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The Legends of the Jews Volume IV Part 24

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Haman: "There be many royal gates; I know not which thou meanest."

Ahasuerus: "The gate that leads from the harem to the palace."

Haman: "This man is my enemy and the enemy of my house.

Rather would I give him ten thousand talents of silver than do him this honor."

Ahasuerus: "Ten thousand talents of silver shall be given him, and he shall be made lord over thy house, but these honors must thou show unto him."

Haman: "I have ten sons. I would rather have them run before his horse than do him this honor."

Ahasuerus: "Thou, thy sons, and thy wife shall be slaves to Mordecai, but these honors must thou show unto him."

Haman: "O my lord and king, Mordecai is a common man.

Appoint him to be ruler over a city, or, if thou wilt, even over a district, rather than I should do him this honor."

Ahasuerus: "I will appoint him ruler over cities and districts. All the kings on land and on water shall pay him obedience, but these honors must thou show unto him."

Haman: "Rather have coins struck bearing thy name together with his, instead of mine as. .h.i.therto, than I should do him this honor."

Ahasuerus: "The man who saved the life of the king deserves to have his name put on the coin of the realm. Nevertheless, these honors must thou show unto him."

Haman: "Edicts and writings have been issued to all parts of the kingdom, commanding that the nation to which Mordecai belongs shall be destroyed. Recall them rather than I should do him this honor."

Ahasuerus: "The edicts and writings shall be recalled, yet these honors must thou show unto Mordecai."

Seeing that all pet.i.tions and entreaties were ineffectual, and Ahasuerus insisted upon the execution of his order, Haman went to the royal treasure chambers, walking with his head bowed like a mourner's, his ears hanging down, his eyes dim, his mouth screwed up, his heart hardened, his bowels cut in pieces, his loins weakened, and his knees knocking against each other. (169) He gathered together the royal insignia, and took them to Mordecai, accompanied on his way by Harbonah and Abzur, who, at the order of the king, were to take heed whether Haman carried out his wishes to the letter.

When Mordecai saw his enemy approach, he thought his last moment had come. He urged his pupils to flee, that they might not "burn themselves with his coals." But they refused, saying: "In life as in death we desire to be with thee." The few moments left him, as he thought, Mordecai spent in devotion. With words of prayer on his lips he desired to pa.s.s away. Haman, therefore, had to address himself to the pupils of Mordecai: "What was the last subject taught you by your teacher Mordecai?" They told him they had been discussing the law of the 'Omer, the sacrifice brought on that very day so long as the Temple had stood. At his request, they described some of the details of the ceremony in the Temple connected with the offering. He exclaimed: "Happy are you that your ten farthings, with which you bought the wheat for the 'Omer, produced a better effect than my ten thousand talents of silver, which I offered unto the king for the destruction of the Jews."

Meantime Mordecai had finished his prayer. Haman stepped up to him, and said: "Arise, thou pious son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thy sackcloth and ashes availed more than my ten thousand talents of silver, which I promised unto the king. They were not accepted, but thy prayers were accepted by thy Father in heaven."

Mordecai, not yet disabused of the notion that Haman had come to take him to the cross, requested the grace of a few minutes for his last meal. Only Haman's repeated protests a.s.sured him. When Haman set about arraying him with the royal apparel, Mordecai refused to put it on until he had bathed, and had dressed his hair.

Royal apparel agreed but ill with his condition after three days of sackcloth and ashes. As luck would have it, Esther had issued the command that the bathkeepers and barbers were not to ply their trades on that day, and there was nothing for Haman to do but perform the menial services Mordecai required. Haman tried to play upon the feelings of Mordecai. Fetching a deep sigh, he said: "The greatest in the king's realm is now acting as bathkeeper and barber!" Mordecai, however, did not permit himself to be imposed upon. He knew Haman's origin too well to be deceived; he remembered his father, who had been bathkeeper and barber in a village.

Haman's humiliation was not yet complete. Mordecai, exhausted by his three days' fast, was too weak to mount his horse unaided.

