Haman's Empty Glass
Post-Purim Point - 5767
The Gemara in Chullin 139b asks, "Haman min hatorah minayin?", where is there a source for Haman, the villain of the Purim story, in the Torah, the five books of Moses. As an answer, it quotes Gen 3:11, in which God chastises Adam and Chava for eating from the tree of knowledge with the words "Hamin haetz hazeh...achaltah?", "was it from this tree... that you ate"? The word "hamin", "was it from", is spelled with the same Hebrew letters as "Haman", differing only in the vocalization.
What is this gemara teaching us? I used to think it was no more than an early example of "Purim Torah", a punning, nonsensical parody of a homily, as is still customary on Purim (see here e.g.). But a few years ago I heard a very meaningful interpretation of this gemara from our shul Rav, which, in brief, was as follows.
What was the paradigmatic failing of humanity, as shown in the story of Gan Eden? Adam and Chava were not just ordered to avoid the one special tree, not only given a command in the negative. They were also told to enjoy every other tree in the garden. Yet with countless other varieties of fruit to sample, they simply couldn't abide that one single restriction, and ate from the forbidden tree. Their basic flaw was a lack of hakaras hatov, of recognition and appreciation for all their blessings. Rather, they chose only to regret their single desire that lacked fulfillment.
And this is the precise key flaw in Haman's character. We are told that the entire nation bowed before him, all except for a lone individual, Mordechai. But instead of enjoying all of his vast glory and acclaim, Haman fixated on that one small exception, and focused all his efforts on destroying Mordechai and his people. In Haman's own words, "kol zeh eynenu shoveh lee", none of the good stuff matters at all to me, because Mordechai's very existence ruins everything! Haman's glass was not only half-full, but 99.9999% full, yet he cared only about the missing .0001%.
Thus far was our Rabbi's drasha. But it occurred to me that this same concept can also be applied to the other Biblical word that is cognate with Haman's name; namely, "haMun", the manna which the Jewish nation ate in the desert.
How so? The midrash tells us that the manna had the miraculous property that it could taste like whatever the eater desired. If this is the case, then why in Num 11:5, does the nation complain about not having certain foods that they used to eat in Egypt; leeks, cucumbers, etc.? Why couldn't they just make the manna taste like the foods they missed? R. Shimon, in the Sifri, answers that the manna didn't imitate those particular foods because of certain harmful qualities of each.
Be that as may, once again we see the characteristic of negativity, of ignoring a majority of good because of a minority of bad! The Jews had a wondrous, literally heavenly bread, one that could taste like nearly everything they could dream of. Yet all they could do was complain about the few tastes it wouldn't emulate.
As our calendar moves from joy to joy, from Purim to Pesach, I resolve to work on appreciating all that God has given me, all the numerous blessings he has allowed me to have. And I'll try - at least some of the time - not to think only of the blessings that I've missed.