Anyone familiar with the basic Purim story knows that the primary enemy of the Jewish people was Haman. What may not be as well-known is that there are several other “lesser” villains who played pivotal roles.

One of the most interesting of these “minor” characters is Zeresh, Haman’s wife. According to the Midrash (Targum Esther 5:10), her father was Tattenai, mentioned in the Book of Ezra (2:3) as the Minister of Trans-Jordan who actively tried to halt the rebuilding of the Temple. Thus, these two embittered souls, enemies of the Jewish nation, were truly a match made in…you know where.

The Megillah describes an astounding relationship between Haman and Zeresh. Their relationship is one of the few instances in the Bible where one sees a wife actively being sought out for her advice. Not once, but twice, the text specifically states that Haman called for his friends and his wife to tell them of the things that had transpired (Esther 5:10 and 6:13). Indeed, one commentary on the book, Targum Esther (5:14), implies that it was Zeresh’s idea to build a gallows for Mordechai since it was the one type of execution that had yet to be used against the Jewish nation. When Haman agreed, “His wife Zeresh played musical instruments, rejoiced, and declared, ‘I will pay these workers well.'”

There’s an old saying: Behind every great man is a greater woman. In this case, behind an evil man was an even more evil woman. Since Zeresh remained behind the scenes (only an advisor), no great fanfare is made over her role. However, her wickedness cannot be forgotten and, in some communities, it is even customary to softly hiss when her name is read from the Megillah.
This Treat was last posted on February 18, 2010.

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