April 19, 2024
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Sorry, Mordechai’s Not Bowing

וַיִּ֣בֶז בְּעֵינָ֗יו לִשְׁלֹ֤חַ יָד֙ בְּמׇרְדֳּכַ֣י לְבַדּ֔וֹ כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥ידוּ ל֖וֹ אֶת־עַ֣ם מׇרְדֳּכָ֑י וַיְבַקֵּ֣שׁ הָמָ֗ן לְהַשְׁמִ֧יד אֶת־כׇּל־הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֛ר בְּכׇל־מַלְכ֥וּת אֲחַשְׁוֵר֖וֹשׁ עַ֥ם מׇרְדֳּכָֽי׃

“But it was demeaning in [Haman’s] eyes to send his hand against Mordechai alone, for they had told him Mordechai’s nation, so Haman sought to destroy all the Jews in the whole kingdom of Achashveirosh—Mordechai’s nation.” (Megillah Esther 3:6)

On Purim, we are privileged to celebrate our salvation from destruction at the hands of Haman. Yet, it seems that this danger could have been entirely avoided in the first place. Only after Mordechai refused to bow to Haman did Haman desire to kill all the Jews. This then begs the question: how could Mordechai refuse to bow to Haman and thereby endanger our entire nation’s existence?

Rashi answers this question very simply, stating that Haman made himself into an object of avodah zarah, so Mordechai could not bow to him without violating this aveirah, which one must die before transgressing. This answer may seem sufficient, but other commentators complicate the issue. The Megillas S’sarim, for instance, says that Mordechai would intentionally make a point of showing that he had acknowledged Haman’s presence and yet still not bow to him. How could Mordechai have seen it fit to behave this way? After all, chazal advise us (Megillah 6b) not to anger a wicked man when he is prospering. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains that one reason Mordechai didn’t take advantage of his connection with Esther in order to remove Haman from his position in the first place was because of this very directive of chazal!

Perhaps the answer to why Mordechai wouldn’t bow is actually more than an act of rejection of the avodah zarah that Haman wore. Mordechai, a descendant of Shaul HaMelech, may instead have been atoning for a different sin: that of his ancestor, Shaul, who failed to obliterate Amalek when given the chance. It was this very mistake that had caused the revocation of the kingship from Shaul. Now, only a few years after Esther became queen, there is yet again the issue of Amalek—this time in the form of a single family, that of Haman. Mordechai was faced with a dilemma: how could he make up for the sin of his ancestor and defy the wicked Haman’s ascent to power?

Mordachai knew that the Jews did not at that time possess the merit to be able to triumph over Haman, as Haman himself explains in his argument to Achashveirosh as to why the Jews should be killed. Chazal (Megillah 13b) explain that part of Haman’s argument (3:8) was that the Jews were “asleep” with regard to the mitzvos, so they could not be saved. Thus, Mordechai could not have hoped for a miracle to be performed at that point. Instead, he needed a way to galvanize the Jews back into observing mitzvos, even if it meant putting them in danger. By publicly confronting Haman and, after Haman’s decree, leading them in public fasting, tefillah and teshuva, Mordechai was successful, and he brought about a period of nearly unrivaled togetherness and return to Torah.

We see this from a pasuk (8:6) at the end of the Megillah, which states that the Jews had “light, gladness, rejoicing and honor,” which the Gemara (Megillah 16b) establishes as referring to the Torah and certain mitzvos. It is perhaps due to Mordechai’s efforts that chazal also say that this generation’s acceptance of the Torah was greater even than that of the generation that stood at Har Sinai (Shabbos 88a). This, of course, led to the destruction of Haman, his 10 sons, and his evil decree. Although Mordechai did not obliterate Amalek, he successfully overcame the challenge posed by Haman, which Shaul failed to do to Haman’s ancestor, Agag.

However, there is still a question left unanswered. How could Mordechai have made the decision to endanger B’nei Yisrael in order to rejuvenate their Torah observance if he wasn’t certain this strategy would succeed? Simply put, Mordechai learned this strategy straight from Hashem. According to the Ramban (Bereishis 12:10), Hashem decreed that Avraham’s descendants would be slaves in Mitzrayim as punishment for Avraham fleeing there during a famine instead of trusting in Hashem. This punishment seems very harsh, as Avraham only went there temporarily and because of the difficult famine, yet it resulted in hundreds of years of exile in Mitzrayim! To explain this punishment, the Alshich (Bereishis ibid.) notes that exile in Mitzrayim led to B’nei Yisrael enduring the necessary trials that forged them into the nation worthy of accepting the Torah. Therefore, it was necessary for Hashem to punish them with this exile.

Now we can understand how Mordechai was able to endanger the Jews: Just as Hashem was willing to take drastic measures against Avraham in order to enable his descendants to accept the Torah, so too, Mordechai took extreme action by publicly defying Haman in order to return B’nei Yisrael to the Torah.

This message is exceedingly relevant in our current times. The war in Israel and the rise in global antisemitism represent our test against evil decrees. Just like Mordechai and the Jews of his generation, we must continue to respond to this attack on our people with unity, prayer and teshuva.


This dvar Torah appears in this week’s edition of B’kol Ram, the weekly Torah publication of the JEC High School. To get a digital subscription or to sponsor an issue, please contact [email protected]

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