Haman had to serve him as footstool, and Mordecai took the opportunity to give him a kick. Haman reminded him of the Scriptural verse: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown." Mordecai, however, refused to apply it to himself, for he was chastising, not a personal enemy, but the enemy of his people, and of such it is said in the Scriptures: "And thou shalt tread upon the high places of thine enemies." (170)

Finally, Haman caused Mordecai to ride through the streets of the city, and proclaimed before him: "Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor." In front of them marched twenty-seven thousand youths detailed for this service from the court. In their right hands they bore golden cups, and golden beakers in their left hands, and they, too, proclaimed: "Thus shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor." The procession furthermore was swelled by the presence of Jews.

They, however, made a proclamation of different tenor. "Thus shall be done," they cried out, "unto the man whose honor is desired by the King that hath created heaven and earth." (171)

As he rode along, Mordecai gave praise to G.o.d: "I will extol Thee, O Lord; for Thou hast raised me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Lord my G.o.d, I cried unto Thee, and Thou hast healed me. O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit."

Whereupon his pupils joined in with: "Sing praise unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment; in His favor is life; weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." Haman added the verse thereto: "As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Lord, of Thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide Thy face; I was troubled." Queen Esther continued: "I cried to Thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth?" and the whole concourse of Jews present cried out: "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O Lord my G.o.d, I will give thanks unto Thee forever." (172)

When this procession pa.s.sed the house of Haman, his daughter was looking out of the window. She took the man on the horse to be her father, and the leader of it, Mordecai. Raising a vessel filled with offal, she emptied it out over the leader her own father.

Scarce had the vessel left her hand, when she realized the truth, and she threw herself from the window, and lay crushed to death on the street below. (173)

In spite of the sudden change in his fortunes, Mordecai ended the eventful day as he had begun it, in prayer and fasting. No sooner was the procession over than he put off the royal robes, and, again covering himself with sackcloth, he prayed until night fell.

Haman was plunged in mourning, partly on account of the deep disgrace to which he had been subjected, partly on account of the death of his daughter. (174) Neither his wife nor his friends could advise him how to mend his sad fortunes. They could hold out only sorry consolation to him: "If this Mordecai is of the seed of the saints, thou wilt not be able to prevail against him. Thou wilt surely encounter the same fate as the kings in their battle with Abraham, and Abimelech in his quarrel with Isaac. As Jacob was victorious over the angel with whom he wrestled, and Moses and Aaron caused the drowning of Pharaoh and his host, so Mordecai will overcome thee in the end." (175)

While they were yet talking, the king's chamberlains came, and hastily carried Haman off to the banquet Esther had prepared, to prevent him and his influential sons from plotting against the king.

(176) Ahasuerus repeated his promise, to give Esther whatever she desired, always expecting the restoration of the Temple. This time, casting her eyes heavenward, Esther replied: "If I have found favor in thy sight, O Supreme King, and if it please Thee, O King of the world, let my life be given me, and let my people be rescued out of the hands of its enemy." (177) Ahasuerus, thinking these words were addressed to him, asked in irritation: "Who is he, and where is he, this presumptuous conspirator, who thought to do thus?"

These were the first words the king had ever spoken to Esther herself. Hitherto he had always communicated with her through an interpreter. He had not been quite satisfied she was worthy enough to be addressed by the king. Now made cognizant of the fact that she was a Jewess, and of royal descent besides, he spoke to her directly, without the intervention of others. (178)

Esther stretched forth her hand to indicate the man who had sought to take her life, as he had actually taken Vashti's, but in the excitement of the moment, she pointed to the king. Fortunately the king did not observe her error, because an angel guided her hand instantaneously in the direction of Haman, (179) whom her words described: "This is the adversary and the enemy, he who desired to murder thee in thy sleeping-chamber during the night just pa.s.sed; he who this very day desired to array himself in the royal apparel, ride upon thy horse, and wear they golden crown upon his head, to rise up against thee and deprive thee of thy sovereignty. But G.o.d set his undertaking at naught, and the honors he sought for himself, fell to the share of my uncle Mordecai, who this oppressor and enemy thought to hang." (180)

