Mordechai would not listen to their attempts to convince his to bow to Haman. This seems to imply that they attempted to help him change. However, that does not necessarily mean that they were righteous. According to the Talmud (Niddah 61a), Og also told Avram of the threat to his nephew Lot’s life (Bireishis 14:13) for his own desire to see Avram die and make his wife Sarai available for himself. Despite his evil intentions, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 42:8) teaches that Og is nevertheless rewarded. These servants, too, may have had their own motivation in Mordechai’s conforming to their behavior.
- As mentioned earlier in our commentary to Esther 2:11, the Tarlaz notes that Megillas Esther uses the language of “yom v’yom” (“day and day”) in regard to Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman to highlight, yet again, the tzaddik’s consistency.
- The Maharatz Dushinsky says the verse uses the expression because the servants of the king hoped that Mordechai would change his mind. As class participant RS pointed out, perhaps they even did this for Mordechai’s own good. Like members of other religions attempting to win Jews over to their ideas, it need not necessarily be out of hate – but can come from their sincere care and desire to take a person out of something they view as harmful. In other words, the use of this phrase indicates that they were not merely questioning him, but were actively attempting to proselytize him to their position.
- The Ohel Moshe points out that constant pressure is one of the greatest challenges to Judaism. It breaks down our defenses, and Mordechai had the power to stand up against this constant barrage of pressure.
ד וַיְהִי בְּאָמְרָם [כְּאָמְרָם] אֵלָיו יוֹם וָיוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם וַיַּגִּידוּ לְהָמָן לִרְאוֹת הֲיַעַמְדוּ דִּבְרֵי מָרְדֳּכַי כִּי–הִגִּיד לָהֶם אֲשֶׁר–הוּא יְהוּדִי
4. And it was, in their speaking with him day and day, and he did not listen to them. And they related to Haman to see if Mordechai’s words would stand because he related to them that he is a Yehudi.
- The Mishteh Yayin says that “bi’amram” (“in their speaking”) the way the word is written and not pronounced, the “ksiv,” implies that the event of the servants’ interrogating Mordechai actually happened. “Ki’amram” (“like their speaking”), the way the word is pronounced aloud, the “kri,” implies that it was as though they questioned him. Accordingly, they didn’t really speak to him, but it felt as if they did. When people are so set in their convictions, as Mordechai is here, there is no talking to them. Convincing them to change their opinion is no less futile than banging one’s head against the wall.
- However, Rav Dovid Feinstein points out that the servants doubted Mordechai’s steadfastness. Although he told them he would not change his mind, they thought he was only “talking tough,” but he would likely start bowing once put to the test with threats and punishments. Therefore, the verse is written with “bi’amram” because he sounded convincing in his words, but is read “ki’amram” because they thought his actions would be otherwise.
- Perhaps the two opinions need not be contradictory if the Mishneh Yayin is viewing the verse from the perspective of Mordechai, and Rav Dovid Feinstein is viewing it from the perspective of the king’s servants. In other words, Mordechai felt like they were wasting his time (and theirs) futilely convincing him to worship idols, while the servants thought they made headway, and that, when push comes to shove, Mordechai will submit.
ג וַיֹאמְרוּ עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר–בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְמָרְדֳּכָי מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה עוֹבֵר אֵת מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ
3. And the servants of the king who were at the gate of the king said to Mordechai, “Why are you ignoring the command of the king?”
- By using otherwise Halachic language like “oveir” (“ignore”) and “mitzvah” (“command”), and even substituting “the king” instead of Achashverosh, the verse may be alluding to Mordechai’s transgressing a Jewish rule – specifically, the rule of “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”). In other words, a Jew is responsible by Torah law to adhere to the national and local laws of the place where that Jew resides (see Talmud, Nedarim 28a).
- Furthermore, the Me’am Loez notes that the servants considered this law binding, and whenever people make up their own laws and definitions, this is the very essence of Avodah Zarah, idolatry.
- We should also remember that when we fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah, we are listening to the laws of the King. These are not just old customs we do for the sake of cultural continuation. Indeed, if circumcision were anything less than a command of the King, perhaps California would not be so far off the mark for suggesting a law to make the act illegal, branded as child mutilation (http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/02/health/california-circumcision-law/index.html).
- The king’s servants seemed to have taken it upon themselves to question Mordechai. When somebody stands up against a prevailing cultural phenomenon, people following the norm are challenged, and have the ingrained need to bring the wandering sheep back into the flock to justify their own behavior.
- In regard to the Song at the Sea, Rashi on Shemos (15:1) teaches that a letter “yud” in front of a verb indicates the intent of the subject. In the Sfas Emes’s understanding of this verse, Mordechai’s actions indicate that he would not bow. It was an impossibility for him, so remotely distant from his normative code and conduct. The Chofetz Chaim teaches that this, too, teaches the important of avoiding compromising morals.
- The Sfas Emes also teaches that this verse is prophetically promising that, in every generation, there will be someone who will not bow. Jews have and always will have at least one person who keeps to what is true. Ultimately, this is going to be Moshiach, may he come soon.
- One might think that the reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow is the low regard with which the Torah holds worship of anyone or anything outside of H-Shem. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8), however, Mordechai admits that bowing down to a person in-and-of-itself is not wrong. For example, Yaakov and his family bowed seven times to Haman’s ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3). In fact, Mordechai deflects criticism of his not acting likewise with Eisav’s descendant by citing his ancestry from Benyamin, who had not yet been born during this incident. The Maharal adds that, in reward for this, Benyamin inherited the part of Eretz Yisroel where the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) of the Beis HaMikdash would stand. Mordechai was concerned that bowing to Haman would cause him to lose his connection with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), just as the Shechinah left the Kodesh Kedoshim when the Jews no longer deserved her.
