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Yosef Silfen
A young man hoping to fix his flaws

A Lesson From Haman

In chapter 3 of Megillat Esther, King Achashverosh appoints Haman chief advisor to the king. Following Haman’s promotion, King Achashverosh established a new law. Whomever spots Haman in the palace gate, must kneel and bow down before him. However, day after day, one man named Mordechai, walked past Haman without kneeling nor bowing down to Haman.

Upon noticing Mordechai’s refusal to kneel or bow down before him, Haman became extremely enraged. In fact, Haman decided it would not be enough to kill Mordecai alone for his disrespect, but to kill every member of Mordechai’s nation.

The Haman Mordechai saga continued on in chapter 5 of Megliat Esther. Following Queen Esther’s party, Haman walked around the palace courtyard super happy and merry. But suddenly, Haman spotted Mordechai there. Guess what. Mordchai once again refused to bow or kneel. Angry beyond belief, Haman controlled himself and ran home.

Once home, Haman gathered his friends and family together to discuss his fortune. “I am a rich man who owns tons of property. I have been able to father many sons. Today, I was the only person invited to come party with the king and queen. But all of this is nothing to me, every time I see Mordechai the Jew, and he does not bow or kneel to me.”

Growing up, many people read this episode and think, what’s Haman’s deal? Why does he care so much about Mordecai not bowing or kneeling to him. 99 percent of the population bows and kneels to Haman, but because of one person’s refusal, he takes all his other blessings for granted? In the words of Cris Cater from Monday Night countdowns, CMON MAN? Upon reflection, two life experiences have inspired me to understand Haman’s reaction with a brand new perspective.

The first life expierence occurred during my senior year of YU. At the time, my friends were getting engaged left and right. This vort, that wedding, wild times. Anyway, around December time, I attended a co-ed shabbat meal in Washington Heights. At the meal, I heard someone deliver a remarkable dvar Torah. Impressed by the Torah Idea, I went over to her and sparked a conversation. Long story short, we started to go out later that week.

A few weeks into the relationship, she alerted me about her upcoming trip to Israel for winter break. “I think we should take a break while I’m on winter vacation. I just wanna think this over while I’m there. Besides, staying in touch thing is tough with the time difference. Can we revaluate when I come back in two weeks.” Understanding the unique circumstance, I agreed to go on this two week dating break.

The next day, I relayed what happened to my rabbi. In response, Rabbi W put one arm around my shoulder. “Yosef, I think you should move on. It’s probably over.” Surprised by this response, I raised my eyebrows higher than a New York city traffic light traffic light. “But rabbi, we have a good thing going on. I’m telling you, in two weeks from now, we’ll pick up where we left off.” After two weeks, she returned to New York. Long story short, she did not want to continue dating me. At the time, I knew there were other fish in the sea, and that everything happens for a reason. But in that moment, I wanted that fish. Nobody else could replace her.

The second life experience occurred in the fall of 2020. At the time, I applied to several of New York/New Jersey’s clinical psychology doctorate programs. Around spring time, only two programs offered me an interview. One school in DC, and a New York school. This New York school represented my dream site for graduate education. It held a long reputation for building up well-trained psychologists and provided time off for the Jewish holidays.

During one of my interviews at this school, a tenured faculty member asked me several semi- structed question. To close the interview, he ended with an unforgettable line. “You seem like a nice guy, you just don’t have enough experience.”

Two weeks later, I received a rejection email from this graduate school. For the first time in years, I had no future. No direction. Some people recommended applying to other schools that were easier to get into. But at the time, I only wanted to go to that New York graduate school. No other graduate school could substitute for it.

Like Haman, I tasted rejection and viewed the world from a black and white perspective. Either this girl, or nobody. Either this graduate school, or nowhere. My way or the highway.

However, unlike Haman, I sought a different avenue for handling rejection. Two weeks after the breakup, I started going for therapy at the YU counseling center. In therapy, Dr. A and I worked to rebuild my self-esteem and accept the fact winter-break girl didn’t want to continue dating me.

After Pesach, I decided to beef up my graduate school application. In the summer, I landed a research assistant job to gain lab experience. Over the summer and fall, I studied daily for the GRE, a standardized test for graduate school, and improved my score. In fall of 2022, I reapplied to graduate school programs and received admission for Touro’s first ever clinical psychology program.

In life, there are only three guarantees: death, taxes, and rejection. The dream job you’ve fantasized about getting since childhood may not take you. The girl on your block whom you’ve wanted to ask out since middle school, may not give you a chance. Whatever happens, don’t fall for the Haman trap. Things can always turn around and change for the better. In the word’s of Bill Dwithers famous song Lean on Me, There’s always tomorrow.” Never give up hope.

During a memorable schmooze, one YU Rosh Yeshiva taught me an unforgettable lesson about not giving up. “Everything in Judaism you learn, you must practice. That makes sense. You learn in order to practice. Well, everything, except one thing.” All of a sudden, the bearded six foot tall man paused and glanced into my hazel eyes. “Yeush—Hebrew word for giving up. You can learn about it but you cannot practice it.”

The rabbi walked closer to me. “I don’t care if another five girls in a row say no. I don’t care if another graduate school says no. Never gives up hope.”

To quote Marvin Gaye. “Ain’t no mountain High Enough.”

To quote Rocky Balboa. It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and get back up.

To quote Rabbi Neil Fleishman in the name of Rebbe Nachman. “There’s nothing more whole than a broken heart.”

About the Author
From the suburbs of North Jersey, hails 24-year-old Yosef Silfen. As an undergraduate, Yosef studied English and Talmud at New York’s Yeshiva University. Following his May 2020 zoom graduation, Yosef taught English at Breuers High School and Judaic studies to the special ed students of Makor College Experience. Long term, Yosef hopes to enter a psychology doctoral program and become a clinical psychologist. In print, Yosef has published several op-eds for the Times of Israel and The Jewish Link of New Jersey. If you want to check out his spunky writing style, search up Zach Pollack, One in a Billon. Beautiful not Pretty: The Inspiring Bracha Etzion. During free time, Yosef likes to swim the breath stroke, perform amateur improv, study Torah, and visit his nearby grandparents. His favorite books are Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albon and A Tzadik in our Time, by Simcha Raz. His favorite movie quote is. “You got a lot of stuff kid” (Doc Hudson from Cars).