posses get passed down to our descendants.
Another example of the similarities between Esav and Haman is Bereishit (25:28),“Vayahav Yitzchak et esav ki tziyad b’piv”, which Rashi explains to mean that Esav would deceive his father with words from his mouth and because of this Yitzchak loved him – i.e. Yitchak was deceived into thinking that Esav was a different person than he really was. Therefore Yitzchak loved this person that Esav was making himself out to be.
This deception can also be found in Haman, who deceived Achashverosh. He told Achashverosh concerning the Jews:
“If it pleases the king, let it be written that they (the Jews) should be eradicated” (3:9)
The Malbim explains that the word ‘l’abed’’ has two meanings. The first is “to destroy.” The second is “to change the form of something”, causing it to lose its old form. Here, Haman told Achashverosh that their old form should be wiped away and, compelled to be like the other nations, they would become a “new product”. However, when Haman makes letters to be sent out to all the officials and governors detailing this law, he tells the scribes to write “lehashmid ul’harog ul’abed” “to destroy, kill, and eradicate” (3:13) using the form of l’abed to mean to destroy and kill the Jews.
Anger is like a disease, it spreads and spreads if it is not controlled or stopped. As the Orochot Tzadikim write “Just as scurvy is a disease of the body so too, anger is a disease of the soul”. If we look in Shemot (14:22) we can find another usage of the letters, chet, mem, heh.
“And the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.”
The word anger and the word wall have the same root, chama, showing that when a person becomes angry they build a wall around themselves.
We must work on our Middot, not only to improve ourselves but also to make sure our descendants only have good middot passed on to them. Iggeres Haramban (the letter that Ramban writes to his son) starts off by talking about ca’as, to show that one can’t move on to acquiring finer middot until one has removed ca’as from his heart first.
Finally, we can see that out of all the characters in Megilat Esther, it is Mordechai and Esther who have the most right to be angry. After all, they were the ones who the decree was written against, to be killed. However, instead of becoming angry they are quick to act to rectify the decree. In 4:16, Esther tells Mordechai to gather all the Jews and fast and do Teshuva so that, with Hashem’s help, she can be successful when she approaches king Achashverosh to undo the decree. A great lesson can be learned from both Mordechai and Esther. When things don’t go our way, we should be quick to act in a positive way instead of getting angry like Haman and Achashverosh did.
Both of the instances mentioned above, when Achashverosh and Haman become angry, have very significant consequences. Vashti refused to come to Achashverosh’s banquet, which therefore made him very angry, which led to Vashti’s removal as Queen. Haman became angry when Mordechai would not bow down to him, and therefore issued a decree against all the Jews. This comes to show that anger is a very impulsive action, which lasts only for a very short while. Just like foam or froth shortly dissipates, and hot objects quickly cool down, so too does anger. When a situation arises where we might be tempted to get angry, may we remember this lesson from Megillat Esther, not to act rashly or impulsively, but rather to think out what consequences may result from our actions.
To end off, I would like to say a short story I found in Iggeres Haramban: Once there was a son who was extraordinarily respectful to his father. On his deathbed the father said: “My son, you honoured me in my lifetime and now you must honour me after my death. I command you - if you should ever be overcome by anger, hold your anger in overnight.” After his father’s death, the son was forced to embark on a prolonged journey which took him to distant lands for tens of years. Unbeknown to him, the wife he left behind was expecting his child. After his years of absence the husband returned home unannounced, hoping to joyously surprise his wife. But as he approached his bedchamber he saw his wife embracing a handsome young man, a stranger. The husband became fiercely jealous and reached for his dagger – when he suddenly remembered the pledge he made to his father: He must hold in his rage over night. The next day he was shocked to discover that the young man in his wife’s embrace was none other than his own son, the child that his wife had borne during his long absence. The man was thus saved from tragically slaughtering his own family.