April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Mordechai’s Anguished Decision to Save Achashverosh

When Mordechai discovered two men plotting against Achashverosh, why did he feel compelled to save the king?

No one would think to even ask this question, except the midrash. The rest of us just assume that the storyline is the storyline. In actuality, Mordechai had to make a critical decision that may have come at great personal loss.

Let’s analyze what factors he may have taken into account. No one knew that Mordechai overheard this plot in an obscure, foreign language, so, he could not be accused of collusion with the enemy. King Achashverosh wasn’t such a great friend of the Jews. Later on in the story, he approved Haman’s plans for the final solution of the Jewish people. Even more importantly, the king was living with a Jewish woman who was taken against her will. Esther was not just any Jewish woman, she was his niece, or—according to the Talmud—his wife! Why not let the plot unfold and concentrate on saving Esther?

That is what the midrash may have meant when it said: זֶה מָהוּל וְזֶה עָרֵל—“This one (the king) is uncircumcised and this one (Mordechai) is circumcised,” (Midrash Rabba Lech Lecha 39:12). Why save this non Jew? Especially, when he is living with your wife!

Why did Mordechai act against his best interests? To be fair, it is reasonable to assume that there would be a great benefit to Mordechai, the queen, and ultimately, the Jewish people to have a Jew save the king. But was this course of action really so obvious? Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt”l, in “Days of Deliverance” (pages 78-79) said that Mordechai could sense that Jewish destiny was about to change. It was no coincidence that Esther was chosen to be queen when she didn’t want the role. Mordechai was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rabbi Soloveitchik said that Mordechai kept vigil בְּשַֽׁעַר־הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ— “at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:21), so he could detect which way the political winds were blowing. It was the place where palace intrigue would first be revealed. So now, he uncovers a plot against the king and he is the only one in the empire that can stop it. Maybe God’s plan was to let the insurrection take place and save the queen?

Mordechai was following a precedent. Something stopped Mordechai from allowing the plot against the king to proceed. The midrash presents it as a difference of opinion but it does not really have to be. The first opinion (as the commentator, Eitz Yoseph explained) is that there is historical and halachic precedence for revealing secrets to kings:

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר (תהלים קיט,ק): מִזְּקֵנִים אֶתְבּוֹנָן כִּי פִקּוּדֶיךָ נָצָרְתִּי, אָמַר, יַעֲקֹב בֵּרַךְ אֶת פַּרְעֹה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית מז, ז): וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת פַּרְעֹה, יוֹסֵף גִּלָּה לוֹ, דָּנִיֵּאל גִּלָּה לִנְבוּכַדְנֶצַר, אַף אֲנִי כֵן

“Rabbi Yehuda said, based on the verse in Tehillim, ‘I have gained understanding from my elders, to guard Your precepts.’ He (Mordechai) reasoned, Yaakov blessed Pharaoh, as it says ‘And Yaakov blessed Pharaoh (Bereishis 47:7).’ Yosef revealed (the future) to him (Pharaoh). Daniel revealed the future to Nevuchadnezer. It is, therefore, (Mordechai’s) my obligation to do so as well,” (ibid).

The second opinion is that the critical role of getting world leaders out of tight spots is a fulfillment of God’s blessing to Avraham:

 וְרַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה אָמַר, אָמַר הַקָּבָּ”ה לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ, אִין תֵּימַר דְּלֶהֱוֵי עַתִּירִין, הֲרֵי עַתִּירִין אִנּוּן מִינָן, אֶלָּא לִשְׁאֵלָה, כְּשֶׁהֵן נִכְנָסִים לְצָרָה הֵם נִשְׁאָלִים לָנוּ וְאָנוּ מְגַלִּין לָהֶם.                                      

“Rabbi Nachman said: ‘God said to our father, Avraham: ‘All the families of mankind and their children shall be blessed because of you,’ (Bereishis 28:14). It’s not that you will become rich, the other nations are richer than you. Rather, it’s about questions—when they are in a difficult situation, they will ask us and we will reveal (the answer) to them,” (ibid).

Therefore, in saving the king, Mordechai was following a long, hallowed tradition going back to Yaakov. The commentator, Eitz Yoseph, adds that in future generations:

צדיק יחיד בדורו שרה”ק שורה עליו—“certain righteous people with divine inspiration,” will reveal secrets to kings (ibid). An example of this could include the famous story of Rav Yochanan ben Zakei, who addressed Vespasian as “emperor.” Shortly thereafter, a messenger arrived and told Vespasian that Nero was dead and he had been appointed the new Roman emperor. Vespasian was so impressed that he granted Rabbi Yochanan his three requests.The primary one was that Vespasian spare Yavne and its scholars. This helped ensure  the continuation of the oral tradition (and the survival of Judaism) after the destruction of the Temple (Talmud Gittin 56A-56B).

Another example is the critical role of finance minister that the great sage, Abarbanel (Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel, 1437–1508) held in Spain. During his tenure, Spain was a superpower. When was expelled in 1492, the fortunes of Spain immediately declined.

There is a legend involving the great medieval scholar, Rashi (1040-1105). Godfrey of Boullion—the leader of the French knights in the First Crusade—stopped in Troyes on the way to the holy land and asked Rashi if he would be successful. Rashi told him that, initially, he would capture Jerusalem from the Muslims, but after a period of time, the Christians would be driven from Jerusalem and he would return to France with only three horses. Godfrey told him that if he came back with even four horses, he would personally destroy the Jewish community and kill Rashi. The Crusade went just as Rashi predicted, but Godfrey remembered the prediction and made sure that, if nothing else, he returned with four horses. And, indeed, he did. However, as he crossed under the arch of the city, the keystone of the arch collapsed and one of the horses was killed.

Recasting the Book of Esther

It’s amazing to reflect on how God’s blessing to Avraham shaped all of Jewish history—from Yaakov in Egypt and Mordechai in Persia, to our greatest sages throughout the ages. Not to mention that the book of Esther takes on a whole new dimension. Mordechai’s decision to expose the plot was something that we took for granted—when it was actually his steadfast adherence to Jewish destiny.

Yoni Mozeson is a musmach of Yeshiva University and his first pulpit was Ogilvy, the world’s largest Advertising agency, where he wrote TV commercials for major brands. He then opened a marketing company in Teaneck and eventually joined a biotech startup client as Director of Marketing. Yoni continues to work with that client, but since the Mozeson’s aliyah 11 years ago, he spends his days learning midrash at a Jerusalem kolel. Weekly video summaries can be found on Youtube, www.YUTorah.org, Spotify and Apple podcasts. Teaneck was not the same after the Mozeson family moved out. That had little to do with Yoni and everything to do with the fact that so many women enjoyed massages from his wife, Navah. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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