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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Should Mordechai Have Bowed?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on September 9, 2016)
Topics: Moadim/Holidays, Purim

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at hresnikoff@yctorah.org.

The Peshat of the Megillah is that Mordechai didn’t bow to Haman because of personal rivalry, family hostility, and ethnic pride. I seriously question, considering the consequences, if these reasons are justified. In other words, if that’s the only reason he didn’t want to bow, he really should have. However, Chazal say that maybe the reason was that Haman made himself into a false god, or at least had the image of a false god on his clothing. This is slightly more justifiable. After all, you should die before worshiping idols. But Mordechai wasn’t just sacrificing his own life, he was threatening the entire Jewish nation. I’m not sure that the sacrifice is worth it. It is clear that the Megillah does approve of Mordechai’s choice. So why? The only justification I can see for Mordechai’s behavior is that he saw the corrupt abusive nature of Haman and protested his being raised to power. This is difficult to read in the פשט of the Megillah but I don’t think it’s such a stretch. In our world today, we are rarely faced with a situation where the fate of the nation is at stake, but I think it is still worth wondering what are the moments to enter into conflict with the secular world because of our religion and when is it better to simply allow small slights and inconveniences to pass.

Why Didn’t Mordechai Bow?

Megillat Esther, ch. 3

א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, גִּדַּל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶת-הָמָן בֶּן-הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי–וַיְנַשְּׂאֵהוּ; וַיָּשֶׂם, אֶת-כִּסְאוֹ, מֵעַל, כָּל-הַשָּׂרִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ. ב וְכָל-עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן–כִּי-כֵן, צִוָּה-לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ; וּמָרְדֳּכַי–לֹא יִכְרַע, וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה. ג וַיֹּאמְרוּ עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר-בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ–לְמָרְדֳּכָי: מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה עוֹבֵר, אֵת מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ. ד וַיְהִי, באמרם (כְּאָמְרָם) אֵלָיו יוֹם וָיוֹם, וְלֹא שָׁמַע, אֲלֵיהֶם; וַיַּגִּידוּ לְהָמָן, לִרְאוֹת הֲיַעַמְדוּ דִּבְרֵי מָרְדֳּכַי–כִּי-הִגִּיד לָהֶם, אֲשֶׁר-הוּא יְהוּדִי. ה וַיַּרְא הָמָן–כִּי-אֵין מָרְדֳּכַי, כֹּרֵעַ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ; וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן, חֵמָה.
1 After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed down, and prostrated themselves before Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not down, nor prostrated himself before him. 3 Then the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai: ‘Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?’ 4 Now it came to pass, when they spoke daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not down, nor prostrated himself before him, then was Haman full of wrath.

Esther 5

ט וַיֵּצֵא הָמָן בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, שָׂמֵחַ וְטוֹב לֵב; וְכִרְאוֹת הָמָן אֶת-מָרְדֳּכַי בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, וְלֹא-קָם וְלֹא-זָע מִמֶּנּוּ–וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן עַל-מָרְדֳּכַי, חֵמָה.9 Then went Haman forth that day joyful and glad of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, Haman was filled with wrath against Mordecai.

Questions:

  1. Based on the pesukim, what is the nature of the decree that all of the king’s servants bow to Haman? Whose initiative is it?
  2. Why doesn’t Mordechai bow to Haman? Does he say? Should he have? What are the arguments in favor and what are the arguments against? Is this a model that we are supposed to emulate?
  3. We can say that Mordechai didn’t know what Haman would do when he didn’t bow. But the second time, when he knows what’s at risk, shouldn’t he bow then?

Political Rivalry

Esther 2-3

כא בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וּמָרְדֳּכַי יוֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ; קָצַף בִּגְתָן וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי-סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף, וַיְבַקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד, בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹשׁ. כב וַיִּוָּדַע הַדָּבָר לְמָרְדֳּכַי, וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה; וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ, בְּשֵׁם מָרְדֳּכָי. כג וַיְבֻקַּשׁ הַדָּבָר וַיִּמָּצֵא, וַיִּתָּלוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עַל-עֵץ; וַיִּכָּתֵב, בְּסֵפֶר דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים–לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ.

א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, גִּדַּל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶת-הָמָן…

21 in those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those that kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus. 22 And the thing became known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther told the king thereof in Mordecai’s name. 23 And when inquisition was made of the matter, and it was found to be so, they were both hanged on a tree; and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.
1 After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman…

Questions:

  1. What might have been Mordechai’s expectation after successfully installing Esther in the palace as well as saving the king’s life? How might this affect his choice not to bow? Is this a justified reason?

