Tuesday, March 07, 2023

the principle of the matter

1) Someone just sent me a nice derush about הָעִ֥יר שׁוּשָׁ֖ן נָבֽוֹכָה explaining the confusion of the Jews, but I don't think the pshat in the pasuk is about confusion.  Targum explains that  נָבֽוֹכָה here is דְשׁוּשַׁן מִתְעַרְבְּלָא בְּחֶדְוַת עַמְמִין נוּכְרָאִין וּבְקַל בְּכִיתָא דְעַמָא בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל.   The Jews of the city were in anguish; the non-Jews were rejoicing, hence, the city was in a confused, mixed up state.  It does not mean the Jews themselves were confused about what the decree against them meant.   

There is a very striking Ibn Ezra on that pasuk:

ודרש ויעבור (אסתר ד׳:י״ז) לא אכל מצה דברי יחיד הן. ואם אמרנו שהתענה בט״ו בניסן לא עבר על התורה כי כל ישראל חייבין לאכול מצה ומרורים ליל פסח אם הן בארץ ישראל עם הפסח, וחוצה לארץ אכילתם לזכר. ואכילת המצות ימים שבעה רשות לא חובה רק התורה אסרה החמץ והתירה המצות כדרך ששת ימים תעבוד

When he refers to דרש ויעבור he means the gemara רב אמר, שהעביר יום ראשון של פסח בתענית, that they fasted on Pesach.  Ibn Ezra is not happy with that, so he gets around it by saying that view is a daas yachid, or (this is the striking part) by arguing that we hold that achilas matzah without korban pesach is just a zecher and therefore derabbanan.  The truth is that it is a machlokes (Pes 120), but we pasken that matzah b'zman ha'zeh is d'oraysa.  Apparently Ibn Ezra did not concur.

One other interesting Ibn Ezra: he writes that the reason why Haman's lottery fell out in Adar is because Adar is the furthest month away from Nisan, giving the Jews a full year to wake up and come to their senses.

2) At the beginning of ch 3 of the megillah we read

וְכׇל־עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ כֹּרְעִ֤ים וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִים֙ לְהָמָ֔ן כִּי־כֵ֖ן צִוָּה־ל֣וֹ הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וּמׇ֨רְדֳּכַ֔י לֹ֥א יִכְרַ֖ע וְלֹ֥א יִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶֽה

Why the future tense of וּמׇ֨רְדֳּכַ֔י לֹ֥א יִכְרַ֖ע וְלֹ֥א יִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶֽה?  

The megillah continues and relates that the other officers, seeing Mordechai's refusal to bow, stirred the pot:

וַיְהִ֗י [כְּאׇמְרָ֤ם] (באמרם) אֵלָיו֙ י֣וֹם וָי֔וֹם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיַּגִּ֣ידוּ לְהָמָ֗ן לִרְאוֹת֙ הֲיַֽעַמְדוּ֙ דִּבְרֵ֣י מׇרְדֳּכַ֔י כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥יד לָהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא יְהוּדִֽי׃

What does it mean that י כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥יד לָהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא יְהוּדִֽי?  Mordechai and Haman knew each other from the court.  According to Chazal, they both served drink at Achashveirosh's lavish party.  Surely Haman knew that Mordechai was a Jew and this did not come as a surprise?

In order to understand what's going on we need to look at these pesukim in context of what occurred immediately beforehand.  At the end of the previous chapter, the megillah tells us that Mordechai foiled the assassination plot of Bigsan va'Seresh.  Mordechai was not some unknown character.  וּמׇרְדֳּכַ֖י יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בְּשַֽׁעַר־הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ, he was part of the inner circle, one of those privileged  to have a position close to the king.  The fact that he saved the king's life only served to further cement his high position in the court.

Therefore, when Haman made a decree for people to bow before him, Mordechai was not included.   כׇל־עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ have to bow, but Mordechai was not just an "eved" of Achashveirosh, he was a member of the inner circle.  There are rules and there are rules.  The laws that applied to the regular עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ did not apply to him (see Malbi"m).  He had a trump card, an out.

 לֹ֥א יִכְרַ֖ע וְלֹ֥א יִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶֽה is in future tense because Mordechai was not satisfied with just being exempt from the law in the present, due to his position and situation.  Mordechai wanted everyone to know the law itself was unjust, and therefore declared that were he in the future lose his special privilege and be forced to obey, he still would never do so.  It was the principle of the matter.

Mordechai's identity as a Jew was nown to Haman, but it was not relevant, at least in Haman's eyes, to his order.  Mordechai was not subject to the law, so there was nothing to talk about.  It was Mordechai who chose to make it relevant.  It was Mordechai who declared that his not bowing was not a matter of immunity based on his status, but rather was because he was a Jew and a Jew cannot do such a thing. כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥יד לָהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא יְהוּדִֽי׃ and that is the reason for Mordechai's behavior.  

This approach explains the strange give and take between Esther and Mordechai later in chapter 4.  When Esther is told that Mordechai is sitting outside the palace in sackcloth and ashes, she sends a message to him, וַתֹּ֤אמֶר אֶסְתֵּר֙ לַהֲתָ֔ךְ וַתְּצַוֵּ֖הוּ אֶֽל־מׇרְדֳּכָֽי (4:10).  The Targum fills in what the text is missing and tells us that she commanded Mordechai וַאֲמַרַת אֶסְתֵּר לַהֲתָךְ לְמֵיזַל וּלְמַלָלָא לְמָרְדְכַי וּפַקֵידַת לֵיהּ עַל עֵיסַק מָרְדְכַי דְלָא יְגָרֵי עִם הָמָן מַצוּתָא אֲרוּם דְבָבוּ דְבֵינֵי יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו הֲוָה נְטַר לֵיהּ, not to pick a fight with Haman.  Did Esther really expect Mordechai to just roll over and start bowing to Haman, which may have involved issues of avodah zarah?  

The Kedushas Levi explains that bowing or not bowing before Haman was never the issue here.  Mordechai was free to do as he pleased; the law calling on the king's servants to bow before Haman did not apply to him.  So Esther begged him: Why make an issue of it then?  Why pick a fight?  Why arouse the animosity of Eisav and paint a target on the backs of the Jewish people?

That approach did not satisfy Mordechai.  Sometimes you have to make an issue of things, not just because the loophole you have today may be closed tomorrow, but simply because the principle of the matter demands it.

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