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 of 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 Mordecai 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 the king’s 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 family and Prophetic leadership than the 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 this Jewish woman who defeated Haman’s planned pogrom. For the first time both sexism and anti-Semitism were vanquished together.
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.
And there is another group of Jews mentioned in the Book of Esther that most Jews seem to have forgotten. “…these days were called Purim, from the word pur, because of everything written in this letter and because of what they (the Jews) had seen and what had happened to them. So the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who joined them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. (Esther 9:26-7)
Who are these people described as “all who joined them”?
This refers to the thousands of non-Jews who when they heard of Prime Minister Haman’s permission for everyone in the Persian Empire to loot, plunder and kill Jews without fear of punishment; did not join those who were planning the attacks.
Instead they came to Jews with offers to hide Jews from the mobs. These non-Jews had been positively influenced by their friendships with Jews and their exposure to Judaism, especially the teachings of the Torah and Jewish views about the One God of all humanity.
These righteous Gentiles were more in fear of the one God than they were afraid of the many mobs who had the backing of the powerful Prime Minister
The Book of Esther says, “In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because awe for the Jews had overcome them.” (Esther 8:17)
These righteous Gentiles were at first motivated by feelings of compassion and fairness to help Jews. After the danger had passed they were inspired by the miracle of Jewish fortitude and survival.
Thousands of them must have converted to Judaism, or why would there be this special mention of them in the Book of Esther. They and their descendants who are still among us are a very special gift from God to the Jewish people.
Just as the tens of thousands of non-Jews who have become Jewish in the decades following the Shoah have been a blessing to us and to future generation of Jews.
So all Jews should in the ten days preceding Purim, include expressing their appreciation to Jewish women in general, and to the wonderful converts among us today, as a special part of our celebration of Purim. For as the Book of Esther (8:17) states: “In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because awe of the Jews had come upon them.”