Mordechai the Jew – HaRav Shlomo Aviner

The Exile makes us into Jews who have to ingratiate ourselves to the non-Jews.  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains this idea in connection to the Exodus from Egypt.  When the Egyptians pursued the Jews, they were terrified.  Why?  They were six-hundred thousand armed men.  Why didn't they strike the Egyptians?! 


by HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

  1. “Mordechai did not kneel or bow down”
  2. Ingratiation or Provocation against the Non-Jews
  3. The King’s Duke
  4. The Danger of Submission
  5. The Reason for the Decree
  6. “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”
  7. Un-walled and Walled Cities



  1. “Mordechai did not kneel or bow down”

The Radvaz (Shut Ha-Radvaz 1:284) asks: how could Mordechai endanger the entire Jewish People?  Although we know that it turned out positively in the end, this was not known at the outset.  Because of Mordechai’s actions, danger hovered over Israel: “To destroy, murder and exterminate all of the Jews, young and old, children and women, in one day…and plunder their possessions” (Ester 3:13).  How could Mordechai take it upon himself to cause his people such danger?  In truth, we find in the Letter of Ester an echo of the dispute between Mordechai and other Jews: “Israel said to him: You should know that you are causing us to fall by the sword at this time” (Igret Ester 3:2).  The Gemara also compares Mordechai to Shaul, who did not kill Agag and Haman, who was his descendant, distressed Israel (Megillah 13b), i.e. Shaul had mercy on Agag, and Mordechai, Shaul’s descendant, enticed Agag’s descendant against us.


The claim that Mordechai did not bow down because Haman had made himself into an idol to be worshipped, or had engraved images of idols onto his garments (as is customary in our time among the rulers of the East) does not answer the question.  Mordechai could have avoided passing or meeting Haman, and thereby avoided the whole problem.  Even though the prohibition of bowing down to an idol falls within the category of “Be killed and do not transgress it,” it is a prohibition that one may effectively circumvent, for there is no law that one must take it upon himself to encounter an object of idol worship and declare that he is not bowing down to it. This would mean endangering his life and that of the Nation’s.  Only if a person is forced to bow down to an idol must he refuse, even at the cost of his life.  Mordechai met regularly with Haman and did not bow down, as it says: “When they said to him day after day and he did not listen to them” (Ester 3:4), i.e. he purposefully passed Haman each day.    The Maharal (Or Chadash) says: “And he did not take a different path” on purpose.  Our Sages (Yalkut Shimoni Ester 1054) make it even more serious by stating that Haman would come to him and say: “Shalom” and Mordechai would not respond.  Haman asked him: “You wouldn’t say ‘Shalom’ to me?”  Mordechai answered: “There is no ‘Shalom’ (peace’) – says Hashem – for the wicked” (Yeshayahu 48:22).  Mordechai did everything he could to infuriate Haman.  The Midrash relates that Mordechai would show Haman a sandal each time he passed which had inscribed on it that Haman was a slave to Mordechai.  Why did he seek to anger Haman so much?


  1. Ingratiation or Provocation against the Non-Jews

Perhaps you will say that Mordechai did not think that matters would deteriorate to such an extent.  This does not seem correct.  This is particularly true regarding Mordechai’s behavior with the king’s clothing and horse after the decree against the Jews was already made.  When Haman comes to him, Mordechai could have tried to pacify him, to ask for his forgiveness and give in to him.  But Mordechai does not do so, rather he has Haman lead him around on the king’s horse.


Question: But Achashverosh decreed that Haman should do this!

Answer: Mordechai could have attempted to speak with the king, or to fulfill the decree in a less prominent fashion that would be less embarrassing for Haman.  But we see that Mordechai did not do this; he used a different tact.  He did not act this way out of an error in calculation or as an emotional response.  He had a strategy and stuck to it.  This was Mordechai’s stance and he did not vacillate between ingratiation and provocation against the non-Jews.


