איש יהודי היה בשושן הבירה
We are approaching Purim, the day we celebrate the miraculous salvation of our people in the days of the Persian Empire. We will celebrate Purim, BH, on Saturday, March 11th at night, and on Sunday the 12th.
The story of Purim is narrated in detail in a wonderful book called “Megilat Esther” which we read twice during Purim.
Each year I try to read a new book that explains the Megilla. Last year I studied, and shared with the readers, the book of Rabbi Moshe Almosnino, “Yede Moshe”. This year one of my students, R. Nathan Zabulani, brought me from Israel the new edition of the book “Leqah Tob”, written by Rabbi Yom Tob Tsahalon (see here). One of the two special features of this book is that it was published by its author when he was only 17 years old (sic!). Which means that he wrote this book as a prodigious young teenager.
Rabbi Tsahalon gives us a very generous account of Mordekhai’s personality when he explains the pasuq איש יהודי היה בשושן הבירה “There was a Jewish man in the capital city of Shushan” (pages 27-30 of the new edition).
In the following lines I will explain, in my own words, what the Rabbi says about Mordekhai.
1. Political leader. Firstly, Mordekhai was the representative of the Jewish people before King Ahashverosh, an extremely delicate position. Let me explain: the empire of Ahashverosh (486-465, before the common era) was the greatest in the history of mankind. It stretched from India to Greece, and from what is now southern Russia to Ethiopia. There were hundreds of nations in this gigantic empire. And every nation had its representative in the Kings Court . Mordechai represented all the Jews of the empire: hundreds of thousands (or more!). The Jews, as we shall see later, were not concentrated in one or two cities, but because they were involved in international trade, they were scattered throughout the Persian empire. Representing the Jewish people probably involved dealing with taxes, religious affairs and security issues, which could surely make the difference between life and death for the Jews. This is also the time when tens of thousands of Jews were returning to Israel to build the second Bet-haMiqdash. They suffered the harassment and the permanent political boycott of multiple enemies. “Representing the Jews” included the representation no less than 50,000 Jews who lived in the Holy Land, and were in the midst of rebuilding Yerushalayim and the Temple.
2. Religious leader. Mordekhai was also the religious leader of the Jews of Shushan, which was the capital of the Persian empire, as if it were today Washington D.C. Mordekhai had an official position in Sha’ar HaMelekh, the KIng’s Court, where all matters of state, political, financial, judicial, military, etc. were handled. (And where the constant conspiracies against the King were orchestrated). Mordechai “mingled” with the King’s advisers and with the entire political elite of Shushan. And all this while living a strict life of Jewish observance. Mordekhai was also the “darshan” “speaker” (we would say “Rabbi” today) of the Jewish community of Shushan (דורש טוב לעמו). He taught them Tora, try to keep them away from assimilation and bring them closer to HaShem.
3. The last Jew of Shushan. Rab Tsahalon suggests that unlike the Jews who lived in other cities of the Empire that were observant, those who lived in the capital were very assimilated. The Rabbi mentions the Midrash that says that the Jews who attended Ahashverosh’s banquet, to which all the citizens of Shushan were invited, did not observe Kashrut. And while they were not idolaters, that is, they did not formally convert to another religion, they were not opposed to the practice of it either. For example, if there was a procession of aboda zara (idolatry) and all the inhabitants of Shushan kneel in honor of an idol, the Jews of Shushan had no problem to participate actively of that event. Rabbi Tsahalon explains that the expression “איש יהודי היה “should be understood not as “There was a Jewish man … ” but as” There was only one Jewish man left, i.e., who had not assimilated, in the city of Shushan.” Had it not been for Mordekhai, assimilation would have ended with the cosmopolitan Jewish community of the capital of the Persian Empire.
(To be continued…)
Dedicated to the memory of
Chacham Moshe ז”ל