April 9, 2024
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Memuchan Is Haman: So What?

 Memuchan Is Haman

It is a well-known connection. Chazal (Megillah 12b) identify Memuchan, the adviser to Achashverosh who urges the king to kill Vashti for her refusal to appear before the king, as none other than Haman. Besides Memuchan and Haman rhyming, what prompts Chazal to make this assertion? What profound messages do Chazal communicate by this identification?


The Gemara

Megillah 12b teaches (slightly modified William Davidson translation of the Talmud):

The verse states: “And Memucan said” (Esther 1:16). A Sage taught in a baraita: Memucan is Haman. And why is Haman referred to as Memucan? Because he was prepared [mukhan] to bring calamity. Rav Kahana said: From here we see that the commoner jumps to the front and speaks first, for Memucan was mentioned last of the king’s seven advisers, and nevertheless he expressed his opinion first.


Prepared to Bring Calamity

Let us begin with the first association: Memuchan is prepared to bring calamity. Upon reflection, Memuchan’s overwrought reaction to Vashti’s disobedience is similar to Haman’s irrational response to Mordechai’s refusal to bow. In both cases, the characters impulsively fly into a rage. Unfortunately, their wild responses are wildly disproportionate, killing a queen and attempting genocide!

Both Memuchan and Haman are highly reactive individuals whose overreactions trigger trouble. They become entangled in the moment’s emotion and demand drastic activity, which in the long term boomerang and destroy. Both Haman and Memuchan are personalities “prepared to bring calamity.”

Each of us has the potential to act like Memuchan/Haman. We must, however, curb and control this aspect of our emotional makeup. The destruction wrought by Memuchan and Haman is a sober and potent reminder of the steep price we pay for failing to calibrate our reactions cautiously.


The Common Man Jumps to the Front

Esther 1:14 lists Achashverosh’s seven advisers, and Memuchan is listed last, indicating that he is the least prominent of the group. Yet, he is the first to speak out about Vashti. Naturally, this uncouth behavior is bound to anger his colleagues. Nonetheless, Memuchan is caught in the heat of the moment and does not consider what future ruin this may bring upon him.

The Gemara (Brachot 64a) teaches:

Rabbi Avin HaLevi said: If one forces the moment and attempts to take advantage of an undeserved opportunity, the moment forces him and he is pushed aside. If one yields to the moment and relinquishes an opportunity that presents itself, the moment yields to him.

Haman, just as Mechuchan, repeatedly is “dochek et hasha’ah,” forces the moment, meaning that he acts impulsively without thinking through the long-term consequences.

Haman’s wife and wise men advise him to wait until morning before asking Achashverosh to kill Mordechai (Esther 5:14) hastily. However, Haman fails to restrain himself and approaches the palace that night (6:1-5), casting suspicion that he is plotting to kill Achashverosh.

Another example of Haman’s impulsivity is planning to destroy the Jewish people very soon after assuming the role of mishneh lamelech, second to the king. Wisdom dictates first settling into a new position before undertaking drastic action. Haman, God forbid, might have been much more successful had he waited a few more years before implementing his plan. Haman’s authority would have been far more respected both within the royal palace and throughout the empire had he waited a few years before he tried to eliminate us.

Yet another example of Haman’s hasty reactions appears in the seventh chapter of Megillat Esther. When Achashverosh becomes enraged upon Esther’s revelation that Haman wishes to annihilate her people, he steps outside to ease his anger. Haman, in turn, should have patiently waited until Achashverosh’s fury eased. Instead, Haman sabotages himself by impetuously falling on Esther’s bed to beg for his life. When Achashverosh reenters the palace after composing himself to discover Haman on Esther’s bed, his anger is reignited and amplified.

At this point, Charvona, one Achashverosh’s advisers, whom Haman/Memuchan enraged by speaking out of turn in Perek 1, seals Haman’s fate by showing Achashverosh the gallows upon which Haman wants to kill the man who saved the king’s life. Haman’s reckless reactions all come home to roost, and Achashverosh orders him to hang on those very gallows. How brilliant and insightful is Chazal’s identification of Memuchan with Haman!


Amalek’s Impulsive Attack

Amalek, from whom Haman stems (Megillah 13a), also typifies dochek et hasha’ah (rash) behavior. They are the only Canaanite nation that attacks us while we are yet in the Sinai desert. Amalek pays a steep price for their irresponsible behavior as Yehoshua weakened them in battle far from Amalek’s home base. Chazal (cited by Rashi to Devarim 25:18) describe Amalek as a wild and thoughtless nation recklessly jumping into a scalding bath. Haman sadly repeats Amalek’s impetuosity, only to succumb to defeat like his forbearers.


Conclusion: Eliminating Our Inner Amalek/Haman

The ba’alei mussar (rabbinic leaders who emphasize character refinement) teach that we must eliminate the physical Amalek and the untamed Amalek within ourselves. Shabbat Zachor is an opportunity to refine our character by extinguishing the reckless Memuchan/Haman/Amalek side of our personalities and entering Purim with a more sober disposition like Mordechai and Esther.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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