Our Sages were in doubt regarding the question of how to act with the wicked:  Should we provoke them or submit to them (Berachot 7b and also Megillah)?  Most opinions in the Gemara hold that if you see the wicked prosper, you should submit to them.  In contrast, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says that it is permissible to provoke the wicked in this world.  And in fact, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained it well and fulfilled it well.  He provoked the Romans, and they issued a decree against him of capital punishment and he was forced to hide in a cave (see Shabbat 33b).  The Gemara brings different answers based on the specific situation and the character of those involved.  The Maharal says that Mordechai decided in this case that it was necessary to provoke the wicked (Or Chadash).


Question: Isn’t it sometimes possible for a person not to ingratiate himself, or to avoid provoking another?

Answer: This is remaining neutral.  But bowing down before Haman is not remaining neutral, it is ingratiation.


Question: Couldn’t Mordechai have avoided putting himself in this situation?

Answer: You are correct.  But Mordechai decided that he needed to provoke.  Not only not to ingratiate himself and turn his eye, but to actively provoke.


  1. The King’s Duke

The Midrash relates that Haman said to Mordechai: Why don’t you bow down to me? Your grandfather bowed down to my grandfather, Yaakov bowed before Esav!  Mordechai answered him: “I am the duke of the King” (Midrash Ester 7:9).  I am noble.  My grandfather was born in the Land of Israel” (ibid.).  This means that there is no choice in exile and one must ingratiate himself to the non-Jews.  The non-Jews murder us in pogroms and so we plead, beg, bribe and do everything we can to avert disaster.  There is no choice, no other option.  But, Mordechai responds, my grandfather was born in Eretz Yisrael.  Binyamin, my grandfather, did not bow down to Esav.  He was not yet born during the meeting between Yaakov and Esav.  This was not happenstance.


Question: But Mordechai was living in the Exile during that time?

Answer But he was not exilic.

Question: Even in the Exile?

Answer: Yes, even in the Exile, he was not exilic.  The Exile makes us into Jews who have to ingratiate ourselves to the non-Jews.  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains this idea in connection to the Exodus from Egypt.  When the Egyptians pursued the Jews, they were terrified.  Why?  They were six-hundred thousand armed men.  Why didn’t they strike the Egyptians?!  The Ibn Ezra explains that this was impossible from their perspective.  They had a lowly spirit, and they could not lift their hand against their taskmasters (see Ibn Ezra on Shemot 14:13).  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains in another place that only one person did not have a lowly spirit following the Exile: Moshe Rabbenu.  It is a secret why he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace and not among the Jews.  The Rambam says about the verse: “G-d did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, although it was near, for G-d said: Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see war and they will return to Egypt” (Shemot 13:17), i.e. the Nation of Israel was scared.  It was enslaved in its soul.  The process of liberating the soul from servitude is lengthy.  While the Master of the Universe could have miraculously given them courage, it would have removed their free will.  The solution was therefore to spend forty years in the desert: “for the sake of learning courage” (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 32).  Forty years in the desert in difficult conditions would teach them how to be courageous.  A slave is unable to immediately wash the mortar from his hands and wage war against giants.  The Exile breeds a lowly spirit.  It removes a person’s willingness to pay a price for his freedom.


  1. The Danger of Submission

But how did Yaakov Avinu bowed down to Esav?  Our Sages in fact criticize this act and say that because of the eight times that Yaakov bowed to Esav, eight kings of Edom (the descendants of Esav) ruled before the kings of Israel (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit 32).  The Ramban takes this a step further and says that because of the bowing of Yaakov we fell by the hands of Edom; this occurred when the kings of the Hasmonaim made a covenant with the Romans, as is related in the history books.  He relates that the Hasmonaim kings curried favor with the Romans, and paid for it heavily in the end.  This is obviously not a personal attack on Yaakov Avinu but on the method he utilized.  Mordechai believed that one has to stand erect before an enemy.  He did not think that this endangers the Nation, but the exact opposite.  He believed that being bent over and submissive is what endangers the Nation.  Giving in to pressure invites further pressure.


