`122 A King Like Haman
Chananya Weissman
August 10, 2021

Among the many hints Chazal gave us about the end of days is a remarkable statement in Sanhedrin 97B:

אמר רב כלו כל הקיצין ואין הדבר תלוי אלא בתשובה ומעשים טובים ושמואל אמר דיו לאבל שיעמוד באבלו כתנאי ר' אליעזר אומר אם ישראל עושין תשובה נגאלין ואם לאו אין נגאלין אמר ליה רבי יהושע אם אין עושין תשובה אין נגאלין אלא הקב"ה מעמיד להן מלך שגזרותיו קשות כהמן וישראל עושין תשובה ומחזירן למוטב

Rav said, all the deadlines [for the ultimate redemption] have passed, and the matter only depends on repentance and good deeds. Shmuel said, it is enough for the mourner to stand with his mourning [it will happen either way]. This follows a dispute among the Tannaim. Rabbi Eliezer said, if the Jews repent they will be redeemed, and if not they will not be redeemed. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him, if they don't repent they will not be redeemed?! Rather, Hashem will establish for them a king whose decrees are harsh like Haman, and the Jews will repent and be returned to the good path.

Rabbi Yehoshua's statement is very puzzling. Why did he not simply say that Hashem would establish a king whose decrees are harsh, and the Jews would be driven to repent? What would have been lost from his teaching if he didn't liken this king to Haman, and what was gained with this comparison?

Furthermore, of all the villains Rabbi Yehoshua could have chosen as his example, why did he specifically choose Haman? Why not Pharaoh, Nevuchadnetzar, the Greeks, or the Romans? Chazal's every word is infused with the loftiest wisdom; surely Rabbi Yehoshua did not mention Haman at random.

The comparison is even more strange when we consider the other candidates. Unlike the many other wicked people who ruled over us, Haman didn't succeed in killing a single Jew, nor was he even the king! The king gave Haman carte blanche to pass decrees in his name, but Haman was still only a viceroy.

In addition, Haman decreed that everyone had to bow down to him (and the idol around his neck) when they encountered him. The overwhelming majority of people never encountered Haman, so for them the decree was moot. Those Jews who were unable to avoid Haman could comply and justify it according to the Torah. Aside from Mordechai, that is exactly what they did, and we don't see that they were criticized for bowing to Haman.

So, of all the archetypes for a king who would enact harsh decrees against the Jews, which would compel them to repent, and usher in the redemption, why Haman?

Rabbi Yehoshua is giving us a powerful insight into our times. Unlike many of our other enemies, Haman was not interested in subjugating or enslaving the Jewish people; he wanted them utterly destroyed. He came from Amalek, after all. Even though his initial decree seemed benign bow before a narcissistic ruler there was nothing benign about Haman and his decrees. Haman came from Amalek, and Amalek is not satisfied with money or power. Amalek wages war on God and seeks to destroy the Jewish people. The moment a single Jew ignored his decree with a public show of defiance, no less Haman had the pretext he needed to eradicate the entire Jewish people.

Rabbi Yehoshua informed us that the wicked ruler before the redemption would issue decrees like Haman. On the surface they would appear benign, and even justifiable according to the Torah. However, they would come with a little idol attached to them. The decrees would all have a deeper, more sinister purpose than mere submission to a powerful ruler. The ultimate plan would be annihilation of the Jewish people from young to old, God forbid.

As with Haman, most Jews will fail to realize that they are in any danger at all until it is almost too late. Instead of appreciating those who defy Haman, they will turn against their greatest heroes. They will readily collaborate with those who seek to destroy them!

However, the decrees will become increasingly harsh, until life is unbearable. Haman's true intentions will become clear to all but those who refuse to accept the stark truth. The Jews will be utterly helpless; no amount of preparing, or planning, or giving in, or negotiating will save them. Haman intends to destroy them, period, and he will not be defeated in physical ways. The Jews will be forced through desperation to turn to Hashem, to really turn to Hashem.

We don't know exactly when the redemption will come, but it must be near. Chazal are informing us that widespread, sincere repentance is a prerequisite for the redemption. One way or another, we must return to Hashem. If we do so willingly, the redemption can be pleasant. If not, we need Haman to motivate us.

Haman's decrees are bad enough, and they are getting worse by the hour. Unlike the actual Haman, they have already succeeded in killing many of us, and everyone is in danger. Our wicked rulers are barely concealing their hatred for us, and their idolatry is on full display. Bowing to them will not bring salvation, nor even long-term relief.

We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to be on the level of Mordechai. But we need to see the Hamans for who they are, stop collaborating with them, and turn to God as our only source of salvation.

It's clearly the time. If enough of us get the message and return to Hashem, we can count on Hashem to return to us.