D’var Torah: Mordechai sets example of perfecting the world for all


William Motchan


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

We find ourselves this Shabbat celebrating the eighth and final day of the Festival of Pesach, which includes the recitation of the Yizkor, the Memorial Prayers, which are chanted four times annually. And yet, though we are knee-deep in our Passover commemorations and celebrations, I find myself thinking back to the joyous holiday of Purim that we enjoyed just a few weeks back and to one of its primary heroes, Mordechai.

Now, of course, you are asking yourselves, why? What might Mordechai have to do with the Exodus and our Pesach observances?

For those who may have forgotten, Mordechai, according to rabbinic tradition, was a prophet and a member of the famed Jewish legal body known as the Sanhedrin, which gathered in the Chamber of Hewn Stones and whose members were so well educated and worldly that they were facile in all 70 languages extant at that time. In this respected capacity, Mordechai helped adjudicate difficult legal matters and, owing to his expertise as an accomplished linguist, he was able to uncover the plot to assassinate King Achashverosh found in the heart of the Purim tale. For this act of bravery, loyalty and patriotism, Mordechai was ultimately elevated to a position of power and prominence in the court of the Persian monarch.

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Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

However, there is one more little-known and intriguing tidbit about the life Mordechai that deserves our consideration.  According to the Talmud (BT Megillah 16b), once Mordechai was elevated to serve as prime minister in Achashverosh’s government, many of his rabbinic colleagues determined that his involvement with civic/secular affairs and, in particular, his focus away from the needs of his fellow Jews and Torah study, made him no longer a viable candidate for serving on the most elevated of Jewish legal bodies. Mordechai’s abiding concern for non-Jews, “gentiles and pagans,” sullied his heretofore stellar reputation and led to many of his co-religionists turning their backs on him and some even calling for his removal from the vaunted Sanhedrin.

This Talmudic passage gnawed at me as I prepared to retell the tales of our miraculous deliverance from bondage. As you may remember, the rabbinic Midrash posits that as the Israelites celebrated their victory over the Egyptians, a heavenly voice called out: “My creations, My children, the work of My hands, are dying and you are making merry and singing songs of salvation?!” (BT Megillah 10b)

Passover is indeed a holiday of liberation. And yes, it is unabashedly the story of OUR (Jewish) deliverance. And yet, it would seem to me that as a people chosen by the Creator to serve as an Or Goyim, a light unto the nations, (Isiah 42:6), our liberation and deliverance are incomplete until we do whatever we can to secure the release and emancipation of all those mired in servitude and oppression. And, in order to do this, we must reject the criticisms and chastisements of those who see our goal as myopically focused exclusively on Jewish survival and flourishing.

This reorientation demands that we, like Mordechai, the hero of the Purim Megillah, engage in the needs of the communities that reside beyond the limited boundaries of our own parochial Jewish concerns and needs. Not, heaven forbid, because we yearn to abandon our Jewish tradition or neglect our responsibilities to our own people, but rather because we want to live out the deepest and most profound manifestation of what our Holy Torah comes to teach us.

This Passover, as we retell the powerful story of our people’s freedom from the oppression of tyrants, let us pledge to also help hasten the arrival of the time to which we allude thrice daily in our Aleinu prayer by actively working at Letaken Olam BeMalchut Shaddai, perfecting the entire world so that all of the Earth’s inhabitants can experience the awesome power and unequalled beauty of the Almighty.

May this era be catalyzed by our actions on behalf of all of God’s beloved creations and arrive speedily and in our day!


Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.