Question: Is this a model for how every Jew must act in the Exile, or may each person choose for himself in the matter?

Answer: This is a general ideal.  Since Mordechai was born in the Land of Israel, he was capable of turning this ideal into real action.


Question: But those in Exile are supposed to ingratiate themselves to the wicked in order to survive!  And Mordechai was in the Exile?!

Answer: We will resolve this important difficulty soon.  Let us first explain Mordechai’s method and then judge if it is correct or not.


Mordechai’s theory was that if one submits to wickedness it causes further wickedness.  We see many examples of this in history.  There was a famous dispute between Churchill and Chamberlain.  Chamberlain, who was Prime Minster of England when Hitler rose to power, said that Hitler only wanted a piece of Czechoslovakia. Give it to him, Chamberlain argued, and he will be quiet. It is not worth destroying the peace that was attained with such great effort (after World War One), on account of this one issue.  This was his opinion.  England wanted peace at any price, and in order to demonstrate it, she even significantly lowered the level of her armaments.  Hitler wanted a piece of Czechoslovakia, which had a high percentage – over fifty – of Germans.  The world therefore said to Hitler: “Take the territory, we will not interfere, and leave the world in peace!”  But then he wanted another piece.  The nations of the world “admonished” him.  Hitler saw that the price was only an admonishment, which is cheap, so he took an additional piece.  Churchill told Chamberlain that he was making a great mistake!  If he gives in to Hitler, his desire will only grow and there will be no escaping from a World War.  When Chamberlain returned from the Munich Conference, he got off the plane at Heathrow Airport waving the piece of paper containing the pact made with Hitler, and announced: I have brought you peace!  Churchill responded: You have brought a piece of paper.  Chamberlain did not accept this admonishment at first, but later admitted his mistake, and ended up dying from great anguish.  Tens of millions of people were murdered in the Second World War, and his anguish will not resurrect them!  There is therefore no peace to be made with wicked people.  You must know before whom you are standing.  We say many times in life that you need to learn to give in and get along with others.  But Haman was an evil person.  He was ready to exterminate an entire nation because of one Jew who angered him.  Achashverosh was also extremely wicked.  He told his wife to come before him at a party, and when she refused, he decreed that she should be killed!  This is deranged!  Later when he wanted to remarry, it was not enough to choose a woman.  He needed to check every woman in his kingdom.  He was a corrupt and evil person.  Thus, Haman and Achashverosh are evil and when we are before wicked people such as them, we do not submit to them.


A question was once asked of Robert McNamara who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense during the discussions between the United States and Russia over reducing their arsenals of nuclear weapons: “Do you trust that the Russians will also reduce their nuclear weapons?”  He answered with a well-known parable: “A man once went out hunting in a forest, saw a deer and immediately pointed his gun at him.

The bear said: ‘What are you doing?’

The hunter replied: ‘I am planning to kill you because I need fur for the winter.’

The bear said to him: ‘I am also planning to kill you because I haven’t eaten in three days.  In truth, both of our needs are legitimate.  I suggest that we sit together for peace talks without preconditions and we will reach a fair and sustainable agreement, which will take into account the legitimate interests of both sides.’

The suggestion seemed quite ethical and logical to the hunter, so he  accompanied the bear to his den.  After a short time, the bear emerged alone.  Everything worked out fine: The bear had his meal inside and the hunter had his fur outside.”  One could perhaps question it from the hunter’s perspective, but it was certainly sustainable…


It is therefore forbidden to give in when facing evil people like Achashverosh and Haman.  An ancient saying goes: “If one makes himself a sheep, a wolf will eat him.”  Mordechai’s calculation was not based on an idealistic or mystical passion but on precise realism.  Perhaps you will say: This is correct in theory but who says that one can put it into practice?  The facts prove that it is possible.  As is known, Hashem’s decree was not annulled and the non-Jews attacked us in a pogrom: “To destroy, murder and exterminate all of the Jews, young and old, children and women, in one day…and plunder their possessions” (Ester 3:13).  But there was an additional decree that if the Jews were attacked, it was permissible for them to protect themselves!