Family Feud

1 Samuel, ch. 15

ז וַיַּךְ שָׁאוּל, אֶת-עֲמָלֵק, מֵחֲוִילָה בּוֹאֲךָ שׁוּר, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי מִצְרָיִם. ח וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת-אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ-עֲמָלֵק, חָי; וְאֶת-כָּל-הָעָם, הֶחֱרִים לְפִי-חָרֶב.
7 And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is in front of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.

Esther, ch. 2

ה אִישׁ יְהוּדִי, הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה; וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי, בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן-שִׁמְעִי בֶּן-קִישׁ–אִישׁ יְמִינִי.
5 There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite.

1 Samuel, ch. 9

א וַיְהִי-אִישׁ מבן ימין (מִבִּנְיָמִין), וּשְׁמוֹ קִישׁ בֶּן-אֲבִיאֵל בֶּן-צְרוֹר בֶּן-בְּכוֹרַת בֶּן-אֲפִיחַ–בֶּן-אִישׁ יְמִינִי: גִּבּוֹר, חָיִל. ב וְלוֹ-הָיָה בֵן וּשְׁמוֹ שָׁאוּל, בָּחוּר וָטוֹב, וְאֵין אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, טוֹב מִמֶּנּוּ; מִשִּׁכְמוֹ וָמַעְלָה, גָּבֹהַּ מִכָּל-הָעָם.
1 Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valour. 2 And he had a son, whose name was Saul, young and goodly, and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.

Questions:

  1. Who is Mordechai’s great-uncle? What might this have to do with his choice not to bow? Is this legitimate?

Esther Rabba 7:8

…אני איסגנטירין של הקדוש ברוך הוא שכל השבטים נולדו בחוצה לארץ וזקני נולד בארץ ישראל. מיד ויגידו להמן וגו’ אמר לון
המן, אמרון ליה זקנו הלא השתחוה לזקני , הדא ה”ד ותגשןהשפחות וגו’ ואחר נגש יוסף ורחל וישתחוו, היתיב ועדיין לא נולד בנימין, אמרין ליה הה”ד ויגידו להמן.
…I am a noble of the Holy Blessed One. For all of the tribes were born outside of the land and my grandfather was born in the land of Israel.
Immediately, “And they told Haman etc.” Haman said to them, Say to him that his grandfather bowed before my grandfather! Thus it says, “And the maidservants came forward…And then came Joseph and Rachel and they bowed.” He replied, ‘But Benjamin had not yet been born.’ Thus it says, “And they told Haman.”

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 12b

רבא אמר כנסת ישראל אמרה לאידך גיסא ראו מה עשה לי יהודי ומה שילם לי ימיני מה עשה לי יהודי דלא קטליה דוד לשמעי דאתיליד מיניה מרדכי דמיקני ביה המן ומה שילם לי ימיני דלא קטליה שאול לאגג דאתיליד מיניה המן
Raba said, ‘The Congregation of Israel said it from the other perspective: “See what the Judean did to me and see how the Benjaminite repaid me.” “What the Judean did to me,” for David did not kill Shim’i from whom Mordechai was born to whom Haman was hostile. “And how the Benjaminite repaid me,” for Saul did not kill Agag from whom Haman was born.

Rashi ad loc.

לאידך גיסא. לצעקה ולא לשבח איש יהודי ואיש ימיני גרמו לי הצער הזה:
From the other perspective: as a cry and not as praise. A Judean and a Benjaminite caused me this trouble.

Questions:

  1. Is Mordechai’s response to Haman’s claim in the Midrash reasonable considering what’s at stake? Does the question of Amalek even arise?
  2. Does the Talmud approve of Mordechai’s choice according to Rashi? What should he have done?

Idolatry

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 13a

רבי יוחנן אמר: לעולם מבנימיןקאתי, ואמאי
קרי ליה יהודי על שום שכפר בעבודה זרה.
שכל הכופר בעבודה זרה נקרא יהודי, כדכתיב איתי גברין יהודאין וגו.
Rabbi Yochanan said, “[Mordechai] certainly came from Benjamin, and why was he called a Jew (Judean)? Because he denied idolatry. For everyone who denies idolatry is called a Jew (Judean) as it says, “…with us were Jewish Men…”.