The anger of the king already burnt so fiercely that he hinted to Esther, that whether Haman was the adversary she had in mind or not, she was to designate him as such. To infuriate him still more, G.o.d sent ten angels in the guise of Haman's ten sons, to fell down the trees in the royal park. When Ahasuerus turned his eyes toward the interior of the park, he saw the ruthless destruction of which they were guilty. In his rage he went out into the garden. This was the instant utilized by Haman to implore grace for himself from Esther. Gabriel intervened, and threw Haman upon the couch in a posture as though he were about to do violence to the queen. At that moment Ahasuerus reappeared. Enraged beyond description by what he saw, he cried out: "Haman attempts the honor of the queen in my very presence! Come, then, ye peoples, nations, and races, and p.r.o.nounce judgment over him!" (181)

When Harbonah, originally a friend of Haman and an adversary of Mordecai, heard the king's angry exclamation, he said to him: "Nor is this the only crime committed by Haman against thee, for he was an accomplice of the conspirators Bigthan and Teresh, and his enmity to Mordecai dates back to the time when Mordecai uncovered their foul plots. Out of revenge therefor, he has erected a cross for him." Harbonah's words ill.u.s.trate the saying: "Once the ox has been cast to the ground, slaughtering knives can readily be found." Knowing that Haman had fallen from his high estate, Harbonah was intent upon winning the friends.h.i.+p of Mordecai.

(182) Harbonah was altogether right, for Ahasuerus at once ordered Haman to be hanged. Mordecai was charged with the execution of the king's order, and Haman's tears and entreaties did not in the least move him. He insisted upon hanging him like the commonest of criminals, instead of executing him with the sword, the mode of punishment applied to men of rank guilty of serious misdemeanors. (183)

The cross which Haman, at the advice of his wife Zeresh and of his friends, had erected for Mordecai, was now used for himself. It was made of wood from a thorn-bush. G.o.d called all the trees together and inquired which one would permit the cross for Haman to be made of it. The fig-tree said: "I am ready to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel, and, also, my fruits were brought to the Temple as firstfruits." The vine said: "I am ready to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel and, also, my wine is brought to the altar." The apple-tree said: "I am ready to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel."

The nut-tree said: "I am ready to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel." The Etrog tree said: "I should have the privilege, for with my fruit Israel praises G.o.d on Sukkot." The willow of the brook said: "I desire to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel." The cedar-tree said: "I desire to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel." The palm-tree said: "I desire to serve, for I am symbolic of Israel." Finally the thorn-bush came and said: "I am fitted to do this service, for the unG.o.dly are like p.r.i.c.king thorns." The offer of the thorn-bush was accepted, after G.o.d gave a blessing to each of the other trees for its willingness to serve.

A sufficiently long beam cut from a thorn-bush could be found only in the house of Haman, which had to be demolished in order to obtain it. (184) The cross was tall enough for Haman and his ten sons to be hanged upon it. It was planted three cubits deep in the ground, each of the victims required three cubits s.p.a.ce in length, one cubit s.p.a.ce was left vacant between the feet of the one above and the head of the one below, and the youngest son, Vaizatha, had his feet four cubits from the ground as he hung. (185)

Haman and his ten sons remained suspended a long time, to the vexation of those who considered it a violation of the Biblical prohibition in Deuteronomy, not to leave a human body hanging upon a tree overnight. Esther pointed to a precedent, the descendants of Saul, whom the Gibeonites left hanging half a year, whereby the name of G.o.d was sanctified, for whenever the pilgrims beheld them, they told the heathen, that the men had been hanged because their father Saul had laid hand on the Gibeonites.