In order to provoke the non-Jews and not submit to them, one must estimate his own ability to stand up to them. This is not always possible.  We are not blaming Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel who pleaded with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to cancel the Explusion from Spain.  No one can ask him to wield a knife like Ehud ben Gera (see Shoftim, chap. 3) and stab the king.  What would have happened if he did do this?  A Jew in fact killed the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, but on account of this, they killed tens of thousands of Jews.  We also see similarly vicious retaliations by the Nazis during the Holocaust.  One must therefore be realistic.  Mordechai was realistic: he recognized that we had the ability to stand up before our enemies.  The problem was, however, that we did not know that we had the ability.  We were frightened like grasshoppers, and were even scared to be identifiable.  It says that Haman wrote letters: “to each people in his language” (ibid. 3:12), but it does not say that it was written to the Jews in their language.  It was only when Mordechai and Ester wrote a second letter that it was sent to each people in their language “and to the Jews in their writing and language” (ibid. 8:9).  On the face of it, Achashverosh was liberal, for he allowed every person to speak the language of his people. But the Jews were scared to be identified as Hebrew speakers, and were thus a scattered and separate Nation.  In order to have the power to respond with determination and pride, we must be united.


  1. The Reason for the Decree

After the decree was made: “The city of Shushan was perplexed” (ibid. 3:15) and “Mordechai knew all that had been done” (ibid. 4:1).  Of course he knew what was happening, everyone knew!  Our Sages explain (Megillah 12) that Mordechai knew the deeper reason for all that was occurring.  He knew that what was happening was not because he did not want to bow down to Haman, but because the Nation bowed down to an idol during the time of Nebuchadnezar.


The Gemara relates that the students of the Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) asked him: Why were the haters of Israel (this is a euphemism for Israel) of that generation worthy to be destroyed?  He responded: Answer yourselves!  They said: It was because they benefited from the evil one’s (Achashverosh’s) meal.  The Rashbi said: If so, the decree should have been against only the Jews in Shushan (who participated in the meal), not those of the whole world!  They asked: How do you answer?   The Rashbi said: It was because they bowed to Nebuchadnezar’s image (Megillah 12).  The students of the Rashbi did not think that Mordechai was responsible for the decree, but understood that Israel was liable because they benefited from the meal of the wicked one.  Why were they to be punished so severely?  After all, as is known, the food at the meal was kosher.  The problem was not the kashrut but their participation in the meal which was an act of assimilation.  How could they benefit from such a thing?  The second reason given by the Rashbi is that they bowed down to an idol.  It is clear that Mordechai’s actions were the external reason for the evil decree.  If Haman was furious with Mordechai, he could have killed him.  But why did he need to murder all the Jews?!  Answer: He wanted to murder all of the Jews anyway, but he was waiting for the right opportunity.  If he didn’t have this excuse, he would have found another.  Mordechai therefore did not cause the decree. The Nation of Israel did it to itself because of its ingratiation with the non-Jews.  At first, Haman wanted them to bow down to him.  Everyone said: “Why not?  We’ll bow down to him and he’ll be pacified.”  But the way of the wicked is that first he wants you to bow down to him, he then wants you to scrub the main square of Vienna with a toothbrush, etc.  In this way, they break the morale of the Jews and lower the estimation of the Jews in the eyes of the non-Jews.  Mordechai therefore said in such a situation: “We must stop it immediately.”  But you are endangering everyone!  This is incorrect.  Haman wanted to kill the Jews – men, women and children – and the non-Jews were also interested, they were only waiting to receive the order.


Question: But the command to bow down to Haman applied to all citizens and not just the Jews.

