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Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh | 5770
Parashat Hashavuah: Mordechai’s Sacrifice
In the upcoming reading of the Megilla, we will hear the impassioned demand of Mordechai to Esther to endanger her life and, according to many commentators, her innocence in regard to her relationship with Achashveirosh (Esther 4:13-14). She was to unilaterally approach the king for the first time, with her plea to save the Jewish people. What sacrifice did Mordechai demand of himself?
A few years ago, we contrasted the Persian concept of clothes, as it found expression in the clothes Mordechai wore when his station was elevated, and the kohanim of our parasha. The kohanim wore special clothes to remind them of their special obligations connected to their post, whereas the Persians saw special clothes as a prize for those who found favor in the king’s eyes, so that they would be duly recognized by the populace.
At the end of the Megilla it says that Mordechai was ratzuy l’rov echav (appreciated by the multitude of his nation, according to the simple explanation.) The gemara (Megilla 16b) explains the pasuk as saying that he was appreciated only by a majority of his nation, as some of the Sanhedrin (religious leadership) distanced themselves from him. It explains that his political efforts on behalf of the Jews’ welfare, and indeed survival, took him away from Torah study, and thus he lost his place among the leading scholars of his time.
It appears though that he lowered his status in another way. Mordechai was the one who broke with public policy to adamantly refuse to show recognition of the wicked Haman. However, since when was Mordechai’s new friend, Achashveirosh, such a righteous person? Mordechai decided that in considerable contrast to his previous hard-line, separatist stance, he would turn into a major ally of the king. From a purist’s religious perspective, this too was a lowering of himself.
This change, which found expression in the new public display of Mordechai’s royal clothes, may be hinted at in the p’sukim that describe this event. One can infer that it was “the people of Shushan [who] were elated,” whereas perhaps Mordechai himself had some reservations. If we recall the famous rule that Hashem’s name is absent from the Megilla but is sometimes hinted at by the word “Hamelech” (the king), we can suggest the following hint. “Mordechai went out from before the king with clothes of royalty…” (Esther 8:15). Whereas the kohanim used their holy clothes to approach the King in His service, Mordechai got his from the king in a manner that made him “go out from before the King.” Mordechai indeed had to sacrifice his Jewish exclusivity for his relationship with Achashveirosh to succeed, not totally dissimilarly from the way Esther sacrificed her chastity in approaching the king to plead on behalf of her nation.
While different people’s sacrifices are done in different ways, it is hard to be a great leader without making some significant sacrifices on behalf of the nation. May we always have the right leaders to heed the call of real Jewish leadership, even with painful self-sacrifice.
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