"How much more, then," continued Esther, "are we justified in permitting Haman and his family to hang, they who desired to destroy the house of Israel?" (186)

Beside these ten sons, who had been governors in various provinces, Haman had twenty others, ten of whom died, and the other ten of whom were reduced to beggary. (187) The vast fortune of which Haman died possessed was divided in three parts. The first part was given to Mordecai and Esther, the second to the students of the Torah, and the third was applied to the restoration of the Temple. (188) Mordecai thus became a wealthy man. He was also set up as king of the Jews. As such he had coins struck, which bore the figure of Esther on the obverse, and his own figure on the reverse. (189) However, in the measure in which Mordecai gained in worldly power and consideration, he lost spiritually, because the business connected with his high political station left him no time for the study of the Torah. Previously he had ranked sixth among the eminent scholars of Israel, he now dropped to the seventh place among them. (190) Ahasuerus, on the other hand, was the gainer by the change. As soon as Mordecai entered upon the office of grand chancellor, he succeeded in subjecting to his sway the provinces that had revolted on account of Vashti's execution. (191)

THE EDICT OF THE KING

The edict issued against the Jews was revoked by Ahasuerus in the following terms:

"King Ahasuerus sends this letter to all the inhabitants of water and earth, to all the rulers of districts, and to generals of the army, who dwell in every country; may your peace be great! I write this to you to inform you, that although I rule over many nations, over the inhabitants of land and sea, yet I am not proud of my power, but will rather walk in lowliness and meekness of spirit all my days, in order to provide for you great peace. Unto all who dwell under my dominion, unto all who seek to carry on business on land or on sea, unto all who desire to export goods from one nation to the other, from one people to the other unto them all, I am the same, from one end of the earth to the other, and none may seek to cause excitement on land or on sea, or enmities between one nation and another, between one people and another. I write this, because in spite of our sincerity and honesty with which we love all the nations, revere all the rulers, and do good to all the potentates, there are nevertheless people who were near to the king, and into whose hand the government was entrusted, who by their intrigues and falsehoods misled the king, and wrote letters which are not right before heaven, which are evil before men, and harmful for the empire. This was the pet.i.tion they requested from the king: that righteous men should be killed, and most innocent blood be shed, of those who have not done any evil, nor were guilty of death such righteous people as Esther, celebrated for all virtues, and Mordecai, wise in every branch of wisdom, there is no blemish to be found in them nor in their nation. I thought that I was requested concerning another nation, and did not know it was concerning the Jews, who were called the Children of the Lord of All, who created heaven and earth, and who led them and their fathers through great and mighty empires. And now as he, Haman, the son of Hammedatha, from Judea, a descendant of Amalek, who came to us and enjoyed much kindness, praise, and dignity from us, whom we made great, and called 'father of the king,' and seated him at the right of the king, did not know how to appreciate the dignity, and how to conduct the affairs of state, but harbored thoughts to kill the king and take away his kingdom, therefore we ordered the son of Hammedatha to be hanged, and all that he desired we have brought upon his head; and the Creator of heaven and earth brought his machinations upon his head." (192)

As a memorial of the wonderful deliverance from the hands of Haman, the Jews of Shushan celebrated the day their arch-enemy had appointed for their extermination, and their example was followed by the Jews of the other cities of the Persian empire, and by those of other countries. Yet the sages, when besought by Esther, refused at first to make it a festival for all times, lest the hatred of the heathen be excited against the Jews. They yielded only after Esther had pointed out to them that the events on which the holiday was based, were perpetuated in the annals of the kings of Persia and Media, and thus the outside world would not be able to misinterpret the joy of the Jews.

Esther addressed another pet.i.tion to the sages. She begged that the book containing her history should be incorporated in the Holy Scriptures. Because they shrank from adding anything to the triple Canon, consisting of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa, they again refused, and again they had to yield to Esther's argument. She quoted the words from Exodus, "Write this for a memorial in a book," spoken by Moses to Joshua, after the battle of Rephidim with the Amalekites. They saw that it was the will of G.o.d to immortalize the warfare waged with the Amalekite Haman.

Nor is the Book of Esther an ordinary history. Without aid of the holy spirit, it could not have been composed, and therefore its canonization resolved upon "below" was endorsed "above." (193) And as the Book of Esther became an integral and indestructible part of the Holy Scriptures, so the Feast of Purim will be celebrated forever, now and in the future world, and Esther herself by her pious deeds acquired a good name both in this world and in the world to come. (194)

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