July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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In Chapter 3 of Megillat Esther, King Achashverosh appoints Haman chief adviser to the king. Following Haman’s promotion, King Achashverosh establishes a new law: Whoever spots Haman in the palace gate must kneel and bow down before him. However, day after day, one man named Mordechai walks past Haman without kneeling or bowing down to him.

Upon noticing Mordechai’s refusal to kneel or bow down before him, Haman becomes extremely enraged. In fact, Haman decides it would not be enough to kill Mordecai alone for his disrespect, but to kill every member of Mordechai’s nation.

The Haman-Mordechai saga continued in Chapter 5 of Megllat Esther. Following Queen Esther’s party, Haman walks around the palace courtyard super happy and merry. But suddenly, Haman spots Mordechai there. Guess what? Mordchai once again refuses to bow or kneel. Angry beyond belief, Haman controls himself and runs home.

Once home, Haman gathers his friends and family together to discuss his fortune. “I am a rich man who owns tons of property. I have been able to father many sons. Today, I was the only person invited to come party with the king and queen. But all of this is nothing to me; every time I see Mordechai the Jew, he does not bow or kneel to me.”

Growing up, many people read this episode and think, What’s Haman’s deal? Why does he care so much about Mordecai not bowing or kneeling to him? Ninety-nine percent of the population bows and kneels to Haman, but because of one person’s refusal, he takes all his other blessings for granted? In the words of Cris Carter from “Monday Night Countdown,” “C’mon, man!” Upon reflection, two life experiences have inspired me to understand Haman’s reaction with a brand new perspective.

The first life experience occurred during my senior year of YU. At the time, my friends were getting engaged left and right. This vort, that wedding, wild times. Anyway, around December, I attended a coed Shabbat meal in Washington Heights, and heard someone deliver a remarkable dvar Torah. Impressed by the Torah idea, I went over to her and sparked a conversation. Long story short, we started to go out later that week.

A few weeks into the relationship, she alerted me about her upcoming trip to Israel for winter break. “I think we should take a break while I’m on winter vacation.” she said. “I just wanna think this over while I’m there. Besides, the staying-in-touch thing is tough with the time difference. Can we reevaluate when I come back in two weeks?” Understanding the unique circumstance, I agreed to go on this two-week dating break.

The next day, I relayed what happened to my rabbi. In response, Rabbi W. put one arm around my shoulder. “Yosef, I think you should move on. It’s probably over.” Surprised by this response, I raised my eyebrows higher than a New York City traffic light. “But rabbi, we have a good thing going. I’m telling you, in two weeks from now, we’ll pick up where we left off.”

After two weeks, she returned to New York. Long story short, she did not want to continue dating me. At the time, I knew there were other fish in the sea, and that everything happens for a reason. But in that moment, I wanted that fish. Nobody else could replace her.

The second life experience occurred in the fall of 2020. At the time, I applied to several of New York/New Jersey’s clinical psychology doctorate programs, and some others. Around spring time, only two programs offered me an interview. One school in D.C. and a New York school. This New York school represented my dream for graduate education. It held a long reputation for building up well-trained psychologists and provided time off for the Jewish holidays.

During one of my interviews at this school, a tenured faculty member asked me several semi-structured questions. To close the interview, he ended with an unforgettable line. “You seem like a nice guy; you just don’t have enough experience.”

Two weeks later, I received a rejection email from this graduate school. For the first time in years, I had no future. No direction. Some people recommended applying to other schools that were easier to get into. But at the time, I only wanted to go to that New York graduate school. No other graduate school could substitute for it.

Like Haman, I tasted rejection and viewed the world from a black-and-white perspective. Either this girl, or nobody. Either this graduate school, or nowhere. My way or the highway.

However, unlike Haman, I sought a different avenue for handling rejection. Two weeks after the breakup, I started going for therapy at the YU counseling center. In therapy, Dr. A. and I worked to rebuild my self-esteem so I could accept the fact that the winter-break girl didn’t want to continue dating me.

After Pesach, I decided to beef up my graduate school applications. In the summer, I landed a research assistant job to gain lab experience. Over the summer and fall, I studied daily for the GRE, a standardized test for graduate school, and improved my score. In fall of 2022, I reapplied to graduate school programs and gained admission to Touro’s first-ever clinical psychology program.

In life, there are only three guarantees: death, taxes and rejection. The dream job you’ve fantasized about getting since childhood may not take you. The girl on your block whom you’ve wanted to ask out since middle school may not give you a chance. Whatever happens, don’t fall for the Haman trap. Things can always turn around and change for the better. In the words of Bill Withers’ famous song “Lean on Me,” “There’s always tomorrow.” Never give up hope.

During a memorable schmooze, one YU rosh yeshiva taught me an unforgettable lesson about not giving up. “Everything in Judaism you learn, you must practice. That makes sense. You learn in order to practice. Well, everything, except one thing.”

All of a sudden, the bearded six-foot-tall man paused and looked into my eyes. “Yeush—Hebrew word for giving up. You can learn about it but you cannot practice it.”

The rabbi walked closer to me. “I don’t care if another five girls in a row say no. I don’t care if another graduate school says no. Never give up hope.”

To quote Rocky Balboa: “It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and get back up.”

To quote Rabbi Neil Fleishman in the name of Rebbe Nachman: “There’s nothing more whole than a broken heart.”

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