Joseph Isaac Korf

Purim Pride vs Pride of Popularity: Rabbis and Their Egos

Mordechai HaTzadik (“the righteous”) was called “Yehudi” (the “Jew” in English) –as it’s coined in the Megillah– even though he was not from the tribe of Yehudah (Judah) but from Benjamin.

There are two basic reasons enumerated for this:

  • R’ Yochanan said…because he repudiated idolatry. Anyone who [merely] repudiates idolatry is called a Jew (Yehudi)… (Megillah 13a).
  • “…Because he demonstrated the singularity (Yichuda) of the Holy One Blessed be He to all the people of the world, as it says, ‘he (Mordechai) would not kneel or bow [before Haman]” (Midrash Esther Rabbah 6:4).

Essentially, repudiation of the forces arrayed against G-dliness and standing tall and proud on behalf of His Torah makes one a “Yehudi” –a Jew! It hearkens back to the reason Leah named her fourth son “Yehudah”: “For now I can [truly] thank Al-mighty G-d!” It represents a certain lifestyle and state of being – a constant gratitude and trust in G-d.

Mordechai needn’t have refrained from bowing before Achashveirosh’s vizier, as decreed –a basic form of etiquette due Persia’s chief-executive– yet, Mordechai just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Even to his own detriment and the danger he may have put others. Why? Because, the Midrash says, Haman engraved an idolatrous icon on his chest.

Now, Mordechai could’ve halachically skirted the problem by explaining his deference to Haman merely due to discharging the king’s decree thereby averting any dire consequences to him and his people. As a matter of fact the Midrash alludes to this when it asks: “Was Mordechai then spiteful by ignoring the king’s decree? No! However, when Achashveirosh decreed all to genuflect before Haman he went and ‘engraved’ an icon on his chest in order that Mordechai should bow before it. When Haman saw that Mordechai would not genuflect before him he was filled with rage” (Ibid).

Haman flew into a rage because he knew that Mordechai could “legally” genuflect in deference to him yet Mordechai wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. Otherwise why would he take it so personally? The narrative itself seems to stress this when it relates that “Mordechai would not kneel…before him” not it! It was this lack of servitude that so irked Haman.

This is why he was called “Yehudi”. Not because he came from the tribe of Judah but because he exemplified the meaning of “Yehudah”. He was in a constant state of obsequiousness and gratitude to and acknowledgement of G-d’s Presence. As such, Mordechai could not bring himself to honor anyone else in a manner reserved for G-d alone even if it is permitted!

More than anything else this is the fundamental lesson of Purim.

Gratuitous fawning to other nations and cultures only leads to annihilation and extinction. It’s only by exuding the “Pride of Jacob” that Jews have always emerged unscathed and stronger.

Mordechai said nothing. He didn’t debate; he didn’t get on TV to plead his case or beg others to come to his aid. He didn’t humiliate his Jewishness, but radiated a quiet strength. He and through him, his people, tapped into an inner-power, their core connection to G-d and were not afraid.

He didn’t hide his identity. Unabashedly and publicly he and thousands of children around him entreated G-d for a miracle. Diplomatic channels were not opened, negotiations not attempted and kickbacks were not utilized. All he did was fast, pray and publicly teach children Torah so that when Haman walks by they answered his questions directly and unflinchingly. Even if it only angered him more! So counter-intuitive!

Strength need not be “in your face”. Supplication need not be to temporal potentates. It needs to be a muted and restrained pride in who you are and what you represent. The original mistake that almost brought the Jews to extinction was in sitting back and allowing themselves to be humiliated as they silently witnessed the desecration of the holy vessels of the Temple before their eyes in a pagan celebration. It was this lack of pride that “hurt” their Father in Heaven.

What was necessary was a complete reversal. It took a leader like Mordechai whose very being bespoke pride and courage, loyalty and devotion, unabated, undiluted, and unabashed to turn the tide. This would be the antidote to transform the plan of extinction hatched by Haman into everlasting celebration and joy.

Some of our ecclesiastical leaders today continue to ignore this vital lesson. They eschew everything Mordechai has taught us for personal gain. Ostensibly, they say, it’s for the sake of the Jewish community. On “bended knee” they genuflect to a Christian leader who represents everything that is antithetical to Torah and Judaism before the entire world. Whose church had for centuries advocated the annihilation and genocide of the Jewish people and till this very day dares to protest our defense of Israel, the Jewish homeland, they themselves drove us out of.

To curry even more favor they come laden with gifts, such as books and titles that lend a so-called seal of “kashrut” to endear themselves to him even more and perhaps show how really alike we are.

Not only is this not the way of Mordechai HaYehudi it is a shameful and public desecration of G-d’s Name as it was when we sat by and watched Achashveirosh desecrate the Temple’s holy vessels. Such rabbis allow their own personal agendas and ambitions to cloud their judgement and make a mockery of all that is dear to Jews. This is not a rabbi nor is this the actions of a leader. It is definitely not a Mordechai!

It is now up to the grassroots, the “YEHUDIM” to reject such tactics. We must tell the world we have nothing nor want anything to do with rabbis who seek to curry favor from Haman. We are unwilling to be complicit again in such a desecration. We will not! We should not! And we must not!

Folks! Be like Mordechai! Show your pride! Protest this egregious act! Tell the world and the Haman’s who wish to destroy us: “It’s not your gods or your favor we seek or entreat. We bow and kneel to the One and only true G-d in Heaven and on Earth. He is our Father and King of Kings. He alone is our savior and to him alone do we pledge our allegiance. Anyone else who attempts to represent us falsely is not our representative. He is not Mordechai!

Remember the promise of our Sages: If we remain true and proud of who we are the redemption of Purim will be but a precursor to the ultimate and final redemption by another Mordechai or King Mashiach. Then all will see “yad Yisrael ahl ha’elyonah” –the nation of Israel will reign supreme!

About the Author
Graduate of the Rabbinical College of Greater Miami and Central Lubavitch Yeshivah in NY. Rabbi in Hollywood, FL leading its community as the Chabad Emissary and member of Florida Friends of Lubavitch for over 25 years. "Father and grandfather is something I'm most proud of and strive to get better."
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