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Posted on February 22, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Now you shall command the Bnei Yisrael that they should take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually.[1]

A medrash[2] compares Mordechai and Haman in a strange way. “Choicer yet is the name of Mordechai than Haman’s wealth.” What is the comparison? Sounds like apples and oranges. Additionally, the implication is that there is something good about Haman’s wealth. It’s just that Mordechai’s name is even better. And while we are at it, why “the name of Mordechai,” rather than “the name Mordechai?”

The gemara[3] teaches, “Removing a signet ring was greater than the 48 neviim and 7 nevios sent to Yisrael who did not succeed in bringing them to teshuva.” The implications of Achashverosh passing his official ring to Haman, thereby giving him absolute authority to do as his black heart wished, had greater impact on the Jews of Shushan than all the warnings of the prophets.

It is a point well taken. We’ve seen it repeated many times in history. The problem is that it always ends the same way. Adversity strikes. People ratchet up their commitment to Torah and mitzvos. The adversity ends; people gradually forget that it ever occurred. Haman becomes a historical figure, rather than an immediate threat – which he really is, in all generations that Hashem needs to wake us up! They slip into bad ways again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

We can readily understand the medrash. Haman’s wealth was indeed a good thing. It pummeled us into submission. We mended our ways. That was good. But not as good as heeding the words of prophets and other leaders. Leaders like Mordechai – who turned their teshuva into a full-throated re-acceptance of the Torah that had much more staying power.

Mordechai’s full name (what the medrash refers to as the name of Mordechai) is Mordechai ben Yair ben Shimi ben Kish. The gemara[4] explains the significance of all the patronyms, applying them all to Mordechai himself. Yair – because he enlightened the eyes of the Jews through his tefillah. Shimi – because Hashem listened to his tefillah. Kish – because he knocked on the Gates of Mercy, entreating for his people. All these describe Mordechai’s abilities as a leader. Those qualities effected greater change in the people than the specter of Haman’s diabolical hatred.

Which brings us back to our pasuk. There are two kinds of Jews. One responds to the “pressing” by talmidei chachamim. They listen when their leaders put on the squeeze, sometimes gently, and sometimes less so. Another group requires pressure from external sources – from the Hamans of every generation – before they change their behavior. Our pasuk emphasizes that the “illuminating oil” that comes through pressing should be that of the Moshes of each generation. The leaders who remonstrate with their followers, urging them on to teshuvah. That way, they will not require further pressing from non-Jewish sources. And the illuminating oil they receive from talmidei chachamim is far superior to that coming from the nations of the world. Unlike the teshuvah through adversity, what comes through heeding the words of our leaders does not have to fade. It can illuminate continually.

  1. Shemos 27:20
  2. Shemos Rabbah 33:5
  3. Megillah 14a
  4. Megillah 12a