“אַשְׁרֵי שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט זה מרדכי
עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל עֵת שגדל יתומה בתוך ביתו
In one of his best books, “Intellectuals”, the famous historian Paul Johnson describes the ideas of great thinkers and philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau or Carl Marx. Johnson also writes about the private lives of these intellectuals and demonstrates their selfishness and cynicism. These great ideologues did not live according to the altruism they preached. Those values were for their writings, their readers and the masses. All these thinkers claimed that they sought the good of humanity, but in their private lives proved the opposite.
Mordekhai, one of the main protagonists of Megilat Ester, is one of the national heroes of Am Israel. He was a great political and religious leader in the city of Shushan, where the Jews had begun to assimilate. But what do we know about Mordekhai’s personal life?
On the one hand we know the prestigious ancestry of Mordechai. According to the text (peshat) of the Megilla, Mordechai was a descendant of the captives from Yerushalayim around 600 BCE in the time of King Yoyakhin. In this first exile, 15 years before the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash, the Babylonian King Nebukhadnetsar captured the aristocracy and the nobility of Yerushalayim, among them the great-grandfather of Mordekhai, Quish, of the tribe of Binyamin.
In his book Leqah Tob, Rabbi Yom Tob Tsahalon opens our eyes to a very important detail that teaches us something about the private life of Mordechai and his moral character. The Megilla tells us that Mordekhai adopted her niece Esther, an orphan from father and mother, and raised and cared for her as her own daughter.
Rabbi Tsahalon quotes the Midrash that describes the enormous merit of adopting a child. The Sages analyze a verse from Tehilim that says: אשרי שמרי משפט עשה צדקה בכל עת, “Blessed are those who … practice Tsedaqa every moment.” The Sages took this verse seriously and asked themselves: Is it possible to practice Tsedaqa literally “at all times”? And the answer is: YES. When a family adopts a child the adoptive parents do Tsedaqa (especially in the sense of Hesed) literally 24/7. In other words, adopting a child is the highest and “insurmountable” exercise of Hesed.
It is interesting that the Tora hints something similar in reference to Abraham Abinu. The text describing the early private life of Abraham Abinu is very poor in details. Except for one circumstantial but revealing point: Haran, the brother of Abram, dies leaving his son Lot orphaned. But then we see that וילך אתו לוט, Lot became part of Abraham’s family: Abraham adopted Lot as his own son!
Following this idea, it is as if all we need to know to find out the kind and altruistic character of Mordekhai is that he adopted Esther. And the same could be said of Abraham and Lot.
It is true that we human beings are complex creatures, and that it is not easy to know a person’s character for one of his or her acts. But there are exceptions. And I believe that for the Sages adopting a child is one of these exceptions.
I remember that several years ago (20?) we spent Pesah in a hotel located in Gush Qatif, which today unfortunately is part of Gaza …. The last day of the Hag, we sat next to a large family, with a particularity that could not go unnoticed. They had three children with Down syndrome. My wife and I were astonished at the extraordinary warmth these children enjoyed. First, they were the focus of attention of the whole family, parents, grandparents and older siblings. Everyone smiled at them and gave them lots of affection. In addition, each of these children was being attended by a personal assistant -one assistant per child! – who worked for this family. And then we found out the most extraordinary thing about this incredible family: these 3 children were adopted! Adopted by a family that already had its own children, some of them already married. This was a family that evidently had enough means, and they decided to “invest” their money, their time and their love not in ONE but in THREE children with special needs, and give them the best possible life. We never saw these family again, nor did we found out their names or where they lived. But what else do you need to find out to know that they were “human angels”?
Dedicated to the memory
of Selli bat Lulu ז”ל