- “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’ (Esther 2:22).”
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 about redemption?
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 foresee.
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.