Purim Mordechai: Planting the Seeds for Jewish Growth

Nov 17, 2014

Rabbi Ron-Ami Meir

“There was a Jewish man (Ish Yehudi) in the capital city of Shushan.” Thus we are introduced to Mordechai, one of our two heroes in the Purim story. Who was this hero? According to the midrash, Mordechai embodied an essential attribute of Avraham Avinu: “Just as Avraham Avinu dove into the fiery furnace and brought others to an awareness of God’s greatness .so, too, Mordechai in his day, prompted people to appreciate the Creator, as it says [after the fall of Haman]: ‘.and many of the people of the land converted to Judaism (Mityahadim).’” In other words, “Mordechai unified God’s name and sanctified it. This is why he is referred to as a ‘Yehudi’ in the Megilah. Don’t read this term only as referring to him as a ‘Yehudi’ but as a ‘Yehidi’.” What does this distinction tell us?

The term Yehidi implies that Mordechai was unique – or miyuchad ; he was unique in living a life dedicated to inspiring the world with the message of Yichud Hashem, God’s Onenness. In the eyes of the Sefat Emet, the wicked Haman’s advisors and the villain’s wife Zeresh clearly understood the potential impact of Mordechai’s one-man outreach program. Haman is warned towards the end of the Megillah: “If Mordechai is from the seed of the Jews (Yehudim) – once you have begun to collapse before him, you will never be able to overcome him.” The Amalekites and their cohorts were well aware of the threat posed to their worldview by such a man; they knew that should Mordechai’s theological message gain momentum its sheer irresistible truth would sabotage Amalek’s eternal battle to wrest God from His earthly throne.

Mordechai’s power to inspire is hinted at in the expression, “If Mordechai is from the seed of the Jews (Yehudim).” says Sfat Emet. Mordechai dedicated himself to sowing the seeds of religious growth in others and his efforts later culminated in large-scale conversions: “.many of the people of the land converted to Judaism (Mityahadim).”

In fact, the verse in Tehillim,”Or zaruah laTzadik u’ liyishrei lev simcha” – “Light is set aside (“sown”) for the righteous and joy for the upright of heart” is a reference to Mordechai. The light of Torah that was sown for him, he planted within others. The arch-rival of Haman and “Zera Amalek,” Mordechai gave birth to the “Yishrei Lev” referred to at the end of the verse. In Hebrew, the term literally means “straight.” This is a reference to Ba’alei Teshuva who “straighten out” their lives in their return to their Jewish roots.

In light of the above, it comes as no surprise that Purim boasts two days – the 14th and 15th of Adar: the former day is celebrated by Jews in unwalled, unfortified cities; the latter, by those in cities that were walled at the time of Yehoshua. Our Sages’ decision to award the honorary status of “Shushan” to cities fortified at the time of Yehoshua is, at first blush, puzzling, since the Purim story took place hundreds of years after the time of Joshua! The Sfat Emet’s answer, “The Torah reports (Shmot, Ch. 33) that Joshua, the lad, ‘never departed from the tent.’ Like his mentor, Moshe Rabeinu, Yehoshua valued Torah study, always finding himself b’ohala shel Torah, in the tent of Torah. A Jew steeped in Torah study is fortified and protected. It is no coincidence, therefore, that our sages linked Shushan Purim to cities that were walled during the era of Yehoshua.” Viewed this way, the 14th of Adar represents Ba’alei Teshuva – Jews traveling on the correct path without the years of experience of fully fortifying themselves in Torah: Shushan Purim, on the other hand, represents those Tzadikim like Mordechai who had the experience and confidence of a fully- developed Torah personality. It was these Jews who led the battle against Amalek and Haman.

Why then, does the Purim of the Ba’alei Teshuva, the 14th of Adar, come first? The answer lies, the Sfat Emet notes, with the famous rabbinic dictum, “In a place where Ba’alei Teshuva stand – even complete Tzadikim cannot stand.” The new returnee to Judaism, the student of Mordechai, must fight harder to develop himself; it is thus appropriate to give a position of prominence to the Purim of the Ba’al Teshuva, and reward it with the 14th of Adar.

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