By Rav Jesse Horn, Yeshivat Hakotel
After communicating how heroically Mordechai facilitated the miraculous salvation, the Megilla concludes with this description of Mordechai “Because Mordechai, the Jew, was second to the king, great for the Jews, accepted by (Rov) most of his brethren, interested in the well-being of his nation and a good spokesman for his people” (Ester 10:3). Although at first glance this seems to praise Mordechai for his successful action and efforts, surprisingly, Rashi (Ester 10:3), quoting earlier Chazal (Megilla 15b), disagrees. “Accepted by most of his brethren,” implies that there were those, albeit a small number, who did not accept and appreciate Mordechai. Although this already sounds amazing, upon discovering who these critics were, it becomes downright shocking. Rashi believes that members of the Sanhedrin, the greatest Rabbinic authoritative body at the time, were disappointed in Mordechai. They felt that Mordechai should have spent more time learning Torah and limited his involvement in politics.
Beyond the incredibly interesting political and ideological debate between those members of the Sanhedrin and Mordechai, this description is fascinating. One must wonder why the Megilla concluded by raising doubt about Mordechai’s character? Why end such a heroic and positive narrative with a critique? Until this point Mordechai is a hero; there is nothing but praise for Mordechai’s commitment and dedication to Hashem and his people, why end on a downer? Moreover, Mordechai himself authored Megillat Ester. Why would he allude to this critique of himself in such an anticlimactic way?
Before directly answering our opening questions, let us make an interesting observation. Both Ester and Mordechai are strikingly similar to Yosef. Many details about Ester recall and resemble details that describe Yosef.
1. Both Ester and Yosef are extremely attractive individuals.
2. Both of them are described by the word“youth” (Bereshit 37:2 and Ester 2:2, 4).
3. Moreover each found “favor” in the eyes of others, Yosef in the eyes of the warden (Bereshit 39:21) and Ester in everyone who saw her (Ester 2:15) (Sifri Bamidbar, Parshat Naso 41, Sifri Zuta 6).
4. They each lived outside of Israel, in a foreign land. Moreover, both are separated from their families, courted by an aristocratic from the local country (Potifar and Achashvarosh) and ultimately married into the foreign aristocracy (Yosef married Potifar’s daughter and Ester married Achashvarosh).
5. Ester and Yosef each withheld their true identity, Ester from Achashvarosh and Yosef from his brothers. And after initially hiding who they were, they each reveal their identity in an incredibly dramatic manner, one that serves as the central turning point in each episode.
However, not only does the Megilla portray Ester as similar to Yosef, Mordechai is as well.
1. Mordechai’s introduction (Ester 2:6) mentions his exile four times, just as Yosef was exiled by his brothers.
2. Both were challenged daily by an aristocratic character in the story, Yosef by Potifar’s wife (Bereshit 39:10) and Mordechai by Haman demanding he bow down to him (Ester 3:4). The Megilla says “daily”, quoting the Chumash and thereby highlighting this parallel (Bereshit Rabbah, Vilna Edition 87).
3. Achashvarosh got angry with and ultimately killed Bigtan and Teresh just like Paroh got angry at the Sar HaMashkim and Sar HaOfim and ultimately killed the Sar HaMashkim (Midrash Lekach Tov, Vayeshev 40).
4. Despite being exiled from the land of Israel, both Mordechai and Yosef rose quickly to political power.
5. They each became advisors to the king and ultimately second only to the king (Bereshit 41:44 and Ester 10:3); Mordechai was even labeled as “Second to the King.”
6. Each rose to power primarily based on a single act of helping the king; for Mordechai it was informing the king of a planned assignation and for Yosef it was interpreting his dreams.
7. Ultimately, they were both paraded around the city’s capital in a declaration of their elevated status (Bereshit 41:43 and Ester 6:11). (Bereshit Rabbah, Vilna Edition 87).
8. The king empowered them both with important decision-making responsibilities by taking off his ring (Bereshit 41:42 and Ester 8:2).
9. Mordechai, like Yosef, received special clothing symbolizing his beloved and unique status. (Bereshit Rabbah, Vilna Edition 87).
Although the question begs to be asked as to why the Megilla would present both main characters in parallel to Yosef, it is worth noting the contrasts between Ester and Mordechai on the one hand, and Yosef on the other, before offering a theory.
Here are numerous differences.
1. In contrast to how Yosef was exiled as an individual and by his brothers, Mordechai was exiled as part of a nation (Ester 2:6).
2. Although both Yosef and Mordechai were given special clothing, Yosef received his as a permanent gift from his father, while Mordechai’s was temporary and from the king.
3. Moreover, Yosef’s clothing gift led to his misfortune while Mordechai’s clothing reflected his success.
4. While in the Yosef story, redemption began with Paroh’s dreams at night, it was Achashvarosh’s insomnia that led to Mordechai and Ester’s salvation.
