Although Haman’s rise to power brought with it wealth and honor (see Esther 5:11), nevertheless, the Megilla records that Haman feels that none of it is worth anything to him, so long as he sees Mordekhai residing in the king’s court (see Esther 5:13).
What was it about Mordekhai that so disturbed Haman?
Rav Hisda explains, “Zeh ba be-perozebuli, ve-zeh ba be-perozeboti“- this one came with wealth, i.e. claiming that debts were owed to him, and the other one came with poverty, i.e. claims made against him. Rav Pappa concludes that the latter was called “a servant who was sold for bread.”
These statements refer to a well-known story that does not appear in the Talmud, but is mentioned in several midrashim. According to this story, prior to his appointment as adviser and confidant to the king, Haman was a barber and bath attendant. King Ahashverosh sent both Haman and Mordekhai to war as generals, responsible for different parts of the army. Haman was a poor administrator who spent his funds unwisely and could not feed or support his troops. Desperate, he turned to Mordekhai and was forced to sell himself into slavery, with Mordekhai becoming his master. Thus, Haman’s rise to power notwithstanding, Mordekhai’s position in the king’s court was a constant threat from which Haman was desperate to free himself.
The turning point in the story of the Megilla takes place when the king cannot sleep (see Esther 6:1) and calls for the reading of the book that chronicled palace events. A number of suggestions are put forward with regard to this episode of insomnia:
- Rava says that Ahashverosh could not sleep because he was concerned with Esther’s sudden interest in having Haman over to the palace on a regular basis – a concern echoed in the king’s angry response to seeing Haman on the couch with Esther in 7:8.
- Rabbi Tanhum teaches that the “king” who could not sleep was the Almighty, King of the world. In fact, many commentaries argue that references to ha-Melekh throughout the Megilla, are, in fact, hidden references to God, who is controlling events the entire time, albeit through a veil of secrecy.