Thoughts & Teachings

Rabbi Ron Shulman

Why didn’t Mordecai bow down to Haman? After all, that is how the whole megilah gets started, right? Well not quite! But it is Mordecai’s act of disobedience and disrespect that motivates Haman’s desire to destroy the Jews of Shushan. When the other men in King Ahashueros’ court asked Mordecai why he refused to bow before Haman, all Mordecai told them was that he was a Jew. Why didn’t Mordecai bow down to Haman? Perhaps he felt that, as a Jew, it was not appropriate to bow before a human king or ruler. Maybe Mordecai understood bowing as a religious gesture demonstrated only before God. There are many possible answers suggested by Jewish tradition. He simply did not want to show respect to Haman. Mordecai didn’t like him. He was bothered by some form of idolatry that Haman represented. Since his niece was Queen Esther, Mordecai figured his place in the king’s palace was equal to Haman’s. One meaningful answer draws on the larger symbolism of Haman and the story of Purim. Rabbi Arnold Ehrlich, an important commentator on the Bible, concludes that Mordecai refused to bow down because Haman was a direct descendent of Israel’s greatest enemy, the Biblical Amalek, who symbolizes human evil, the capacity of people to harm, to deceive, to exploit, and to destroy. The serious side of Purim is our response to such evil. We seek to overcome it, to enable the triumph of goodness. Why didn’t Mordecai bow down to Haman? Mordecai stands tall to suggest the role of every individual in the larger struggle to achieve goodness. Mordecai might not be able to defeat all of the evil in the Persia of his day, but he could influence the world of his own environment and live according to his best principles. Mordecai’s simple act is a model of personal ethics. He did the right thing. He remained committed to his values. He affected the safety of his people. This Purim, may the spirit of Mordecai be found in our own daily struggles against any Haman we may meet.