Ad d'Lo Yodah
Rabbah said: A person is obligated to celebrate on Purim until he can not distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai’.
A brief d’var torah from my pre-skeptical days:
The above statement from the Talmud, is usually taken to mean that one must become so intoxicated on Purim that he becomes confused between Haman - the evil villain in the story, and Mordechai - the hero.
There are many strange things about this law. There is no source quoted for this unprecedented requirement, which seems to defy the usual emphasis which chazal place on decorum and sobriety. And, the level of intoxication being described seems virtually impossible. If you searched out the drunkest Purim revelers you could find and put the question to them, they could probably still keep track of which character is good and which is bad.
A fascinating thing about the Purim story, is that although Haman is ranked among the most notorious villians in a long line of terrible oppressors, he, of all of them, probably has the best rational for his actions.
Think about it. Haman was a descendent from the last remaining member of the nation of Amalek – a people who were massacred down to the last man, woman and child by the Jews some 460 years earlier. But he had not only the vengeance of his people to motivate him. The Jews held that they were commanded by God to continue to hunt down and kill any living members of Amalek. So, one could reasonably argue that Haman had an understandable concern of self-defense.
Imagine if the story was told in reverse: Mordechai, the Jew, rises through the ranks to become the viceroy of the king. The evil Amalekites have moved to Persia and are growing in numbers and political strength. As they grow, their leaders begin to demonstrate outright distain for the Jews. In reaction to the growing threat to his people, and in concert with God’s explicit commandment, Mordechai engineers a plan to incite the king against the Amalekites, and have them murdered en mass. Haman, however, averts this plan through his nepotistic relationship with the queen (a secret Amalekite), through who’s influence, Mordechai is summarily executed (along with his family), and the Amalekites are given a free killing day to go seek revenge on whomever they see fit.
So was Haman evil? Was Mordechai a hero?
Sure. But it does depend a little on your point of view.
And, sometimes a little celebrating can help give us a glimpse at the other side of the story.