Why did Mordecai refuse to follow the king’s directive to bow down to Haman? (Esther 3:2) The Book of Esther does not give a specific reason other than Mordecai was Jewish (3:4). But a close reading of the Biblical text offers some hints.
When Esther was under the supervision of the guardian of the women, along with all the other women of the court in the harem, Mordecai would walk about in front or the court of the harem every day to learn what was happening to Esther (2:11).
How was Mordecai able to gain access to the front of the court of the harem? Who was he that he was able to enter the outer court of the king’s harem every day?
Mordecai must have had some ongoing business dealings with the harem. This business must have begun months or even years prior, when Vashti was the queen.
Perhaps Mordecai was a jeweler, an artisan or a tradesman who frequently visited the queen or her ladies in waiting to sell them jewelry.
Perhaps Mordecai was present when Mehuman came to Vashti to tell her that the king wanted her to display her beauty to his drunken officials, by coming to dance before them wearing only her royal diadem (1:11).
Did Mordecai advise Vashti to refuse? If Mordecai did urge Vashti not to degrade herself, even for her husband the king, that would explain why Mordecai told Esther not to let anyone in the harem know that she was related to him.
Mehuman could be a variant of Haman. That would mean the conflict between Haman and Mordecai started with Mordecai opposing the degrading of women, while Haman (Mehuman or Memucan) advocates exiling Vashti before other wives can be influenced by her example and refuse to be disrespected by their husbands (1:16-18).
Thus the conflict between Mordecai and Haman started out because Mordecai had more respect for women than Haman. The Biblical author obscures this by varying Haman’s name somewhat so that only those who know will see how it all started.
Even if the three names indicate three different men they are all of the sexist persuasion.
Haman generalizes his anti-female and anti Mordecai feelings to a hatred for all Jews, perhaps because he learned that Biblical Judaism was much more accepting of female independence than Persian religion and society.
Of course, Haman’s success in getting rid of Vashti prepares the way for Esther to become the Queen, and it is Esther who brings about Haman’s downfall.
Thus Jews, even after more than 24 centuries, still celebrate the courage of the Jewish woman who defeated Haman’s planned pogrom. For the first time both sexism and anti-Semitism were vanquished.
Purim is a holiday that should be celebrated by all Jews, all women, and everyone else who believes in defeating the proponents of religious, gender, racial and national inequality.