Answer: True.  Everyone was commanded to bow down to Haman, not only Israel.  But this does not matter.  Mordechai did not want to bow down to Haman, since he understood that this was a mistake and required resoluteness.  It is also possible to see this fact when Ester requested from Achashverosh to kill other wicked people in the capital of Shushan on the second day.  In the end, they only killed five hundred evil persons since it was not just random killing but a plan to target specific evil individuals.  The commentators explain that they were the leaders of Amalek, i.e. important Nazis.  This was a unique opportunity to eliminate them.  It is an obligation to kill people such as these.  The calculation of Mordechai was therefore a realistic and just calculation.  He knew that the Nation of Israel had strength but the strength was dormant and needed to be aroused.


Question: Does this also explain why Mordechai sought other ways to provoke Haman?

Answer: Correct.  He wanted to arouse the courage of the Nation of Israel.


Question: If all of the nations were commanded to bow down to Haman, then it seems that there is no basis to assume that the decree was specifically for Jews.  And if the decree was specific for the Jews then one could except that the decrees would become more and more severe as Mordechai persisted, but this does not seem to be the case.  Why then was Mordechai so firm in his attempts to provoke Haman?

Answer: Mordechai had good reason to think that Haman had it in for the Jews, but was working in stages.  Pharaoh’s decree “You should throw into the river every boy that is born” (Shemot 1:22) also included the non-Jewish babies but the intention was against the Jews.


  1. “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”

Who was Mordechai the Jew?  The Megillah says: “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai…who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile which had been exiled with Yechonyah, King of Yehudah, whom Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylonia, had exiled” (Ester 2:5-6).  In order to understand who Mordechai was, we must understand the historical background of the Megillah.


In the year 3327 since Creation – there was the exile of Yechonyah.  As is known, Yechonyah, King of Yehudah, was exiled with all of the aristocracy with the hope that it would break the Kingdom of Yehudah.  Before this, in the year 3320, Nebuchadnezar conquered the Land and exiled Chanayah, Misha’el and Azaryah.  Yechonyah was exiled in 3327 and Mordechai then move to Babylonia.  According to our Sages, Mordechai was not exiled but moved to Babylonia on his own free will.  He understood that now the international scene was focused in Babylonia, i.e. Babylonia was like New York in our time and he thought that it was important to be there because that is where he could act.  In the meantime, Koresh became the leader of the empire.  Koresh conquered the entire area and moved his capital to Shushan in 3390.  Mordechai also moved to Shushan.  The Koresh Declaration was made in this year, which was seventy years after the first Exile or, more precisely, seventy-two years including parts of years.  Mordechai made aliyah (actually, he was a returning resident) with those who returned with Ezra.  His name appears on the lists in the Book of Ezra of those who made aliyah.


In the year 3393, an indictment appeared.  This indictment was written by the non-Jews who lived in the Land of Israel who were unhappy that Koresh permitted the Jews to return to Israel and build the Temple.  They hired advisors to nullify this decree (see Ezra, chapters 4-5).  During this time, many non-Jews settled in the Land of Israel in our absence and they were accustomed to thinking that the Land belonged to them.  They thus sent an indictment to Koresh and also threatened the Jews who were returning to the Land with pogroms.  Mordechai was sent to Shushan as a representative of the Jews to act against the indictment.  At the same time that Mordechai returned, Haman also arrived in Shushan.  Haman was the head of the delegation sent by the indicters.  Haman is what is now called a Palestinian.  He was not Persian, but one of the non-Jews who lived in the Land of Israel and terrorized the Jews in Yehudah.  This means that Mordechai and Haman knew each other well.  An old grudge already existed between them.  To our distress, Haman was successful in his mission and stopped the aliyah of the Jews and the building of the Temple.  This occurred in the year 3393. And who was the king?  Achashverosh.  He was the king who stopped the aliyah and the building of the Temple.


Question: But didn’t Koresh delay the building which he himself permitted?

Answer: This is so, but there is no contradiction.  Koresh “delaying” means that he ruled that the Temple should be built from wood so that it would be able to be burned.  But the one who decreed that the building of the Temple should cease is Achashverosh.


