Pride Goeth Before the Fall
Our Sages identify the Memuchan mentioned in the first chapter of the Megillah, which we read today, as Haman. He was, they say, muchan (prepared) for punishment.
What quality of Haman’s set him up for punishment? His pride. Our Sages discern that pride in the fact that despite being the last named of Ahashverosh’s advisors, Memuchan pushed himself forward and was the first to advise the King about what to do with his rebellious queen Vashti.
The entire Megillah can be read as one long object lesson in how ``a man’s pride will bring him low" (Proverbs 29:23). For his advice concerning Vashti, Haman was elevated above all Ahashverosh’s servants, and all were ordered to prostrate themselves before him. At first glance, then, his effrontery was rewarded with everything his proud heart could desire: honor, wealth, and power.
Yet, as the Midrash says, the One Who sits in the Heavens and laughs, raised Haman to be viceroy of a world empire only in order that his ultimate fall would be that much greater. Indeed his very elevation led to his downfall. He became so full of himself that the sight of even one Jew, Mordechai, not bowing down to him filled him with such rage that he determined to destroy the entire Jewish people. ``All this [wealth, fame, and power] is worth nothing," he declares, ``so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the King’s gate."
The two-day period in which Haman crashes commences when he enters the Achashverosh’s court early in the morning to ask for permission to hang Mordechai from a fifty-foot high scaffold. Achashverosh asks him what should be done for the man he wants to honor, and Haman naturally thinks to himself, ``Whom could the king wish to honor more than me?" When the one whom Achashverosh seeks to honor turns out to be Mordechai, Haman finds himself leading Mordechai, dressed in the king’s royal robe and riding the royal steed, around Shushan. Two days later, Haman is hung from the scaffold prepared for Mordechai, his demise a direct result of his own decision to destroy Mordechai and the entire Jewish people with him.
As the story of Haman demonstrates, G-d does not just destroy the arrogant. They are hoisted on a petard of their own devising, destroyed by their own pride.
We have just witnessed such a process in Israel with the brutal double humiliation of Ehud Barak. (Note to the Attorney-General, I am not comparing Barak and Haman, just the process by which pride trips up its possessors.) Less than two weeks after suffering the most humiliating defeat in Israeli political history, his own party stomped on his fallen body, sparing him no insult. ``Scram, get out of here, don’t come back," was the unmistakeable message. Even after Barak tendered his resignation letter as party chairman, former ally Chaim Ramon could not stop, publicly terming the letter the work of a base ``political hack."
Some of the viciousness directed at Barak no doubt tells us as much about his accusers as him, but his own arrogance was the primary reason that he found himself deserted in the end by everyone besides backbencher Weizman Shiri.
From his perpetual cheshire cat, know-it-all smile to the dozens of dramatic reversals taken without consultation, everything about Barak proclaimed his belief in his own powers. From the first, he encouraged the popular image of him as capable of doing anything. Peace with Syria, peace with the Palestinians – no problem, nothing more than setting a time table and watching the pieces fall into place.
When George Will termed Barak the most calamitous leader ever visited upon a democracy, he referred primarily to his willingness to risk the very existence of the state on the basis of untested hypotheses shared by no one else in the defense establishment. The final expression of overweaning pride was the willingness to conclude peace agreements on terms rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Knesset and the population. Consulting the vox populi, he seemed to believe, is only required of politicians who do not already know everything.
Yet even those of us who opposed almost all of the former prime minister’s policies cannot help but experience some pity for the way he was shunted off stage forever. In place of rejoicing, there is only sadness for so much talent and so much opportunity gone to waste.
Few of us will ever suffer the same public humiliation if only because we will not rise so high. But we are not immune to our own vanity nor exempt from the rule that pride inevitably brings in its wake the destruction of all that we hold most precious.
Just one more thing to think about this year as we wave our groggers at the mention of Haman’s name.