Esther Rabba, ch. 7


ה) וצוה המלך שיהו כורעים ומשתחוים לו,
מה עשה המן עשה לו צלם מרוקם על בגדיו
ועל לבו וכל מי שהיה משתחוה להמן היה
משתחוה לעבודת כוכבים…
5) And the King commanded that they should kneel and bow to him. What did Haman do? He embroidered an image on his clothes and his chest. And anyone who would bow to Haman would bow to an idol…

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 19a

מאן דאמר מאיש יהודי, מה ראה מרדכי דאיקני בהמן – על ככה – דשוי נפשיה עבודה זרה
The one who says [that you can start from] “There was a certain Jew,” what did Mordechai see that he antagonized Haman – “on this thing” – that he made himself a false god.

Esther Rabba, ch. 7

ח) מה אמר להם מרדכי למי שאומר לו מדוע
אתה עובר את מצות המלך, ר’ לוי אמר אמר
להם מרדכי משה רבינו הזהיר לנו בתורה ארור האיש אשר יעשה פסל ומסכה, ורשע זה עושה עצמו עבודת כוכבים, וישעיהו הנביא הזהירנו חדלו לכם מן האדם אשר נשמה באפו כי במה נחשב הוא
8. What did Mordechai say to those who asked him “Why do you violate the king’s command?” Rabbi Levi said, ‘Mordechai said to them, ‘Our Teacher Moshe warned us in the Torah, “Cursed is the person who makes a molten image,” and this villain has made himself into a false god! And Isaiah the prophet warned us, “Separate yourself from humans who have breath in their noses, for what are they worth? …

Questions:

  1. Is there any textual evidence for these contentions of the Rabbis? What might have motivated them to construct them?
  2. Assuming that Haman really did either wear or make himself into an idol, is this a legitimate reason not to bow?

Rambam, Mishna Torah, Foundational Laws, ch. 5

ז) ומה אם עבודה זרה, שהיא חמורה מן הכול…
ח) נשים שאמרו להם גויים, תנו לנו אחת מכם ונטמא אותה, ואם לאו, נטמא את כולכם–יטמאו את כולן, ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל. וכן אם אמרו להם גויים, תנו לנו אחד מכם ונהרגנו, ואם לאו, נהרוג את כולכם–ייהרגו כולם, ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל…
7. Just as Idolatry which is worse than anything…

8. If non-Jews said to a group of women, give us one of you and we will rape her or we will rape all of you, they should all be raped and not hand over a Jewish person. Likewise, if non-Jews said to them, give us one of you and we’ll kill them and if not, we’ll kill all of you—they should all die and not hand over a Jewish person.

Questions:

  1. Idolatry is one of the three sins that we should die before violating. Does this apply when the life of the entire nation is at stake and not just our own? What is the rationale?

Jews Bow Only to God

Targum Sheni, ed. Schneer, p. 18b-19a

ואמרו עבדוי דמלכא די בתרע בית מלכא למרדכי מה רבותא אית לך יתיר עלינן דאנן כרעין וסגידין קדם המן ואת לא כרעת קדמוי מטול מה את מעביד על פוקדנא דמלכא? עני מרדכי ואמר להון טפשיא חסירי לבא שמעון מני מלתא חדא ואמרי לי פחימא מאן איתוי בר נשא די הוא מתגאה ומתרברב והוא ילוד מן אתתא ויומין זעירין ובתולדותיה בכיא ואלייא ודריבותיהה עקתא ואינחתא וכל יומוי מלי חימתא וסיפיה הדר לעפרא ואסגוד אנא קדמוי? לא. אלא סגיד אנא לא-להא רבא חיא וקימא די הוא חד בשמיא די הוא אשא אכלא אשא מלאכוי נורא. תלה ארעא באדרעיה ומתח רקיעא בגבורתיה. בצביוניה מחשיך משמשא ברעותיה מנהיר חשיכא ובחכמתיה עבד ימא סגיתיה בחלא…למן די ברא יתון ליה יאי לשבחא ולמסגוד קדמוי.
And the servants of the kings who were in the gates of the king’s house said to Mordechai, “Why are you better than us that we kneel and bow to Haman and you won’t bow before him? Why are you breaking the king’s command?” Mordechai answered and said to them, “Fools without insight, hear one thing from me and give me your answer. What person can make themselves proud and elevated while they were born of woman and their days are few? Their birth is weeping and wailing and their childhood is anguish and sighs and all of their days are filled with anger and in the end, they return to dust. Shall I bow before them? No. Rather, I bow to the great, living God who is singular in the heavens. God is a consuming fire and God’s messengers are flame. God placed the earth on its foundations and stretched the skies in God’s power. At God’s order the sun becomes dark and at God’s will the darkness becomes light. And in God’s wisdom, the sea was bounded with sand…To the one who created these, it is fitting to praise and bow before them!

