Updated: Mar 17
Zeresh is mentioned twice in Megillat Esther. As Haman's wife, it is written in the Midrash that she was his closest advisor. According to Midrash, Zeresh was the person who advised Haman as to the nature of the gallows in which to hang Mordechai. She also told Haman that he ultimately would not defeat Mordechai. She was wise and powerful within her own household and she was brutally honest. It is clear from the simple text that Haman depended upon his wife for his standing in the court of the king and in trying to defeat Mordechai and the Jews. I can imagine the questions that Haman asked, perhaps as a man who portrayed confidence outwardly, but inwardly was unsure of himself.
The text of the Megilla never mentions Zeresh after Haman and his ten sons are hung from the gallows she recommended. However much she wished social status and however uncaring she was for Mordechai and the Jewish people, it is hard to imagine her as a mother who lost ten sons and a husband who her depended upon her every word.
I write this small piece not because I feel sympathy for Zeresh, but I do want to portray Haman as weak and self centered and I wish to give Zeresh a persona for a few moments during this holiday that we hiss softly at the mention of her name.*
Please do read the Midrash taken from The Jewish Women's Archive following the story/poem.
Zeresh glanced down at the fine carpet on the floor, at the brass vases, the tapestries on the walls, but everywhere she looked were the objects belonging her children. Balls of twine, small sticks, toy soldiers of wood, marbles and small sacks of stones hidden in corners. By the entrance to her house were eleven pairs of shoes; some placed neatly, others stacked, yet others covered with mud. Ten sons and one daughter.
Zeresh waited at the door. The day has been long. She picks up her hennaed head and readies herself to answer the questions her husband asks each day. She prepares her brightest smile, steadies her voice for the questions she knows to expect. For doesn't he ask them each and every day?
There are questions at the front door as he leaves in the morning, questions when he returns home at night, questions in the bedroom, questions over morning tea and during his sleepless night. His questions and his uncertainties never cease.
"How do I look?"
"What should I say?"
"This or that?"
"Do you like this approach?"
"Maybe this one is better?"
" What would the king say?"
"Zeresh, tell me your ideas."
"What should I do?"
"He'll never listen to me!"
"Tell me, Zeresh!"
at the mention of Zeresh's name.
Ten sons to raise, a daughter to marry, a household to manage, a kitchen to run,
dignitaries to entertain, a social ladder to climb, and a husband who cannot complete
a thought, a plan, a scheme without her words in his ear.
"Zeresh, what shall I do?"
"I want to be at the top."
"How do I get there?"
"I can't do it for he stands in my way!"
"I hate him!"
"Tell me what to do for
it is only your opinion I trust."
"Zeresh, I cannot do it...
not without you!"
There is no room in the drawing room of the king for Zeresh.
A woman’s advice does not ring through the halls of power,
but within the walls of her home she is heard.
Her voice as clear and cold as ice.
He will climb,
for she is ruthless.
He will push and deceive
to reach the halls of the king;
Each step a step she has marked.
Each word put there by her.
She is in his ear.
Over and over again.
Fragments of Zeresh's advice now hang from a tree.
Dreams of glory and recognition are dust.
Words of advice come back to bite her.
Haman hangs from a tree.
Her ten sons hang by his side.
Zeresh watches from afar,
Her words are silenced.
There is no ear to listen.
There is no talk,
Silence echoes from the walls.
The tapestries mock her.
There are no children
only the fine carpets on the floor
and small stacks of stones hidden in the corners.
From the Jewish Women's Archive
"In another midrashic account, Haman had 365 advisors, like the days of the year, but none could give him advice as good as that of his wife Zeresh. She told him: “If this man of whom you speak is of Jewish stock, you will not overcome him, but you must act wisely against him. If you were to drop him into a fiery furnace, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were already dropped down there and they were saved. If you were to throw him into a lions’ den, Daniel was already thrown into a lions’ den and he emerged unscathed. If you were to put him in prison, Joseph was already incarcerated there and he left it. If you were to send him to the wilderness, Israel already were in the wilderness, they were fruitful and multiplied, they withstood all the tests, and they were saved. If you were to blind him, Samson killed many Philistines when he was blind. But hang him on the gallows, for we have not found a single one of the Jews who was saved from hanging.” Immediately (Esth. 5:14) “the proposal pleased Haman, and he had the gallows put up” (Esth. Rabbah 9:2; Midrash Abba Gurion [ed. Buber], chapter 5)."
"There Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had befallen him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish stock, you will not overcome him; you will fall before him to your ruin.”
Esther 6:13 (Translation from Sefaria)
The Rabbis prescribe that on Purim everyone must say: “Cursed be Haman, cursed be his sons, cursed be Zeresh his wife,” thereby fulfillingProv. 10:7: “But the name of the wicked rots” (Esth. Rabbah 10:9).
Translation of the lyrics to Shoshanat Ya'akov, traditionally sung following the reading of Megillat Esther
The rose of Jacob is rejoicing
As they see as one the sky blue garments of Mordechai
You were their salvation in every generation
To make it known that those that hope in You
Will never know shame
Cursed is Haman, who sought my destruction
Blessed is Mordechai the Judean
Cursed is Zeresh, the wife of my tormentor
Blessed is Esther, who has shielded me
And let Charvona also be remembered for good
*https://njop.org/purims-villainess/ The tradition of hissing softly at the mention of Zeresh.