In the third year of King Achashverosh’s reign, in the year 3395, Achashverosh made the party.  In the seventh year of his reign, 3399, Achashverosh took Ester as a wife.  In the twelfth year of his reign, the second letters from Mordechai and Ester were set out.


In the year 3406, there was the Daryavesh Declaration.  According to calculations, Daryavesh was six years old at the time.  Logic says that if the king was so young, someone else was running the empire.  This was his mother: Ester.  According to this, Daryavesh was Jewish.  Mordechai, second to the king, also seemed to have had a hand in the Daryavesh Declaration.  The Book of Ezra relates that there was an additional letter of indictment during the time of Daryavesh (Ezra, chapter 5), but he said that the building of the Temple should continue and “he will investigate the complaints.”  During his investigation, he found the Koresh Declaration – the explicit ruling of Koresh – and it was forbidden to argue with it.  It is possible that since he was a young king, they tried not to have him do anything radical, so they hid behind Koresh’s ruling.  Since there was no official decision to nullify the Koresh Declaration, it seems that it still applied.


The First Temple was destroyed in the year 3338 and its rebuilding was completed in the year 3408, i.e. seventy years later.  The building began in 3406 and lasted two years.  There are actually a few calculations of seventy years, since there were three conquests of Nebuchadnezar.  The first conquest led to the exile of Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah.  The second led tothe exile of Yechonyah.  And the third led to the exile of Tzidkiyahu and the destruction of the Temple.  The Koresh Declaration was seventy years after the first conquest and the Daryavesh Declaration was seventy years after the destruction of the Temple, in the time of Tzidkiyahu.  All of these dates are based on Rashi.  There are various opinions about the dating among the Rishonim (early authorities), but we used the simple explanation of Rashi.


Based on these calculations, Achashverosh was the one who stopped the building of the Temple and the aliyah.  We learn from here that the story of Purim occurred exactly in the middle of the process of the return of the Jews to Zion.  The Ramban teaches that we can see “behind the curtains” that the struggle was not only against the Jews in the empire of Achashverosh but was also secretly a struggle over Eretz Yisrael (see Chidushei Ha-Ramban on Massechet Megillah) as it says: “Because Mordechai the Jew…sought the good of his Nation and spoke peacefully to all of his offspring” (Esther 10:3).  “Spoke peacefully” is what is revealed and “sought the good of his Nation” is that in the recesses of his heart, in secret and with wisdom, he sought the good of his Nation in the Land of Israel.


At the beginning of this struggle, Haman succeeded.  King Achashverosh promoted him.  In comparison, Mordechai was not so successful, although he was a minister in the government: “And Mordechai sat in the gate of the king” (ibid. 6:12).  But in the end, everything flips around: Daryavesh’s Declaration was written, aliyah was renewed and the building of the Second Temple was completed.


  1. Un-walled and Walled Cities

The Ramban in his commentary on Massechet Megillah says that the main problem was “To destroy, murder and exterminate” the Jews in Eretz Yisrael.  Based on this idea, he resolves a famous difficulty as to why Purim is celebrated on two days: on the 14th of Adar (in un-walled cities) and on Shushan Purim (in walled cities).  The halachic difficulty that it is forbidden to establish two days because of “Lo Titgodedu” (Devarim 14:1, explained by Yevamot 14a – two distinct communities maintaining disparate practices in one community) does not exist in the case of Purim since the Gemara already explained that it is similar to two “Batei Din” (Jewish courts) in two different cities giving different rulings, which is permissible to all opinions.  One “Beit Din” ruling that part of the people should act one way and part should act another way is forbidden according to all opinions.  A case of two “Batei Din” in one city is a dispute in the Gemara between Abaye and Rava.  But there is no issue for two “Batei Din” in two different cities giving different rulings, and therefore Tel Aviv can act one way and Jerusalem can act in another.