5. Furthermore, king Achashvarosh asked his most-trusted assistant, Haman for advice, while Paroh consulted a stranger, an imprisoned Hebrew slave. The contrast is even more profound because Haman’s advice was selfish, while Yosef’s was completely selfless. It was precisely these events which led to Haman’s downfall and to Yosef’s rise to power.
6. Ester was taken by Achashvarosh while Potifar’s wife was unsuccessful in her courting of Yosef, but the contrast may be extended, because as a result Ester became the queen while Yosef was incarcerated.
7. Although ultimately both Ester and Yosef reveal their true selves, Ester communicates that Achashvarosh does not know her upbringing and past, while Yosef says the exact opposite; he tells his brother that they do know his history and past. Ester further tells her family “You think we are family, but you do not know ” while Yosef conversely states “you think that I am an Egyptian stranger, surprise, we are family.”
8. Yosef’s story beings with a national problem, a famine in Egypt; a problem that Yosef creatively solves. In Persia, by contrast, there was a plethora of food, enough to eat and drink for one hundred eighty days of partying for one hundred and twenty seven nations.
9. Unlike the naturally developed problem that Yosef solves, Achashvarosh creates for Bnei Yisrael, one that Ester solves.
10. Yosef’s primary intention was to assist Paroh and save the Egyptian kingdom while Mordechai’s primary mission was to save the Jewish people; transforming the city into “The city of Shushan was cheerful and happy.” (Ester 8:15) was a byproduct mentioned only peripherally at the end.
11. Achashvarosh took his wife Ester from Mordechai while Paroh gave Yosef a wife (Bereshit 41:45).
Returning to why the Megilla was written this way, firstly it was with Mordechai’s merit, like Yosef’s, which caused Hashem to save the foreign monarch (Midrash Lekach Tov, Lech Lecha 12). But the parallel is stronger, for in neither episode is an overt miracle performed, yet each redemption clearly displays Hashem working behind the scenes. The numerous unlikely coincidences that occur one after another can only be traced back to him. Yosef faithfully trusts Hashem that his being sold, falsely accused of adultery, imprisoned and then ultimately crowned as second in command were all part of Hashem’s larger plan. Mordechai, equally devoted, expresses his faith when he requests Ester’s help. He states with confidence that we cannot know the larger plan, but the outcome will be positive. Hashem will bring salvation and will not abandon his people (Ester 4:14).
However, although it is speculative, perhaps we can further hypothesize why the Megilla was written this way. Perhaps Mordechai was subtly defending himself against the critics. Mordechai was addressing the members of the Sanhedrin, who disapproved and thought that he was too involved in government. Mordechai used Yosef as a religious paradigm and precedent for government involvement, believing his approach was at least a legitimate one. Yosef too lived among the foreign people, assisting and abetting a foreign government. Yosef too was second to the king and perhaps also sacrificed some of his time – that could have been devoted to Talmud Torah – instead involved in Egyptian political affairs. Perhaps paralleling the stories defends both Mordechai and Ester, who were criticized for their heavy involvement in the Persian government.
In addition to the many similarities listed above, there are a number of opposites as well. By contrasting these stories, Mordechai may have been further explaining and justifying his heavily involvement in the Egyptian government. Unlike Yosef, whose intentions were to save himself and yet completely legitimate, Mordechai and Ester were tasked with the salvation of the Jewish people, a significantly more altruistic ambition. If Yosef was justified in his conduct, as presumably his critics would concede, the justice of Mordechai and Ester’s actions should be all the more apparent. Moreover, Yosef has a completely happy ending. He reunites with his family, while Ester, by contrast, remains a wife to Achashvarosh.
However, there may be an additional defense for Mordechai’s character. Even if one disagrees with Mordechai’s ideological position with regards to a Jew’s involvement in government, somehow rejecting the comparison to Yosef, Mordechai can still claim that he was well-intentioned. In other words, even if he acted incorrectly, which the author, Mordechai, does not accept, he certainly did not act selfishly. This may be precisely the conclusion of the Megilla. Immediately after communicating that Mordechai was “accepted by most of his brethren” the Megilla says he was “interested in the well-being of his nation.”
Lastly, perhaps the phrase “accepted by most of his brethren”, while hinting to the comparison with Yosef (who was also not fully appreciated by his brothers), also highlights the fact that Mordechai, unlike Yosef, was liked by the majority. Mordechai, as the author, is telling his readers that one must recognize and even respect those with different ideological values. And yet this does not conflict with the need to be true to one’s heart, looking for proper ideological direction from the Torah and tradition in order to act with sincerity and selflessness.
Article originally appeared on Arutz Sheva