Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
A Jew and Proud of It!
There is an interesting passage in Megillas Esther regarding
Mordechai's refusal to bow to Haman. We read (Esther 3:2-4):
All the King's servants at the King's gate would
bow down and prostrate themselves before
Haman, for this is what the King had
commanded concerning him. But Mordechai
would not bow down, nor prostrate himself.
The King's servants at the King's gate said to
Mordechai, "Why do you disobey the King's
command?" After saying this to him day after
day - and he did not heed them - they told
Haman; to see whether Mordechai's words
would avail, for he had told them that he was
>From the first pasuk (verse), it appears that Mordechai's "crime" was
his refusal to bow down to Haman. When Haman, however, became
aware of this, it seems that his rage was aroused not simply because,
"Mordechai would not bow nor prostrate himself," but rather
because, "he told them that he was a Jew."
Perhaps, what we have here is a classical example of anti-semitism.
Had someone else - of a different nationality or religion - refused to
bow down, nothing much would be made of it. But Mordechai was
a Jew. And the Haman's of the world relish nothing more than to
catch a Jew doing something wrong.
If, for example, a Roman Catholic man were arrested and charged
with, say, tax evasion, it is highly unlikely that the media would even
note his religion. In fact, unless he was some sort of celebrity or
public figure, it is doubtful that such a ho-hum case would even be
covered by the media at all. But if, G-d forbid, an "ultra-orthodox
Jew" (to use their terminology) is charged with a crime, it suddenly
becomes front-page material, with his religiosity taking centre-stage.
His wrongs will not be overlooked - because he is a Jew.
[Mind you on reflection, I feel that perhaps we should be proud of
this. The fact that we are perceived by "the street" as deeply-religious
individuals, who should rightly be the bearers of a higher moral and
ethical standard, "an example for the nations," is in many ways a
compliment - and a responsibility. It is only deplorable to the extent
that it leads to unwarranted anti-semitism and hate-mongering.]
Some mefarshim (commentators) explain that the phrase, "for he told
him that he was a Jew," means that Mordechai was telling people
that Haman was himself a Jew.
In the year 3393 (368 b.c.e) [the second year of Achashveirosh's
reign], an Indian province rebelled against the Persian Empire, and
the King sent twelve-thousand troops to quell the rebellion. The two
generals leading the troops were Mordechai and Haman. Each lead
six-thousand troops, and was given provisions for three years.
Mordechai lead his troops in attack from the east, while Haman
attacked from the west.
Haman squandered his provisions, and at the end of the first year he
had already ran out of supplies. He appealed to Mordechai for help.
Mordechai agreed, but on one condition: Haman would have to serve
as his slave one day a week. Without any other choice, Haman was
forced to agree. [Me'am Lo'ez]
The non-Jewish slave of a Jew must undergo a conversion process,
including milah (circumcision) and tevilah (ritual immersion), at
which point he becomes obligated in many Torah laws, including all
(applicable) negative commandments, and some positive ones.
According to this Midrash, Mordechai could rightly have told people
that Haman's seething hatred of the Jews was ridiculous, as fate
would have it that he too was a Jew.
The holy Berditchover Rebbe, in his sefer (book) Kedushas Levi,
explains this passage as follows. Mordechai himself was of extremely
high social status. Aside from the fact that, according to the Midrash,
he had been a general in the King's army, we read that he had the
privilege of "sitting at the King's gate," (2:21). Because of his position,
Mordechai had been given an exemption from the King's
commandment to bow before Haman. The passage can be read as
follows, "All the King's servants at the King's gate would bow down
and prostrate themselves before Haman, for this is what the King had
commanded concerning him, but Mordechai would not [was not
commanded to] bow down, nor prostrate himself." [Indeed, the
wording of the Megillah points to this interpretation, in that the words
"he would not bow down, nor prostrate himself" are written in future-
tense, "he *will not* bow down nor prostrate himself," instead of the
obviously more appropriate past-tense, "he did not bow down..."]
If, in fact, Mordechai's non-prostration was ordained by none other
than the King, what was it that so incensed Haman? Not everyone
knew of Mordechai's exemption. People would ask him why he
refused to bow down before Haman. Instead of telling them that he
was exempt from the decree, he would answer them simply, "I am a
Jew. I bow down to the One and Only G-d."
In Mordechai's mind, this was the only true reason for not bowing
before Haman. He knew that even if he had been included in the
decree, he would still have refused to bow. So, instead of taking the
easy way out, and answering those who inquired that he had indeed
been excluded, his "Jewish pride" swelled within, and he used this as
an opportunity to proclaim his faith and devotion to the One and
Only G-d. It was not Mordechai's refusal to bow that caused Haman's
rage to seethe, explains the Kedushas Levi, but rather the explanation
that he insisted on giving people; "for he had told them that he was
A Jew should never be ashamed of his religion, even when relating
to non-Jews. To the contrary, it should be our source of pride. As it
is written (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:6), "You shall safeguard and
perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of
the nations, who shall hear all these decrees, and who shall say,
'Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!'"
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.