Leaving it up to G-d, Part I
Chapter 6, Mishna 6, Way 48(a)
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is
acquired with 30 qualities, priesthood is acquired with 24, whereas the
Torah is acquired with 48 ways. These are: ... (48) saying a statement in
the name of the one who said it. For we have learned that anyone who says a
statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world,
as the verse says 'And Esther said to the King in the name of Mordechai'
This week's quality is the final of the 48 Ways. The meaning is that one
must properly attribute the teachings he has learned from others. He must
cite the correct source of everything he quotes, not taking undue credit for
himself. This seems to follow the theme of the previous quality --
"precisely quoting what one has heard." There the focus was more on the
content of the quote -- accurately quoting what one has learned from parents
and teachers and passing it along to the next generation. Here, however, the
stress is on personal humility and intellectual honesty. Besides preserving
our tradition, we must be selfless about it, giving credit where it is due
-- to our own teachers who selflessly passed the Torah along to us.
The twin themes which emerge are equally critical. Our Torah must be
authentic. Yet It must not only be accurate. It must be pristine as well --
free from the selfishness and smallness which so often corrupt the noble
efforts of man. In a way the Torah is our own possession, and as we
discussed last week, each Jew relates to it in his or her own unique way --
finding his or her own personal fulfillment. Yet at the same time, we see
the Torah as our precious and sacred charge, one we must safeguard and
preserve to the letter. We must never allow personal preferences or foreign
influences to enter our relationship with or understanding of the Torah.
Thus, the Sages exhort us to accurately and selflessly study, faithfully
maintaining all that was handed to us, so that the Torah in all its purity
and sanctity be preserved for all future generations.
Our mishna seems to place a much greater stress on this quality than all of
the previous. Not only is this the final of the 48 Ways, but the previous
qualities were all simply listed. Here our mishna states that saying a
statement in the name of the one who said it brings about redemption, and a
verse is brought to prove this. I guess we might expect the final quality to
somehow be above and beyond all the others, perhaps the culmination of all
which preceded it. Yet this quality does not really seem so qualitatively
different from all the other worthy traits. As we pointed out, it was hardly
different from Way 47. It seems kind of an "ordinary" good quality. How do
the Sages see such significance in it -- almost the ultimate significance --
claiming that it brings about redemption?
Further, the significance of the quoted verse, from the Book of Esther, is
to say the least difficult to understand. Let us look at the verse in
context and attempt to understand it better.
Mordechai, cousin of Queen Esther, overhears a plot to King Ahasuerus' life.
He warns Esther who in turn repeats it to the King (in the name of
Mordechai, as the quoted verse attests), and the would-be assassins are
caught. The incident was then recorded in the King's diary.
Years later, just as Haman is about to approach the King during the night to
obtain permission to hang his mortal enemy Mordechai, Ahasuerus cannot fall
sleep. He calls to have his royal chronicles read to him (a good way to put
anyone to sleep) and the same incident -- demonstrating Mordechai's loyalty
-- is read to him. Ahasuerus realizes that Mordechai, not Haman (who was
just then coming to request Mordechai's execution -- talk about lousy
timing), is the King's true and faithful servant. This becomes a crucial
turning point in the Shushan saga (Shushangate, as we'd call it today --
sorry, the Purim story is putting me in a giddy mood) :-), and the tide
begins to turn against Haman and in favor of the Jews.
The story is of course thrilling, but there is an obvious difficulty. Does
this really tell us that properly attributing a teaching *singlehandedly*
brings redemption to the world? Wasn't there so much more to the story than
just Esther's good deed? It is true without her proper attribution a
critical step would have been missing from the chain of events -- and the
story may well have turned out differently. Yet clearly much more was going
on than just her deed. The Book of Esther is a much greater tale of Divine
providence and intervention. Can we really say that attribution alone brings
Let us delve a little more deeply into the story of Esther. I believe we
will discover a fascinating insight.
We typically look for heroes and heroines in the stories we read. We like to
identify with one character, seeing ourselves in him or her and acting out
our own lives and potentials. In this one regard, however, the story of
Esther is just a little frustrating. As a heroine, Esther is remarkably
passive. She actually "does" very little -- other than being acted upon and
following orders. She allows herself to be taken by the King against her
will. She remains faithful to her mentor Mordechai even after rising to
royalty. She refuses to reveal her nationality to the King after becoming
queen simply because Mordechai had once commanded her so. Even as queen, she
is required to observe her faith in secret. Her one potentially "heroic"
deed -- saving the Jews -- merely involved falling before the King and
begging for her life and the survival of her people.
Mordechai as well seems to do very little -- other than perhaps being in the
right place at the right time. He is instrumental in saving the Jews not
through forceful or dedicated action. He does not use his cunning or royal
influence to pull strings and manipulate events. For the most part, he turns
to G-d, donning sackcloth and ashes, refusing even for a moment to exchange
his rags for royal robes to approach the King's compound (see 4:1-4).
Thus, there is surprisingly little action and intrigue in what is otherwise
an inspiring tale of salvation. Most of the major events happened *to* our
heroes: Esther is chosen as queen, Mordechai is granted honors by the King
(see 6:11), Ahasuerus chooses Mordechai over Haman, etc. The players were --
and saw themselves as -- no more than helpless pawns acting out G-d's plan
-- leaving it up to G-d to orchestrate the events in a manner only He could
We are thus beginning to see a pattern emerge. The heroism of the Book of
Esther stems from people who passively but heroically recognized G-d in
their midst and allowed Him to act out His will. As we will see next time,
G-d willing, this is really no more than a concretized version of "saying a
statement in the name of the one who said it" -- unassumingly passing G-d's
Torah along, taking no credit for ourselves. But this will have to be
developed further -- and will be left G-d willing for next week.
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.