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It's Hard to be Humble

by Tim O'Hearn

King Ahasuerus had insomnia. That day one of his wives, Esther, had invited him and one of his most trusted advisors to a banquet. Not a big banquet; just a private party for the three of them. Maybe that was why he couldn’t sleep. He could not figure out what she wanted with just the two of them. Like many who can’t sleep, he decided to read something really boring. And what could be more boring than government documents? To make it even more boring, he had someone else read him the daily diary of events in the palace. Imagine listening to some minor clerk reading a list of goods brought in through the king’s gate, what the king ate for dinner, and who ate with him. King Ahasuerus must have been on the verge of sleep when the clerk read that one Mordechai, who sat daily at the king’s gate, had reported a plot against the king’s life.

“I remember that,” said King A. “What reward does it say we gave him?”

When the clerk looked through the log he could find nothing more. The king was awake again. What to do; what to do? Might as well use this time to come up with some appropriate reward. But lack of sleep dulls the brain. Maybe somebody else could think of something. (Obviously someone other than the clerk, who might have been invisible to the king.) But who else, of standing, would be awake at this hour? Did somebody happen to come early for an audience? Who was waiting in the court?

Evil deeds keep evil hours. The one man in the court was “he who shall remain nameless” (henceforth to be called “Hwsrn”). (No, not Voldemort. The original nameless one—the one whose name is obliterated with noisemakers during the Purim reading. If I must say it, I must—it was Haman.) "Hwsrn" was also thinking about Mordechai. But he had no intention of reward. He wanted the king’s permission to hang Mordechai on a gallows he had specially constructed for that purpose. So when he was called before the king, what could fit his plans more perfectly? (In truth, not this.)

"Hwsrn" was barely through the door when King Ahasuerus asked, “What shall be done for the one I want to honor?” Not exactly what "Hwsrn" expected to hear. But of whom could the king be speaking except him? There is a little problem with excessive pride; it can be blinding. If everything is about me, then everyone around me must be thinking only of me. As Mac Davis sang, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” The problem is, nobody’s perfect. (Although some of us are more nearly so than everyone else.)

Since "Hwsrn" thought the king must be planning to honor him, of course he came up with the best plan for honoring a man. Dress the man in the king’s garments, put him on the king’s horse, and (most importantly) let one of the most noble princes act as herald before the man.

Sure it was lack of sleep affecting him. "Hwsrn" thought he heard the king designate him as the noble prince. Not the honoree, but the herald? Surely this was wrong. Who was the honoree? Surely not Mordechai, the hated one! But it was so.

How humiliating! To go before your enemy and proclaim, “See how the king rewards those who deserve it.” The roles should be reversed.

Why is it that some people can be shown a lesson and never get it? Haman (oops! Sorry, that slipped) would not learn humility, even if you beat it into his head with a cricket bat. Overweening pride can do that. Besides blinding you to those around you, it prevents learning. Even when being hanged on his own gallows, "Hwsrn" must have been thinking how wrong it was that one as great as he should be subjected to such humiliation. Humiliation and humility are two different things, but sometimes they may be two sides of one coin. Which side is yours just depends on your attitude. Haman or hangman?
(Based on Esther 6.)
(Purim is March 4th in 2007.)