Questions:

  1. According to the Targum Sheni, why exactly doesn’t Mordechai bow? Is the problem idolatry? Is this a halakhic position?

Rambam, Mishne Torah, Laws of Idolatry, ch.3

ה) …משתחווה וזובח ומקטר ומנסך… העובד באחת מארבע עבודות אלו, לאחד מכל מיני עבודה זרה–חייב, ואף על פי שאין דרך עבודתו בכך… שנאמר “זובח לא-לוהים, יוחרם.
ו) זביחה בכלל עבודות הייתה, ולמה יצאת–לומר לך: מה זביחה מיוחדת שעובדין בה לשם, וחייב הזובח לאל אחר סקילה עליה, בין הייתה דרך עבודתה בזביחה, או אינה בזביחה; אף כל עבודה שהיא מיוחדת לשם–אם עבד בה לאל אחר, בין שהייתה דרך עבודתה בכך בין שאינה בכך–חייב עליה. לכך נאמר “לא תשתחווה, לאל אחר לחייב על ההשתחוויה, אפילו אין דרך עבודתו בכך. והוא הדין למקטר, ומנסך…
5) Bowing, slaughtering, offering incense and libation… One who worships in one of these four ways to any type of idol is guilty (of idolatry) even if this is not the normal worship (for this idol)… as it says, “He that sacrificeth unto the gods…shall be utterly destroyed.”

6) Slaughter just like every other type of worship, so why was it mentioned specifically above? To tell you that just as slaughter is reserved because we worship God that way, and someone who slaughters an animal to another god is punished by stoning whether or not the worship of that god is normally slaughter, so all worship that is reserved for God , if you did it to another god, whether or not that is the normal worship, you are guilty. That’s why it says “Do not bow to another god…” to forbid bowing even if it is not the standard worship. And this is true of offering incense, and bringing libations…

Questions:

  1. According to the Rambam, when is bowing down a problem? Is there any suggestion that this extends to bowing to a monarch or some other person in power?

Do Jews Always Have to Hold the Hard Line?

Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zara 43b

והא בי כנישתא דשף ויתיב בנהרדעא דאוקמי ביה אנדרטא והוו עיילי ביה אבוה דשמואל ולוי ומצלו בגויה ולא חיישי לחשדא רבים שאני
Behold, in the synagogue of Shaf and Yativ in Nehardea, they erected an image (of the king) and Shemuel’s father and Levi used to pray there and they didn’t worry about the appearance of impropriety. It is different when it is being done publically

Mishna, Tractate Avodah Zara, ch. 3

ג,ד) שאל פרקלוס בן פלסלוס את רבן גמליאל בעכו, שהיה רוחץ במרחץ של אפרוטידי; אמר לו, כתוב בתורתכם, “ולא ידבק בידך מאומה, מן החרם” (דברים יג,יח)–מפני מה אתה רוחץ במרחץ של אפרוטידי. אמר לו, אין משיבין במרחץ. כשיצא אמר לו, אני לא באתי בגבולה, היא באה בגבולי; אין אומרין נעשה מרחץ לאפרוטידי, אלא נעשית היא אפרוטידי נוי למרחץ…
4) Proclus ben Palaslus asked Rabban Gamliel who was bathing in the bath of Aphrodite in Akko, ‘It says in your Torah, “Let nothing forbidden cleave to your hands.” Why do you bathe in the bath of Aphrodite? He said, ‘I can’t respond in the bath.’ When they got out, he said to him, ‘I didn’t come into her territory, she came into my territory. We don’t say, let us make a bath for Aphrodite. Rather Aphrodite is a decoration for the bath…

