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Haman and Pharaoh

What was common to Haman and Pharaoh?

Let's first return to this often-quoted verse.

"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3)

Much has been written on this, focusing, for example on what happened to Germany after the war (split into two), to Britain when it started favouring the Arabs in the Middle East conflict (lost her Empire) and what happened to Poland when it kicked out the Jews in medieval times (didn't realise that they were actually running the country!) It's a controversial and debatable subject, but that doesn't mean we should discount it. More of this later on.

"For this is what the LORD Almighty says: "After he has honoured me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you - or whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye." (Zechariah 2:8)

The Jews, on account of their on-going relationship with God, have a certain standing before Him. There is a sense that crimes against Jews are, in fact, crimes against God. Here are a couple of Biblical examples to show what happened to two particular tyrants who did touch 'the apple of his eye'.

The first is the Pharaoh, King of Egypt at the time of the 'Exodus'. The Jews (or Israelites as they were then known) were there as forced labour. Pharaoh feared their numbers and doubted the loyalty of his immigrant workforce in times of war. The harder he worked them the greater their numbers became (where did they get their energy from?) and he decided to limit their size by killing all new-born boys. But, the Bible tells us, he missed one, Moses.

Despite witnessing countless miracles at the hands of God working through Moses, he refused the Israelites a termination of employment. In fact he made them work even harder. This action didn't exactly endear his people to Moses, whom they blamed for all this misfortune. But God had other plans and decided to show His power by visiting a series of plagues on the Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. Water was changed to blood, frogs hopped down from the sky and gnats were formed from dust. The Pharaoh's magicians had no trouble duplicating the first two, but the third one got them stumped and they advised their boss to stop his stubbornness and let the Israelites go. But would he listen? No! Then came clouds of flies, followed by a terrible plague on the livestock. But still the Pharaoh would not listen. Next came horrible boils. It seems that the magicians had these on their feet as we read that they couldn't even stand up in front of Moses. Then came the worst hailstorm ever witnessed, killing all who were exposed to it. This perturbed Pharaoh and he relented and the storm stopped. But, true to form he changed his mind and he got a plague of locusts for his trouble. They invaded the land and ate everything they could, like a school outing to McDonalds. But did he learn? No! So next, total darkness came over the land for three days. This seemed to be Pharaoh's last straw, but anger took hold of him and he refused to listen any more to Moses and sent him away.

The last plague was the worst, the death of every firstborn son in the land. The Israelites had to daub the blood of a lamb on their doorframes, for this plague to skip them or 'pass them over', from which we get the Passover festival. The Egyptians had had enough by now, despite their Pharaoh, and urged the Israelites to leave, even giving them parting gifts. This became the Exodus, the 'departure' of the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity.

Now you'd think that the Pharaoh would have bitten the bullet and put it all down to experience, and find some other unfortunates to press into service on his pyramids. But instead he jumped into his chariot and set off in pursuit of the Israelites, followed by every other chariot in Egypt, to 'head them off at the pass'. Our story ends with the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the whole Egyptian army, including the stubborn monarch.

Our second tyrant lived in Persia about 2,500 years ago. We read, in the Book of Esther, how King Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire got rid of his wife for answering him back once too often and, in her place, installed the lovely Esther as queen. Despite her craving for gefilte fish, he was unaware of her Jewish background. He was also unaware of the presence of her relative, Mordechai, whom she regularly visited, until Mordechai had a stroke of luck (or divine favour?) One day, he was just sitting on his favourite chair by the city gate minding his own business, when he accidentally overheard a plot to kill the King. Being a shrewd man, he figured that he could help himself if he handled the situation carefully and so he told the King and the plot was thwarted. In this way Mordechai gained favour with the King.

All seemed well for the moment, and the Jews of the day could sleep well at night ... but not for long, because this is when Haman came on the scene. A descendant of the ancient Amalekites, old enemies of the Israelites, he managed to worm his way through the ranks until he became the chief minister to the King, a sort of Home Secretary. Now this man was a severe ego-maniac who demanded that all court officials regularly kneel down to honour him. They all did this, except one, Mordechai. Mordechai, being a good Jew, refused to bow to any man as, according to the Law of Moses, this was idolatry. Haman was enraged at this and, on finding out that Mordechai was Jewish, tricked the King in ordering not just the death of Mordechai, but the death of every Jew in the kingdom! They then drew lots (they cast the 'pur', which is where we get the name Purim, the festival that commemorates these events), to find out on what day to execute this dastardly deed.

Thanks to the bravery of Esther, this plot was thwarted and Haman (and his ten sons) was hanged on the very gallows he had made especially for Mordechai. These gallows were 75 feet high which seems a little excessive to me. I thought Jews were meant to be stiff-necked, not long-necked! It seems that Haman wasn't the only one who hated the Jews as thousands of others were waiting for the edict to legally do away with the Jews. This edict never came, but the tables were turned and their own 'death warrants' were sent to the Jews, who cheerfully obliged by annihilating them.

Now Haman was a true anti-Semite. Why kill just the one Jew who crossed you when you've got the power to destroy the whole nation of them! This was to become the motif for true anti-Semites through history and Haman was to set the pattern for people such as Hitler in later years. Purim, for the Jews, is in fact the most joyous day in the Jewish calendar and Jews to this day commemorate the death of Haman by eating him, something that Jews are rather expert at (eating, that is, not eating people!). Little did this twisted man know that he would be remembered through the ages as a triangular pastry filled with poppy-seeds, called Hamantaschen.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation )

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