The Gemara in Masekhet Megilla (15a-b) relates that years before Haman’s rise to the position of vizier of the Persian Empire, he was destitute. In order to save himself from starvation, he sold himself to Mordekhai – who would later become his nemesis – as his servant, in exchange for simple loaves of bread.
Rav Yechezkel Shraga Weinfeld (Ha-chodesh Asher Nehepakh, pp. 55-56) notes the significance of Haman’s humble beginnings, his having been an impoverished pauper forced to sell himself as a servant. Haman is portrayed by the Megilla as a man of extraordinary confidence and ambition. Even when he reached the point where the king ordered all his subjects to prostrate before him, Haman found it unacceptable – and utterly intolerable – that a single individual disobeyed. Haman refused to settle for anything less than 100 percent compliance with the king’s order that he be shown reverence. Later, when Achashveirosh asked Haman to advise him how to bestow honor upon someone whom he wished to reward, Haman immediately assumed that the king was talking about him: “Haman said to himself, ‘To whom would the king desire to give honor more than me?’” (6:6). And his response to the king reveals just how high his aspirations were – advising the king to have the person paraded through the city in the king’s chariot, wearing the king’s clothing. Despite his humble beginnings, Haman did not feel limited in any way. Although he had once been a lowly slave, he had complete confidence in himself, dreamt of the highest levels of glory and prestige, and never doubted his ability to realize these dreams to their very fullest.
Rav Weinfeld suggested that this aspect of Haman’s character might serve as an instructive model for us. His confident, relentless pursuit of wealth and prestige despite his humble past should perhaps motivate and encourage us to pursue greatness regardless of our past. Just as Haman did not see his prior experiences as an impediment to the realization of his dreams of fame and glory, we, too, should not see our prior experiences as an impediment to our attainment of spiritual greatness. Regardless of our humble beginnings, we should pursue excellence with the same confidence and ambition with which Haman pursued fame. And just as Haman was not satisfied with anything less than the highest peaks of glory, we, too, should strive for the highest levels of achievement, without settling for anything less. Additionally, Rav Weinfeld concludes, just as Haman brazenly set out to destroy the entire Jewish Nation, “from young to old, children and women,” so should each of us aspire to uplift our entire nation, firmly and confidently believing in our ability to contribute and make a significant impact.
In the spirit of “ve-nahafokh hu” – the theme of opposites, which features prominently in the Purim celebration – we should look to Haman, ironically enough, as a great source of motivation and inspiration to trust our capabilities, to dream, to aspire, to set for ourselves lofty and ambitious goals, and to unflinchingly pursue them, without allowing our past mistakes and failures to deter us.