127 Insights into Megillas Esther
By Rabbi Mendel Weinbach

The Jewish Holiday of Purim's story -- Megillath Esther -- told over with a refreshing, dramatic perspective, based on the words of our Sages. A gripping read!
Buy 127 Insights into Megillas Esther by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach at an online discount at www.targum.com

MORDECHAI THE JEW


Introduction

Instead of the thorn shall come forth the cypress.... (Yeshayahu 55: 13)

“Instead of the thorn”—this is the wicked Haman, who made himself an idol for others to worship. “Shall come forth the cypress”—this is the tzaddik Mordechai, who is called the choicest of spices.

Mordechai was chosen to serve as the counterforce to Haman and their ongoing battle spans the entire Megillah. They meet on a foreign battlefield, where Haman sells himself to Mordechai as a slave. They compete at the king’s banquet, where both are wine masters. Finally they are locked in a life-and-death struggle whose conclusion is symbolized by a humiliated Haman attending Mordechai in a parade through the streets of the capital.

Their most significant confrontation is in the prophetic description of Haman as a thorn who attempted to inflict pain on the Jewish people by forcing them to bow down to him as a self-made deity. Martyrdom was not required of the Jews in this situation, since the idol in question was worshipped by all only out of fear. Yet their bowing to Haman served as a reminder of their weakness in prostrating themselves before Nevuchadnetzar, and this triggered the retribution of a Hamanic decree of genocide. It took a Mordechai to stand up against Haman and save his people by refusing to bow down to this powerful enemy at risk to his life.

Mora d’chai is the Targum for mor dror, the chief spice in the anointing oil used in the Sanctuary. This translation alludes to Mordechai and his uniqueness. For in the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, virtually all human senses were involved: sight was corrupted by focusing on the attraction of the forbidden fruit; hearing was demoralized by hearkening to the incitement of the serpent; much was contaminated by contact with the fruit; and taste was spoiled by partaking of it. Only man’s sense of smell was not involved and therefore retained its original capacity to perceive spirituality. Mordechai is the chief spice, the ultimate fragrance—uncorrupted by the sinfulness of all around him.

But most of all, Mordechai is a Yehudi. This was the title awarded to Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariyah for refusing to recognize Nevuchadnetzar’s idol even if it meant risking the fate of the fiery furnace. And this was the title Mordechai earned for his courageous refusal to bow down to Haman, a courage that eventually saved his people.

Who is a Yehudi?

Who is a Yehudi?

One who denies any belief in idolatry.

The name Yehudah is not merely the name of a tribe of Israel. It is a badge of honor containing all four letters of God’s Holy Name, and it is worn by those with the courage to defy idol worship in any form, despite any pressure.

This was the title given to Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariyah when they were reported to Hamelech Nevuchadnetzar for defying his order to bow to the statue of his likeness, although it meant being cast into a fiery furnace.

This title was also awarded to Mordechai, one of the tribe of Binyamin, because he, too, risked his life to defy the royal order to bow to Haman, who had declared himself a deity. Mentioning this noble trait in Mordechai at this stage of the Megillah solves the mystery of his refusal to bow to Haman, which seems to have sparked his genocidal plan.

Another perspective on the two tribes mentioned here is that Mordechai was descended from both Binyamin and Yehudah, thereby inheriting the talents necessary for overcoming the threat of Haman.

Haman’s father was an Amalekite, notes Rav Yehonasan Eibeshitz in Yaaros Devash, and his mother was from another nation. This genealogy provided him with a dual capacity to harm Jewry. His nemesis, therefore, had to be someone whose own ancestral roots provided the power to overcome these forces.

Mordechai’s father was from the tribe of Binyamin and his mother from Yehudah. Just as Rachel’s progeny was destined to destroy Esav’s, the descendant of Binyamin was designated to vanquish the descendant of Amalek. But it is Yehudah who is blessed by his father with the power to overcome all the other enemies of Israel, and it is that power, inherited through his mother, that enables Mordechai to succeed against the power of Haman and his mother.

Prophetic Names

Mordechai is the hero of the Purim story. However, his heroism lay not in his political savvy, but in the power of his prayer. Hence, his origins are traced beyond his father and grandfather to a single ancestor, Kish, whose name bears a special relationship to this power.

The three names of Mordechai’s forebears mentioned here are in a deeper sense a tribute to his success in pleading for his people.

  1. “Son of Yair”—a son who brightened (yair) the eyes of his people through his prayer. The celebration after the miracle is described as one in which the Jews enjoyed light, thanks to the prayers of this luminous son.
  2. “Son of Shimi”—a son whose prayer was heard (shama) by God.
  3. “Son of Kish”—a son who pounded (hikish) on the doors of mercy until they opened for him.

This last name, taken from an ancestor separated from Mordechai’s grandfather by six generations, refers to the desperate situation described in the Midrash when the Jewish people were about to be doomed for attending the banquet of Achashveirosh. When Eliyahu Hanavi came to urge the tzaddikim in Heaven to pray for Jewry, Moshe Rabbeinu told him to instruct the righteous Mordechai to pray below while he and the other tzaddikim would pray above. Mordechai promptly dressed all the Jewish schoolchildren in sackcloth and ordered them to fast. By praying day and night, they succeeded in opening the gates of Heavenly mercy.

A Voluntary Exile

Eleven years before the destruction of the Bets Hamikdash and the Babylonian exile, a mini-exile took place. After deposing the rebellious Yehoyakim Hamelech and installing his son Yechonyah (Yehoyachin) on the throne, Nevuchadnetzar had some second thoughts. His advisors warned him against putting his faith in the son of a king who had betrayed him. Three months later, Nevuchadnetzar retumed to Jerusalem and exiled the king, his family, and ten thousand Jews—including the Sanhedrin—to Babylon.

Yirmiyahu Hanavi was not compelled to join the group going into exile but he elected to do so, until he received a Divine command to return to Yerushalayim. Mordechai, too, chose to follow these exiles.

One of his motives was to accompany the Sanhedrin into exile. Another was to ensure the welfare of the exiled community, reminding them of their responsibilities and protecting them through his merit and prayers. With ruach hakodesh, he also anticipated the trouble Haman would bring, and realized that he alone was capable of countering this danger. When the Persians and Medes led by Daryavesh and Koresh besieged Babylon, Mordechal and Daniel joined most of Jewry in abandoning the city and following Koresh to his capital of Shushan.

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