Purim: Blame It on the Rabbis


An anonymous submission in honor of Purim — Adapted from Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. I p.75

The casual observer of the story of Purim will often overlook and/or misunderstand some of the most crucial aspects of the narrative. Take, for example, the chronology of the story. Although the tale of the Book of Esther is often told inside of a quarter of an hour, the actual story spanned more than nine years.

The Book of Esther famously begins with the feast of Achashverosh, which occurred during the third year of his reign. Our sages reveal (Megilla 12) that Mordechai prohibited the Jewish People from attending this feast. However, this was not due to restraints of the Jewish dietary law, as many assume. Strictly kosher food was available, and one of the two chief butlers at the feast was none other than Mordechai himself (Rashi ibid). Yet, Mordechai prohibited the Jews from attending. The Jewish People did not heed this directive from the generation’s Torah Leader and they attended, facing no repercussions.

Then, nine years later, in the twelfth year of Achashverosh’s reign, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman because of the idol Haman would wear on his neck. There was no clear violation of Torah prohibitions in bowing down to Haman, as it would not have given off the appearance of actually serving idolatry. Indeed, the Jewish People lambasted Mordechai for his actions, accusing him of endangering the Jewish Nation (Midrash Agadath Esther 3:2). Furthermore, the Megillar relates that it was when Haman took notice of Mordechai’s refusal to bow that he began his plot to annihilate the Jewish Nation.

However, when the decree was issued to wipe out the Jewish people, Mordechai chastised the Jews, saying that the reason for this tragic decree was not his actions, but rather because the Jews had bowed to Nevuchadnezzar’s idol (at least thirty years prior) and because they had attended Achashverosh’s feast nine years earlier!

Imagine if today, in a generation where the Rabbis are commonly accused of being “out-of-touch” with the ways of modern society and its politics, a Torah Leader had offended a political figurehead. Then, citing the actions of this Rabbi, this politician proceeded to use his position to cause difficulties to the Jewish People (Chas V’Shalom). What would we say?

Now visualize what would happen if that Torah Leader, instead of apologizing, blamed previous actions of the Jews for this tragedy. Imagine if he said that the reason for this calamity was because people did not listen to a specific decree issued by Torah Leaders. How would we respond?

In the story of Mordechai and Esther, the Jewish People acknowledged their wrongdoings and repented. Would we do the same today?

We must realize that our Torah Leaders in every generation (see Rashi Devarim 17:9) have greater insight than us, and even when their instructions may appear illogical and counter-intuitive, it is their words that we must heed (see Rashi Devarim 17:11), not our own pompous and biased opinions.

The Jews during the time of the Purim Story realized and accepted this, and therefore merited salvation. Let us pray that this Purim we will also do the same so that we may merit salvation from our modern enemies with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Happy Purim!

You may also like...

2 years 9 months ago

I am not the author and cannot speak for him, but in response to Abraham’s comment, accepting that the Sages have superior judgment to our own does not imply anything similar to papal infallibility. The Torah itself provides for a procedure to be followed when the Sanhedrin makes a mistake, and yet commands us to follow that same Sanhedrin.

Furthermore, this doesn’t change the judgment of political Zionism, which was initially constituted primarily as a secular movement away from Torah. The Zionists allocated a miserably small percentage of visas for religious immigrants. So where, precisely, could the greats of the pre-war… Read more »

Bob Miller
2 years 9 months ago

In modern instances where Torah leaders may be at odds over policy, is there an objective way to pick some or one as being more authoritative?

2 years 9 months ago

It’s interesting that if one actually reads the three cited statements of Rashi, they support the interpretations presented in the article and contradict the above comments. Here they are, in translation:

Rashi to Dev. 17:9: “And to the judge that will be in that day” — Even if he is not like the other judges who preceded him, you must listen to him, you have no other than the judge in your day. [He, singular. There is no reference, much less limitation, to the Sanhedrin exclusively.]

To Dev. 17:11: “Right and left” –– Even if he says to you on the… Read more »

Abraham Grief
2 years 9 months ago

How do you reconcile this opinion with pre-WWII rabbinic opinions on Zionism, and what happened to Jews who stayed in Europe vs. what happened to Jews who made Aliya?

Charlie Hall
2 years 9 months ago

“We must realize that our Torah Leaders in every generation (see Rashi Devarim 17:9) have greater insight than us, and even when their instructions may appear illogical and counter-intuitive, it is their words that we must heed (see Rashi Devarim 17:11), not our own pompous and biased opinions.”

Part of the Sanhedrin in Mordechai’s time objected to Mordechai taking time out from his Torah studies to work for the good of the Jewish people. (Rashi to Esther 10:3.) Had Mordechai not taken time out from his Torah studies, we would not be here today!

Purim sameach!!!

Natan Slifkin
2 years 9 months ago

The two statements by Rashi cited by this article do not present support for it.

The pesukim commented upon by Rashi are referring to the Sanhedrin – the Beis Din HaGadol in Yerushalayim – not merely to any Torah scholar appointed by some group as its Torah leader. In order to be on the Sanhedrin, it does not suffice to merely be a great Talmudist. There are many different requirements. Mordechai was not an ivory tower Torah scholar – he was very much in touch with the facts and intrigues on the ground! So, yes, it is certainly possible for… Read more »