Purim Mordechai’s Universal Appeal

Nov 17, 2014
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Rabbi Ron-Ami Meir

As Megillat Esther draws to a close, Mordechai triumphantly exits the court of Ahashverosh donning the most elaborate of royal garb. “And the city of Shushan was happy and joyous.” This imagery stands in stark contrast to a verse in the third chapter of the Megilah: When the order to annihilate the Jews became official, the messengers “departed hastily, upon the instruction of the King. The edict was issued in the capital Shushan. Haman and the King convened to drink. And the city of Shushan was bewildered.”

Who was troubled by Haman’s plan and who was overjoyed when it was foiled? Those who were to be his victims, of course! Rashi explains that it is the Jewish population of Shushan – and not the entire city of Shushan – referred to by the verse. Ktav Sofer, however, takes issue with Rashi’s approach: If so, he asks, why does the Megillah present the respective responses as those of the “City of Shushan”?

The Gemara in Megillah 11a quotes a verse in Mishlei 29: “When the Righteous gain prominence, the country rejoices; when the Wicked rule, the country groans.” According to the Gemara, the “Righteous” is a reference to Mordechai, “the Wicked” – refers to Haman. Maharsha is troubled by the Gemara: Surely, he notes, Mordechai’s success was celebrated by the Jews and bemoaned by the non-Jews, while Haman’s rise to stardom upset the Jewish people and delighted their Gentile neighbors! Why does the Gemara imply that the whole country rejoiced, not just the Jews?

This Gemara can perhaps best be understood by reference to another Gemara one page later: It condemns Ahashverosh for his inconsistent and unpredictable nature. Although he deems his Jewish citizens to be important enough to invite to elaborate feasts, as soon as Haman speaks disparagingly about them, the King swiftly agrees to annihilate them! This, explains Ktav Sofer, disturbed not only the Jews, but their non-Jewish neighbors, as well. Everyone lived in trepidation. They wondered to themselves: “Maybe our community – now the darlings of the palace – will be the victim of the next royal decree?” How, they asked, could the authors of an edict that would wipe out men, women and children – just heartlessly sit and drink?

Mordechai’s prominence, however, did not instill the same fear into the hearts of men. None feared that Mordechai would utilize his newly-found position to dominate others; they saw in him a humble and pure man who, although he achieved distinction, did not seek to rule over others. Therefore, Mordechai’s success was celebrated by all. This approach explains the terminology in Sefer Mishlei, Ktav Sofer notes, where the verb referring to the righteous person is “b’ribot”, which Metzudat David explains as “attains greatness”; in contrast, the verb used in reference to the wicked is “bimshol” – when he dominates. With Haman’s decree, “the city of Shushan was bewildered” – the entire city was troubled. Later, with Mordechai HaTzaddik’s meteoric rise, the entire city of Shushan was happy and joyous.

The Ktav Sofer’s approach to the Megillah reinforces a fundamental Jewish value: Those who authentically embody and promulgate Torah values do not view their positions as springboards for their own self-aggrandizement, but as a means by which Torah can be applied for the betterment of mankind, “Tikkun Olam.”

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