By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
13 Adar 5764 - March 5, 2004
On this Shabbat Zachor, when we remember all that Amalek has
attempted against us, we are reminded of the evil plans of Haman.
Haman, newly elevated to a senior position among King Achashverosh’s advisors,
notices that Mordechai does not give him the respect he deserves:
And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate were kneeling and
prostrating themselves (KOR’IM U’MISHTACHAVIM) to Haman, for so had the king
ordered regarding him. But Mordechai would not kneel nor would he prostrate
himself (LO YICHRA V’LO YISHTACHAVEH). And the king’s servants who were at the
king’s gate said to Mordechai, “Why do you transgress the king’s order?” And
it was, as they said this to him every day and he did not listen to them, that
they told Haman to see whether the words of Mordechai would stand; for he told
them that he was a Jew. And Haman saw that Mordechai was not kneeling and
prostrating himself to him. And Haman was filled with fury. And it was
despicable in his eyes to set his hand against Mordechai alone, for they told
him of Mordechai’s people. So Haman sought to annihilate all the Jews,
Mordechai’s people, that were in Achashverosh’s entire kingdom (Esther 3:2-6).
Mordechai stands his ground and, against the orders of the
king, refuses to pay Haman obeisance, even though this refusal will endanger
his own life. In fact, this action endangers the lives of all the Jews in the
Should Mordechai have behaved this way? Why doesn’t he listen to the criticism
of the king’s servants? Why does Haman’s rage against Mordechai evolve into a
plan to exterminate the entire Jewish People? Does Haman think it beneath his
dignity to target one man? If so, genocide seems a rather extreme measure (to
put it mildly) to take in order to preserve his self-esteem!
On a textual level, we might ask about the meaning of the combined expression
“kneeling and prostrating”. Also, why is Mordechai’s refusal expressed using
the future tense (LO YICHRA V’LO YISHTACHAVEH)?
Amos Chacham (who prepared the commentary for Megillat Esther in the Daat
Mikra series) makes the point that in Tanach many great people would prostrate
themselves (MISHTACHAVEH) before dignitaries and rulers, including foreign
ones (e.g., Bereshit 33:6-7). However, the combination “kneeling and
prostrating” (KOR’IM U’MISHTACHAVIM) is found only with reference to Hashem
(e.g., Divrei HaYamim II 7:3). Accordingly, Mordechai’s refusal is not
strictly resistance to idolatry, but declining to pay a degree of homage to a
human being that is reserved for Hashem.
Rashi, on the other hand, says (based on Esther Rabbah 7:6 and Pirkei deRabbi
Eliezer 50) that Haman made himself a god. The Midrashic source says:
What did Haman do? He made himself an idol embroidered on his garments and
over his heart, so that anyone who bowed before Haman was bowing to idolatry.
Alone, and against royal decree, Mordechai defies Haman’s
As to the use of the future tense, Malbim says (Ayelet Hashachar 45) that the
future can be used in place of the past to indicate the present, ongoing
action, a condition is still in effect, or the consideration of an action.
A number of commentaries explain LO YICHRA V’LO YISHTACHAVEH along these
lines. Maharal (Ohr Chadash) and Rishon L’tziyon (commentary on the Megillot
by Ohr HaChaim, R. Chaim ben Moshe ibn-Attar, 1696-1743) say that Mordechai
would repeatedly refuse to bow before Haman, even making a point of walking
near him so as to demonstrate his rejection. This idea is also reflected in
Rashi’s comments on “whether the words of Mordechai would stand”:
“who said that he would not prostrate himself forever, because he is a Jew and
he is prohibited regarding idol worship” (emphasis added).
For his own part, Malbim understands the future as a reflection of thought:
“He made up his mind that he would not kneel under any circumstances.”
Sefat Emet (R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter [1847-1905], second rebbe of Ger), in
his comments on Purim (5643, 5653) takes these ideas even further. Mordechai
made it clear that it would never even occur to him to bow. He is first
There was a Jewish man (ISH YEHUDI) in the capital Shushan, and his name was
Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim’i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite man (Esther
On this the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) says:
ISH - this teaches that Mordechai was equal in his generation to Moshe in his
generation, about whom it is written, And the man (V’HA’ISH)Moshe was very
humble (Bamidbar 12:3). … A Jewish man (ISH YEHUDI) — Why is he called
“Jewish” [literally, “Judean”], when he was a Benjaminite? Since he professed
the unity of the Holy One, Blessed be He, before all the people of the world,
he was called YEHUDI, as if to say YECHIDI [the one who professes unity].
Sefat Emet says that Mordechai is the one of his generation
whose soul derives from the root of Moshe’s soul. But, Mordecahi is not an
exception; rather, he is evidence of the great spiritual strength that endures
within the Jewish nation.
Haman understood that if he would kill Mordechai, another such ISH
YEHUDI-YECHIDI would arise to take his place, because in every generation
there is one righteous individual who will not submit to evil. Therefore, it
would not avail Haman to annihilate Mordechai only. This is the basis of
Haman’s plan to destroy the entire Jewish People.
When the Jewish People resist the challenge to bow before idols, they earn the
merit to subjugate themselves to Hashem. This is the ultimate outcome of the
events of Purim. The Al Hanisim prayer for Purim, which is added to the ‘Amida
in the section of Thanksgiving (where we do bow before Hashem) is the
realization of this.
Mordechai teaches that Hashem gives every Jew the inner power to oppose
‘Amalek. From this power comes the joy of submitting to Hashem.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
After a series of
commandments relating to the manufacture of the priestly garments and the
inauguration of the priestly service in the Mishkan, HaShem affirms that
His presence will dwell in the midst of Israel; “And I will dwell among
the children of Israel, and will be their God (Shemot 29:45).” Rav Dovid
HaLevi Segal explains that HaShem’s presence will only rest within Israel
if the Mishkan (and all of its vessels) is constructed in a spirit of
Obviously, HaShem’s presence transforms this physical structure into a
sacred site; man, however, plays a role in creating this holy-saturated
setting. Man must take a moral inventory of his intentions as he builds.
HaShem will not magically appear to Israel - He desires for man to look
within and take action, to build a structure with reflection and pure
intentions. More simply put, Israel must do their part and only afterwards
will God do His.
This concept expresses itself in many Mikdash settings. In Sefer Devarim
Israel is commanded to sacrifice to God in the place that He chooses to
put His name; “But to the place that the Lord your God shall choose …(Devarim
12:5).” How does Israel know where to sacrifice? How do they know that
HaShem is referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Mikdash
will eventually stand? The Sifrei answers that a prophet will reveal the
exact location. Does this imply that Israel should wait around until the
prophet supernaturally reveals the location? Absolutely not! The Sifrei
continues: “‘There you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall
you come’ - seek and find Him, and then a prophet will tell you.”
Man is obligated to set out on a spiritual and very practical expedition!
He must search within and actively seek out the area of HaShem’s presence;
only afterwards, will HaShem reveal the location of the Mikdash via a
Regarding Mikdash matters, man must search within, he must act, he must
conduct himself with holiness, and only then will HaShem reveal Himself.
May we merit to complete the necessary steps that will enable the
Shechinah to outwardly reappear, speedily in our days.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320