Monday, March 17, 2008

Was Mordichai a proto-blogger?

In the post beneath this one, Rafi imagines the shaloshudis muttering in old Shushan Habirah

Why does that Mordecai guy have to make so much trouble for us? Can't he just bow down to Haman like the rest of us and get it out of the way? Why does he rock the boat? Does he think God speaks to him more than to us? All he does is make trouble, while we just want to be left alone to live our own lives quietly. Why does he have to be sucha fanatic and make trouble for the rest of us?"
This is cute, but not in keeping with the midrash cited in Yalkut Shimoni 953 which says the people who objected to Mordecai's behavior were not the common people, but the rabbinic judges, the gedolim of the time. According to this Midrash the עבדי המלך who said to Mordecai in 3:3 "Why do you transgress the king's commandment" were not courtiers of the King of Persia, but servants of the one true King. The rules Mordecai was transgressing, in their view, were not the laws of the kingdom, but the laws of the Torah. They argued that bowing to a king is permitted. They reminded him that Yaakov had bowed to Esav. They told him the survival of the Jewish people was at risk unless Mordecai acquiesced to their ruling.

ומרדכי לא יכרע ולא ישתחוה׃
But Mordecai did not bow and did not show homage.

In this Midrash, the pressure on Mordecai to bow comes not from gentile leaders but from the Jewish establishment. They are the ones Mordecai resists. Though Rafi sees Mordichai as a champion of "authentic Judaism" (whatever that might be) this Midrash sees Mordecai as an opponent of the old ways, as a protester and a rebel. In fact, others have pointed out the language used to describe Mordecai's non-compliance echos Berashis 39:10, where we're told that Yosef rejected Potiphar's wife. The words there are ויהי כדברה אל יוסף יום יום ולא שמע אליה. Here we're told that Mordecai rejected the wishes of the עבדי המלך and the words are: ויהי באמרם אליו יום ויום ולא שמע אליהם. This similarity suggests that Mordecai, like Yosef, was resisting the conventions of the land, and the demands of the powerful.

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