- In Michtav M’Eliyahu, R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes that Mordechai’s defiance can teach us to attack our Yetzer Hara head-on without a kernel of compromise. Any capitulation can lead to a downward spiral of spiritual loss.
- The Malbim writes that Mordechai did not bow down to Haman to avoid ascribing divinity to him. In an era when people ascribed godliness to their rulers and the rulers’ courts, Mordechai felt compelled to demonstrate his variance with heaping any possible blandishments of divinity upon Haman.
- Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that the command to bow to Haman referred to two different groups of people – regular subjects of the king, and higher-ups sitting at the gates of the king. Mordechai did not fit into either category. As a Jew, he was not a citizen of the realm. At the same time, as an adviser of the king, he sat at the king’s gate, and was not one to pass there.
- The Kedushas HaLevi says there were two different commands – first, everybody had to bow down. Second, Mordechai, as a favor to Esther, was ordered to not bow.
- The Shelah HaKodesh quotes an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserved death in this time period. One opinion is because they bowed to idols. The other reason is that they attended Achashverosh’s party. The Shelah continues that Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman served as a spiritual tikkun (or repair) for the Jews’ capitulating to bow to the idol of Nebuchadnetzer, and Esther’s eating seeds to avoid eating non-kosher food in Achashverosh’s palace (as mentioned previously) served as a tikkun for the Jews’ enjoying themselves at Achashverosh’s party. Together, their actions saved the Jews from the decree against them.
Although it would seem that Mordechai is the subject of the verse as Haman wants more than anything to lower Mordechai, as we shall see (iy”H), the Vilna Gaon and the Malbim both write that Haman is the subject of the verse. In other words, Haman had to be commanded to enforce this new rule. Class participant YL suggested that perhaps this was meant to test Haman’s administrative and leadership skills and style. According to R’ Eliyahu HaCohen in his Dena Pishra, Achashverosh was ordering Haman to be nice to his subjects to earn the people’s respect.
- The Eshkol HaKofer writes that if Achashverosh had not commanded artificial respect for Haman, he would not have received it organically. Either the people did not like Haman, as we shall see below (6:3), or as the Eshkol HaKofer suggests, they saw him for what he truly was.
- After all, the Yalkut Shimoni and the Targum Sheini write that Haman was originally a barber – a low position in Persian culture as it implied, besides cutting hair, more menial tasks like removing warts, bleeding, etc. A person would hardly bow to such a person in those times unless commanded otherwise by the crown.
- The M’nos HaLevi notes that the word “chein” (“so”) used here to describe the king’s command, has the gematria of 70 (20+50). Again, this represents the peak of Haman’s power because that is how long he was in power.
ב וְכָל–עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר–בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן כִּי–כֵן צִוָּה–לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמָרְדֳּכַי לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה
2. And all the servants of the king who were at the king’s gate kneeled and bowed to Haman because this was what the king commanded him. And Mordechai will not kneel and will not bow.
- Megillas Sefer gives two reasons for the verse’s use of both kneeling and bowing. One answer relates to different classes of people in Persian society at that time. People of the upper class would give a short bow when a person of high rank would pass, whereas a member of the lower class would have to prostrate to the floor. His second opinion relates to distance. When Haman was still far away, everybody would have to give a short bow. As he came closer, they would kneel further.
- R’ Meir Zlotowitz in the Artscroll commentary on Megillas Esther (their first published work) suggests that these terms are reminiscent of the language of prayer. Indeed, in the “Aleinu” prayer, both terms “korim” (“kneel”) and “mishtachavim” (“bow”) appear in connection to the Jewish service of H-Shem. Haman wanted this religious behavior for the same reason Achashverosh earlier donned the clothing of the Kohen Gadol – they wanted to supplant the feelings and actions people had for G-d, and redirect it for themselves.
- The Vilna Gaon explains that there were three things Achashverosh performed for Haman; he made him great by making him financially wealthy, he elevated his by giving him more authority, and he gave his a higher seat in that his advice had superiority over that of Achashverosh’s other advisers.
- The Yalkut Shimoni (1053) and M’nos HaLevi say that these three actions indicate that Achashverosh gradually gave Haman new powers every day. The Yalkut Shimoni actually goes on to say that Haman eventually had even more power than the king, Achashverosh building for him a throne even higher than his own. Rav Avie Gold points out that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to that of “hamelech,” (“the king”) (5+40+30+20=95), implying that they became equal to each other. Furthermore, the gematria of Haman’s entire given name here, Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite, (5+40+50+2+50+5+40+ 4+400+1+5+1+3+3+10=619) is one less than “kesser,” (“crown”) (20+400+200), implying that he was just within reach of the royalty he desired.
- The Malbim points out that Haman’s gradual ascent to power is similar to what Yosef tells his brothers (Bereishis 45:8) regarding the three steps of his promotion. The Alshich explains the reason for this (in both cases, perhaps) is that king did not want his others advisers to harbor jealousy toward the new “upstart.”
- Perhaps another reason for this gradual elevation is that Achashverosh, himself, was not a product of royalty, but was a self-made man, and felt that this was the proper way for somebody to advance.
- The Vilna Gaon points out that this reference to the “king,” is, again, H-Shem. In His Wisdom, H-Shem elevated this wicked man in order to provide the platform for the Purim miracle.