Mordechai or Moshe?

Dear Friends,

In this week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, we read one of the most painful and saddest stories found in the Torah.

Whilst Moshe is upon Mount Sinai receiving the commandments from the mouth of G-d, a few instigators spread a rumour amongst the Israelite camp that he has passed away. Pandemonium begins to grip the Jewish population as a select few Israelites in their grief decide to construct a new idol of a Golden Calf, misguidedly believing that it would be their new symbol and leader.

Moshe, upon returning from the mountain, sees this chaos and mayhem and without hesitation, proceeds to smash the Tablets. As punishment for these events, G-d decreed that none of the generations of the Exodus will be allowed to enter Israel, thus causing the Hebrews to wander in the desert for 40 years.

Yet despite these sad events of this week’s Parsha, it is surprisingly read annually in close proximity with the festival of Purim- the most joyous day of the Jewish calendar. Why?

Potentially, the answer can be found in the final verse of the Megillah:
“For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverosh, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their offspring.”

Why does the Megillah claim that Mordechai was only “accepted by most of his brethren”? Surely after he and Esther saved the entire Jewish people, Mordechai would be held in high esteem and respected by all Jews?

The commentator Rashi attempts to answer this, explaining that several rabbis of the Sanhedrin (rabbinical court) opposed their leader Mordechai leaving the study halls in order to enter politics and serve in Achashverosh’s court. Some of the rabbinical elite viewed Torah study as having precedence above civic duties and the limelight which comes with statesmanship.

However, this is not the case in Judaism. Mordechai was correct in leaving his rabbinic position in order to benefit politically the Jewish people. Not only is this included in the mitzvah ‘derech eretz kadmah letorah – the way of the land takes precedence over Torah’ but is an action that is also sanctioned by Moshe Rabenu – as seen in this week’s Parsha.

Moshe’s smashing of the Tablets was not done out of spite or anger but rather out of love. Moshe knew that the sinners of the Golden Calf would be less severely punished if he did not deliver to them the 10 Commandments, thus making it as if they never accepted upon themselves the laws of the Torah. Despite Moshe’s deep and innate connection with the Torah (they are after all called ‘The Five Books of Moses) he didn’t hesitate to cast them aside in order to protect another.

Hence, this is the reason why Purim and Parsha Ki Tisa are read in tandem each year. Through the actions and leadership qualities of both Moshe and Mordechai, we are taught a lesson in empathy and love for another. A true leader is selfless in their pursuit of aiding and helping others.

This week as the coronavirus continued to spread globally and even arriving in the Melbourne Jewish Community, the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) announced new guidelines and precautions in attending services and synagogues.

The health and safety of one’s fellow community members takes precedence before all religious services and customs.

However, it must be remembered that these are just precautions and panic is not necessary. Just like at Sinai and Shushan we overcame all challenges, so too am I confident now that we as a community can overcome any foreseeable difficulties.

Looking forward to seeing you in shule this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gabi

About the Author
Rabbi Gabi is Australia's youngest community rabbi. He leads the Ark Centre a Orthodox Community Centre with a Shule in the middle. Through his openness and inclusive approach to Judaism, Rabbi Gabi has redefined the 21st Century synagogue within the context of Modern Orthodoxy with a greater focus on song and spirituality. Rabbi Gabi holds a Masters of Social Work and is Chairman of Melbourne Fight Back Against Parkinson's Inc, a not for profit charity that assists people with Parkinson's disease.