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zara, 16b

ת”ר כשנתפס ר”א למינות העלהו לגרדום לידון אמר לו אותו הגמון זקן שכמותך יעסוק בדברים בטלים הללו אמר לו נאמן עלי הדיין כסבור אותו הגמון עליו הוא אומר והוא לא אמר אלא כנגד אביו שבשמים אמר לו הואיל והאמנתי עליך דימוס פטור אתה כשבא לביתו נכנסו תלמידיו אצלו לנחמו ולא קיבל עליו תנחומין אמר לו ר”ע רבי תרשיני לומר דבר אחד ממה שלימדתני אמר לו אמור אמר לו רבי שמא מינות בא לידך והנאך ועליו נתפסת אמר לו עקיבא הזכרתני…על ידי זה נתפסתי למינות ועברתי על מה שכתוב בתורה (משלי ה) הרחק מעליה דרכך זו מינות ואל תקרב אל פתח ביתה זו הרשות
The Rabbis taught: When Rabbi Eliezer was arrested for heresy, they brought him to the scaffold to be tried. The Hegemon said to him, ‘Can an elder like you be involved with these idol matters?’ He said, ‘I trust the Judge.’ The Hegemon thought he was talking about him but he was actually only talking about his father in Heaven. He (the Hegemon) said to him, ‘Since you have accepted my authority over you, you are pardoned.’ When he got home his students came to console him but he wouldn’t accept consolation. Rabbi Akiva said to him, ‘Rabbi, permit me to say something that you taught me.” He said to him, ‘Go ahead.’ He said, ‘Rabbi maybe some heresy came before you and you benefited from it and you were arrested for that?’ He said, Akiva, you have remined me…For that reason I was arrested for heresy and I violated “Distance your ways from it,” this is heresy, “And don’t come close to the door of its house,” this is the government.

Questions:

  1. Do these examples give any hint as to how Mordechai might have justified bowing to Haman even if there was an issue of idolatry? Was it necessary for him to hold a hard line?
  2. Is there some way Mordechai could have massaged the confrontation with Haman the way Rabbi Eliezer did? If so, according to the text, is that a desirable thing?

Henry David Thureau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient… The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it…

 [3] But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it…
…Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys,(5) and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? …

[5] The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines… In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones…Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it …
…It is not so important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it…

[13] It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico; — see if I would go”; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute…
[8] I meet this American government, or its representative, the State government, directly, and face to face, once a year — no more — in the person of its tax-gatherer; this is the only mode in which a man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and, in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then… I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name — if ten honest men only — ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.

 

Questions:

  1. Based on Thureau’s argument, how could we frame Mordechai’s choice not to bow? Is this a justifiable reason? Was Mordechai successful by Thureau’s standards of holding the line of “right” and “leavening the lump”?
  2. When should we take Mordechai’s behavior as a model and when should we take Rabbi Eliezer? When is it necessary to hold the hard line?
  3. Are there any Torah texts that suggest that Mordechai was acting out of principle (like Thureau) rather than for some other reason?

Esther Rabba, ch. 7

ז) ויהי באמרם אליו יום ויום, ר’ יוחנן בש”ר
בנימין בר ר’ לוי בניה של רחל נסן שוה
וגדולתן שוה, נסן שוה הה”ד ויהי כדברה אל יוסף יום יום וכאן כתיב ויהי כאמרם אליו יום ויום ולא שמע אליהם, ולהלן כתיב ולא שמע אליה לשכב אצלה, וגדולתן שוה הה”ד ויסר פרעה את טבעתו מעל ידו ויתן אותה על יד יוסף וילבש אותו בגדי שש וכאן כתיב ויסר המלך את טבעתו אשר העביר מהמן ויתנה למרדכי, להלן כתיב וירכב אותו במרכבת המשנה אשר לו ויקראו לפניו אברך וכאן כתיב ונתון הלבוש והסוס וקראו לפניו ככה יעשה לאיש אשר המלך חפץ ביקרו.
7) “Now it came to pass, when they spoke daily unto him.” Rabbi Yochanan (said) in the name of Rabbi Binyamin bar Rabbi Levi, ‘The children of Rachel their miracles were the same and their greatness was the same. Their miracle was the same: thus it says, “Now it came to pass, when she spoke to Joseph every day.” Here it says, “Now it came to pass, when they spoke daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them,” and there it says, “And he hearkened not to her.” And their greatness is the same: thus it says, “And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and set it upon the hand of Joseph and he dressed him in clothes of fine linen.” And here it says, “And the king took off his ring that he had retrieved from Haman and he gave it to Mordechai.” Over there it says, “And he had him ride in his secondary chariot which he had and they called before him ‘Abrech!’” and here it says, “And give (him) the robe and the horse and let them call before him, ‘Thus shall be done for the man that the king desires to honor.’”

Questions:

  1. Joseph showed self-restraint and discipline in refusing Potiphar’s wife. How does Mordechai’s behavior do the same? Does this fit into Thureau’s model of being a “man”?
  2. Based on the sources we’ve seen, when is it crucial to hold the line and protest things we object to and when should we back down and compromise?