And Mordechai Would Not Bow (Tetzaveh – 02/27/21)
And Mordechai Would Not Bow
Mordechai is undoubtedly one of the heroes of Purim, but in truth, he was also the instigator of our problems. Why couldn’t he just concede and bow to Haman?
Everybody else was doing it.
I think we need to view Mordechai as that one person standing before the tanks in Tiananmen Square.
Or, as a young John Lewis demanding to be served in a “whites only” restaurant in Nashville in 1960.
Perhaps Mordechai was embracing Lewis’s future mantra: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something! Do something! Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Mordechai’s “necessary trouble” almost got us all killed, but thankfully, “all’s well that ends well.”
But what was Mordechai protesting?
The Assyrians conquered the nation of Israel (in the north of Canaan); the defeated become scattered across the Middle East. Some refugees flee to safety in the Judean capital in the south, Jerusalem. They are then conquered and exiled a little more than a hundred years later by the ascendant Babylonians. Once settled upon the Rivers of Babylon, these refugees are subjugated by the Persians and find themselves exiled even further east.
The whole time, the Jews are wondering, where is their God, their savior? Where’s the fulfillment of their covenant at Sinai? Depressed and rejected, they assimilate into the local cultures taking on non-traditional names such as Esther (Ishtar) and Mordechai (Marduk). No one suspects they’re Jewish. In a few years, there would probably be no Jews left.
Then Mordechai puts his heels in the ground.
Forced to bow down to the notorious anti-Semite, Haman, this is adding insult to injury; it is just too much for him. It’s time to protest, to get into some good trouble. For if we bow down, concede once more, there will be nothing left of us.
Megillat Esther Chapter 3: 3-4
“Then the king’s courtiers who were in the palace gate said to Mordechai, “Why do you disobey the king’s order?” When they spoke to him day after day, and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s resolve would prevail, for he had explained to them that he was a Jew.”
Mordechai is protesting the defeatist attitude prevalent among the exiled Jews at that time. He’s not going to bow down anymore.
Initially, he had told Esther not to tell Achashverosh that she’s Jewish. Now he realizes his mistake, and it’s time to take pride in one’s Jewishness. It’s time to stand up for what we believe and cherish.
God’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah. Even when the Jews’ lives are at stake, there’s no mention of prayer or covenant. Mordechai realizes how far we have strayed from our roots and that it’s time to draw a line in the sand; we assimilate-we concede no more.
Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the King and populace, Haman is hung, and Mordechai the Jew (HaYehudi) is elevated to the second most powerful position in the empire. After years of defeat and loss, the Jewish people finally hand one to their enemies, and Jewish pride prevails once more. Some people consider Purim a minor holiday, but without Mordechai and Esther’s interventions, there might not be any Jewish holidays.
Fast forward 2500+ years, we at MHJC have been waging an internal struggle to maintain our existence and the traditions and practices that we hold dear. Comparable to the events back then, our outcome was decided unexpectedly around Purim time, as well.
We now need to forgive, heal, reunite and act as one for the continuity of our cherished synagogue.
If I have offended you during this process, I ask for your forgiveness. Please appreciate that I was attempting to create multiple paths to satisfy our congregation’s differing needs.
On the positive side, we’ve also learned more about ourselves these past five months: our needs, our strengths and weaknesses, and our passions.
Purim is the holiday of Judaism’s rejuvenation and reinvention.
קִיְּמ֣וּ וקבל [וְקִבְּל֣וּ] הַיְּהוּדִים֩ עֲלֵיהֶ֨ם וְעַל־זַרְעָ֜ם וְעַ֨ל כָּל־הַנִּלְוִ֤ים עֲלֵיהֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א יַעֲב֔וֹר לִהְי֣וֹת עֹשִׂ֗ים אֵ֣ת שְׁנֵ֤י הַיָּמִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה כִּכְתָבָ֖ם וְכִזְמַנָּ֑ם בְּכָל־שָׁנָ֖ה וְשָׁנָֽה׃
“The Jews undertook and committed themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year.”
The rabbis understood the first two words of this line, קִיְּמ֣וּ וְקִבְּל֣וּ that the Jews reaccepted upon themselves what they had previously accepted at Sinai. They shook off their brokenness and reembraced their love for Judaism.
MHJC’s path is certainly not clear, but what’s incumbent upon us now is to unite and reaffirm our devotion to our beloved congregation. We will craft a beautiful future for our families and those in our community.