The question remains, however, as to why they established two days in the first place.  After all, we are pained that there are different customs among the Nation.  Why establish the holiday with a difference between un-walled and walled cities?  The Ramban explains at length that at first the Jews who lived in walled cities felt protected.  They knew that they could protect themselves if attacked.  The Jews in the un-walled cities, however, knew that they could not protect themselves and they would be severely wounded if attacked.


This is the way that the Ramban explains the historical development of the celebration these miracles: The un-walled cities fought on the 13th of Adar, rested on the 14th and celebrated a holiday on that day.  In Shushan, they also fought on the 14th and rested on the 15th.  But, the Ramban explains, in Shushan they fought on the 13th and rested on the 14th, but they also had a small operation of eliminating five hundred men on the 14th.  According to this, they should have also celebrated Purim on the 14th in Shushan, and perhaps had some additional rejoicing on the 15th.  He explains that the establishment of the holiday was in stages, and when we look closely in the Megillah it is possible to see four different stages:

  1. The Megillah says that during the time of the miracle itself, the un-walled cities celebrated on the 14th. Because of the decree “to destroy, murder and exterminate,” “and it was turned around: The Jews gained the upper hand over their enemies” (ibid. 9:1), they celebrated spontaneously (ibid. 9:16-18).
  2. In the second year, only the un-walled cities celebrated. They established a holiday for themselves since they had felt endangered, but the walled cities did not celebrate.  They did not feel that they were saved, and there was no reason therefore for them to celebrate (ibid. 9:19).
  3. The Sages – Mordechai and his Beit Din – later thought, and Hashem opened their eyes to this, that the Jews in the un-walled cities were indeed correct to celebrate and there should be a holiday. They searched for a halachic basis to do so out of a fear of “Bal Tosif” (the prohibition of adding mitzvot to the Torah).  Baruch Hashem, we have Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Lag Ba-Omer, but they did not.  They therefore needed to discuss and prove that this was a true salvation and that it was permissible to establish a holiday (ibid. 9:20-23).  The Megillah says that Mordechai sent a letter to celebrate the holiday, “and the Jews accepted” (ibid. verse 23).  What did they accept? “What they had begun to practice” – what they had begun on their own initiative – and then “and as Mordechai wrote to them” (ibid.).  Furthermore, Mordechai added that not only should the un-walled cities celebrate but the walled cities as well, and he gives the reason: “For Haman ben Hamedata the Agagite, enemy of the Jews, had plotted to destroy the Jews and had cast a lot to terrify and destroy them” (ibid. 9:24).
  4. Ester sent a letter: “Queen Ester bat Avichayil and Morechai the Jews wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim. Letters were sent to all of the Jews, to one hundred and twenty-seventy provinces of the kingdom of Achashverosh, with words of peace and truth, to establish these days of Purim in their times just as Mordechai the Jew and Queen Ester established for them” (ibid. 9:29-31).

We do not always pay attention to these details when reading the Megillah, but the information they give is quite precise.  The Ramban says that Mordechai established celebrating Purim on two different days – the 14th and the 15th of Adar, since there were two differences between un-walled and walled cities.  The first difference was that the Jews of the un-walled cities were in greater danger.  The second is that the Jews of the un-walled cities initiated the holiday.  The Ramban brings two proofs for this theory.  There is a dispute in the Gemara as to whether Tiveria is considered a walled city.  The final decision is that it is considered a walled city but the question revolved around the fact that there is a wall around the entire city except one side, which is bordered by the sea.  The Gemara discusses the status of the sea and explains that the question of whether or not it is like a wall is dependent upon the function of a wall.  If the function is to protect the city, then the sea also provides protection.  If someone attempts to attack the city from the side with the wall, it inhabitants can throw stones; if someone attempts an attack by sea, they defend themselves by shooting arrows with fire and sinking the ship.  Thus, the city is protected.  But if the function of the wall is to hide the city so that the enemy is unable to see what is happening inside, then the sea does not accomplish this goal since it is open.  From the perspective of being enclosed, Tiveria is not considered a walled city, but from the perspective of being protected it is considered a walled city.  Since the conclusion is that Tiveria is considered a walled city, the Ramban learns that the essential purpose of a wall is salvation and protection.  He brings an additional proof from the Gemara’s discussion that perhaps walled cities need not celebrate Purim at all or should celebrate it only on the 15th since they were protected.  Based on this, he clarifies the well-known halachic question regarding the status of walled cities outside of Israel, such as Prague.  He explains that Jews who live in walled cities outside of Israel certainly need to celebrate on the 14th like un-walled cities, since the entire issue of the walled cities is when there are only Jews inside, and non-Jews attack it from the outside.  If there is a walled city outside of Israel and both Jews and non-Jews live inside it, however, it makes no difference whether it has a wall or not, since the non-Jews could attack from within.  Thus, the Ramban explains that the essence of the miracles was therefore in the Land of Israel (see Chidushei Ha-Ramban on Massechet Megillah, chap. 1).


