parasha

Purim 5777

The Jew Who Did Not Bow Down to Evil – Purim
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Purim, one that marks the miracle that occurred about 2,300 years ago when the Jewish nation was saved from mass extinction.  The story goes as such: Haman, advisor to King Achashverosh who ruled the Persian Empire, was angry at the leader of the Jewish nation – Mordechai - due to the latter’s refusal to bow down before him.  As revenge on Mordechai and his nation, Haman schemed to destroy all the Jews in the Persian Empire in one day.  But the salvation of the Jews was in place even prior to Haman’s scheme.  Sometime before this, Esther, Mordechai’s niece, was chosen to serve as the wife of King Achashverosh, and she managed to thwart Haman’s plans.

If we turn further back in the story, we might wonder what went through the minds of the Jews of Persia when they heard the royal declaration of their imminent death.  Undoubtedly, many of them complained to Mordechai about causing this prospective tragedy.  They probably urged him to fix the problem, send a nice gift to Haman, appease him, and bow to him when he walks by in the street, and thus placate Haman!
But when we examine the story, we see that Mordechai’s choices proved themselves correct.  Haman’s scheme failed “and the opposite became true”. His plan to destroy the Jews was nullified and in its stead, he and sons were hung on the tree he prepared for Mordechai’s hanging.
What was Mordechai’s secret?  What led him to be so sure in the righteousness of his path?  Did he not have doubts about whether those who opposed him were right, and that he should surrender and bow his head before Haman rather than instigate him?
Megillat Esther – the scroll which tells the Purim miracle for eternity – is a scroll written in the Diaspora.  Its central message lays out the proper way for a Jew to deal with a foreign and alienated ruler.  With this understanding, we can grasp Mordechai’s thoughts and values and comprehend his motives.
Mordechai teaches us about Jewish pride and faith in the righteousness of our path, while facing the essence of evil as personified by Haman.  When a man like that is angered or his honor is hurt, he is willing to destroy an entire nation without hesitation.  He represents evil and moral depravity.  Mordechai realized that this is something to which he must not surrender.  Mordechai represents the Jew committed to morality and goodness, and therefore he is incapable and unwilling to bow down before the embodiment of evil.  He cannot give implicit approval of depravity even if this entails great risk.  He is willing to take that risk with the faith that he cannot even seem to be agreeing to Haman’s moral corruption.  He is sure of his path and that he who tenaciously clings to his principles of justice and morality will not be harmed.
A leader like this does not fear evil.  A leader who publicly stands for values and integrity is the one who is privileged to bring about the miracle of Purim.  But it is actually Esther, who even when in the king’s palace did not forget her Jewishness and her solidarity with the Jewish nation, and was willing to risk her life for it, was privileged to bring about the miracle.  Therefore, the megilla that tells the story of Purim, and is read by the Jewish nation on this day, is named for her – Megillat Esther. 
Toward the end of the megilla we reach a surprising turn of events:  Mordechai, who Haman had planned to hang on a tree, is appointed by Achashverosh to the highest position in the Persian Empire – “deputy to the king”.
What did Achashverosh see in Mordechai?  What trait did he discern that made Mordechai worthy of this position? He observed Mordechai’s loyalty – to his nation, to his values, and to his faith.  Achashverosh realized that Mordechai was made of leadership material and that his characteristic of loyalty guided him.  Achashverosh knew that this kind of man could be trusted with running his empire. 
 

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