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The Unsung Hero of Purim

   Let's talk about heroes for a moment. Big ones, small ones, famous ones - we've all heard or know of one or two. Whether it's our parents, our teachers, (years ago, Presidents were considered an option!) or the mechanic who got the car door open after we locked the keys inside - again! Famous ones include Kings, generals, world leaders and innovators - David Hamelech when he beat Goliath, Matisyahu Kohen Gadol against the mighty Greeks and, Lehavdil, Alexander the Great, George Washington and a couple of guys named Edison and Bell (what would life be like without them?!). Undistinguished and unsung heroes are equally valuable, just not as, well, distinguished and sung! How about Yehudis the daughter of Yochanon Kohen Gadol who coaxed the Greek King Hegmon to sleep with some old cheese and wine, then cut off his head, averting a disaster and saving the day. And what do we do? We eat a little milchigs on Channukah! Talk about not being sung! And the commando Yonaton Netanyahu, brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, who lead the attack and ultimately gave his life, in the raid at Entebbe. A memorial plaque and a few documentaries is about all we have to commemorate this modern day martyr. Or my personal favorite, the hero who created pizza! And we don't even know his name!! Oh, and by the way, sports athletes and ballplayers are not heroes, no matter what the press says.

  There is one hero in Jewish history, though, who perplexes me for he is not even Jewish and most probably believed in Pagan gods, but was still considered worthy enough to be mentioned in Jewish liturgy, with a positive depictive image. For those with only a minor recollection, and all the rest of you who were too drunk to even make it to the end of Shoshanas Yaakov, Charvonah was a minister of King Achashverosh, who by a whimsical stroke of fate, happened to be in the right place at the right time. When Queen Esther revealed to the king the identity of the tormentor of her people, he exploded in anger. Minutes later, when Achashverosh catches this same evil man bent over his Queen's couch in a suggestive manner, his rage turns livid. Then, in the seconds between a royal Angina flare up and an inevitable heart-attack due to extremely high blood pressure, Charvonah steps in and utters the magic words, "Haman has built a gallows 50 amos in height in his yard to be used on Mordechai." (Actually, more like a magical sentence!) The king catches the implication and orders Haman to be hung on his very own gallows. Haman was hung and Charvonah enters the Jewish history books deemed a hero of sorts, who is to be remembered positively.

  But think about it. What was really so great or special about what Charvonah did? He didn't uncover any sinister plot or lead his army to victory, and like most men, he probably couldn't even win an argument with his wife! And he couldn't have been too intelligent if Achashverosh appointed him to his ministerial cabinet! Basically, all he did was state the obvious, "Haman has a gallows - use it on him!" Based on what we know of ancient political schemes and scenarios, Charvonah probably had some beef with haman and wanted to get rid of him anyway, and this was the perfect opportunity! He doesn't exactly come across as some knight in shining armor or good Samaritan. Let me put it to you this way, my younger son wants to be Mordechai this Purim, my daughter wants to be Queen Esther (surprise, surprise!), and even my older son has formed an exploratory commission to see the viability of dressing up as King Achashverosh (his agent will probably have final say, though!). But not even one of them even considered being Charvonah! Who knows what he even looked like?! So then, I ask you again, what exactly did Charvonah do to be considered worthy of honorable mention?

The answer, my friends, is very simple, and basically defines how a hero becomes just that. King Achashverosh, monarch of Persia, ruler over 127 provinces from Hodu until Cush (whatever your definition of that is), when all was said and done, was just an unintelligent, power-hungry boor, who couldn't possibly make any kind of definitive decision by himself, and once it was actually made, never really held himself to it if it did not serve his purposes. He basically relied on a motley crew of "advisors" and ministers, who, in comparison to modern day political pundits, would have gotten their leader impeached and removed from office! Money meant everything to the king and bribery, corruption and instability was a way of life. For example, in a fit of drunken exuberance, Achashverosh calls for his own queen, Vashti, to show off her beauty to his assembled guests. As the "tail" goes, she declines his command so he does the only thing he can think of - he asks his advisors what to do! In their "wisdom", they convince him to have her killed, he does, and soon after, he regrets what he did. Likewise, when Haman waved some money in his face, Achashverosh had no compunctions, whatsoever, of allowing him free reign to kill out an entire nation - even giving him his royal ring to seal the deal. But later, when Haman is dead and Esther requests to have the decree nullified, the fool that Achashverosh was, claims that he can't overrule his original decree. This guy straddled the proverbial "fence" so many times, he finally got his pants caught on it!

So we know that King Achashverosh had a short attention span and an anger that blew hot and cold, and all it took for him to change his mind was a little greased incentive and an offer that he couldn't refuse - if you know what I mean! Now, the usual thing to happen would be that when the King walks into his room and sees the person his wife, the queen, calls her "terrible enemy", bent over her, he tends to become enraged. He calls his guards and has the villain thrown into a dungeon. Normally, the guilty party would languish for some time, maybe even tortured for fun, and summarily executed. But this is Haman he's dealing with, who knows exactly what it would take to make his "esteemed" king see things the way he wants it to be. Hey, he did it once before and he knew that the "old dog" wasn't too interested in learning new tricks! Under normal circumstances, Haman would've probably been out of jail pursuing his agenda in no time flat, maybe a bit longer or more costly if the Queen's spell was unusually strong. This is bad news for the good guys! But wait, here comes Charvonah who just happens to be hanging around and witnesses the whole scene. Wittingly, or most likely not even, he fuels the king's ire by nonchalantly commenting on how ironic it is that Haman has his very own gallows in his backyard (some families have a swingset, Haman had a gallows!). Still fuming, the King seethes even further upon this bit of news and without even thinking - which is actually when he makes his best decisions - Achashverosh orders Haman to be hung in his own yard. "Poetic justice" might have been what he was thinking - had he only known what those words meant!

  So in truth, Charvonah really was a bonafide, if unsung, hero whose minor input and off-hand comment affected and actually turned the tide of history in a major way. If not for a simple act of fate - Hashem putting him in the right place at the right time - the miraculous story of Purim might never have occurred and we shudder to think of the consequences and what might have happened. So this year, even if you're at the Halachically authorized state where you cannot even tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman, at least keep in mind that Charvonah deserves honorable mention for he was the unsung hero of all unsung heroes, and a child in a "Charvonah costume" is the least we can do for him - if, of course, we knew what he looked like!


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