According to the Ramban, the main struggle was in Eretz Yisrael.  Although this connection is not written explicitly in the Megillah, it is revealed both by the dates of the events, as well as by comparing the Megillah with the Book of Ezra and Nechemiah and other books.  Megillat Ester was the official book of the kings of Persia and Media. It was therefore impossible to write anything provocative in it.  It had to pass the censor.  It could not include facts which appear in the Book of Ezra and Nechemiah which pull back the curtain and show us what really occurred.


Question: How did Mordechai see that the Nation had the strength to stand up?  On the face of it, the response of the Nation testified to its weakness?

Answer: In truth, the Nation did not possess the strength, but over the course of the year, from the casting of the lot on Pesach until the following Pesach, Mordechai was able to raise the national morale.


Question: But wasn’t Mordechai’s refusal to bow down before the drawing of the lots?

Answer: This is correct.  He also did not know that there would be a decree.  He knew in general that the Jews were demeaning themselves before the non-Jews and the danger of extermination hovered around them. This is according to the opinions of both the Rashbi and his students.  He knew this, saw this dangerous man Haman and therefore stood against him with all his might.


Question: He knew that he had the power to change the Nation even though it was weak at that time?

Answer: Certainly. The Nation was scared, as we see from the fact that everyone bowed down to Haman.  But the Nation repented.  We went from being a “scattered and separate Nation” (ibid. 3:8) to “Go, gather all of the Jews” (ibid. 4:16).  This is also the explanation of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz for Mishloach Manot.  He writes that this giving of gifts is in order to increase love, fraternity, peace and friendship and to lessen suspicion, tension and divisiveness (Manot Ha-Levi).  Mordechai knew that he possessed the power to elevate and the fact is that he succeeded: “For the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them” (ibid. 8:17).  The frightened Jews were transformed into courageous fighters.  Mordechai was a great man and a true leader.  A leader must understand reality but also recognize the hidden strengths of the Nation.  If he does not have this capacity, he is like an officer who yells to his soldiers: “After me,” but when he gets to the top of the hill, he discovers that he is alone.  Mordechai knew that he possessed the ability to actualize the strength of the Nation.  He knew them well.  I once read a story about the Holocaust.  Two Nazi SS officers once entered a Jewish home.  There was suddenly shooting.  One of the SS officers said to the other: “It is good that you killed that dog.”  He did not know that it was the Jew who shot “that dog” – that his comrade from the SS was the one who was killed.  He couldn’t imagine that a Jew would have the strength to kill a Nazi.  In truth, it took time until we had the strength.  The strength was awakened in the Warsaw Ghetto.  When we fought in the Warsaw Ghetto, we knew that there was no chance of defeating the Germans, but the decision was to fight with the feeling that if we fall it will be in a respectable battle.  But after 2000 years of exile, it certainly takes more time to discover our inner strength.  Look at what happened to the Nation after less than seventy years of exile!  Mordechai knew that the Nation possessed strengths and he was the one who awakened them from their dormant state.




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