The Jewish People have come home to the Land of Israel. Just as the Purim hero Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, we will not bow to anyone.
In celebration of the holiday of Purim, we go to the synagogue both in the evening and in the morning for a public reading of the Book of Esther.
One thing that always bothered me about the Book of Esther was: Why did Mordechai not bow down to Haman? Would that not have saved so much aggravation?
Let’s back up first. According to the story of Purim, Haman, who was an advisor to King Ahasuerus, would walk the streets of the capital of Persia, the ancient city of Shushan (current day Iran), and everyone would bow down to him – and did he love it! Bowing to Haman was in fact commanded by King Ahasuerus. Mordechai, however, would not bow at all, not ever. This infuriated Haman. In fact, other people had noticed and asked Mordechai why he was violating the law of the king (Esther 3:3). Day after day people kept telling Mordechai to bow to Haman, but he consistently refused.
So Haman wanted to take Mordechai to task over his refusal to bow down, but it would not be sufficient to hold Mordechai accountable. Better yet, Haman decided to exterminate all the Jews in King Ahasuerus’ kingdom (Esther 3:6).
Father of Modern Zionism
It would seem that Mordechai’s refusal to bow was a selfish attitude. A bow here and there would have avoided the Jewish people being marked for genocide. Could he not have been more accommodating?
Oddly enough, the answer is found in the actions of Theodor Herzl. Herzl, was not the first to call for a Jewish return to Israel, but nonetheless is considered the father of modern Zionism. After witnessing anti-Semitism first hand in Europe, he went home to Vienna and penned a book, titled: The Jewish State. In it he outlines his solution to the problem of anti-Semitism, namely, the founding of a Jewish state. It would be a place of Jewish self-determination and creativity.
To that end, Herzl organized in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897 the first World Zionist Congress. At the congress, Herzl declared, “Today I have founded the Jewish State. It will take 30, 40, but no more than 50 years until you see it.” He was close – it took 51 years. Herzl, though, died in 1904, and although he never saw the State of Israel, he holds a place of honor in modern Zionist history.
Refusing to Kneel to the Pope
In his pursuit of support for the establishment of a modern Jewish commonwealth, Herzl traveled widely, seeking audiences with heads of state. He would speak with anyone who would listen. In his travels, Herzl had a meeting with the Pope. Before going into the meeting, Herzl was instructed that the proper etiquette when meeting the Pope was to kneel and kiss his hand. Herzl records in his diary that he did not kneel nor kiss the Pope’s hand saying, “I believe that this spoiled my chances with him, for everyone who visits him kneels and at least kisses his hand.”
Herzl refused to kneel to the Pope because Herzl was not meeting with the Pope as a regular citizen. He was representing the entire Jewish people in their quest for a renewal of the days of old. It was time for the Jewish people to come home, and the return would not be based on having to bow to the Catholic Church or to anyone else for that matter. Herzl was not merely a person meeting with the Pope, he embodied the spirit of the entire Jewish people.
When Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, it was because he was a leader of the Jewish people whom everyone looked to for guidance. Mordechai had come to Persia after being exiled from Jerusalem following the destruction of the First Temple. In Persia, the mindset of the Jewish people was precarious, and had Mordechai bowed, had a leader who represented the people done so, it would have decimated the Jewish people’s optimism and hope to return to the Land of Israel. Mordechai and Herzl both needed to keep their heads up and to be strong, proud Jews. All eyes were upon them as leaders.
Prime Minister Netanyahu Gets It
As I write these words, our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, just finished delivering his message to the US Congress. “The days that the Jewish people remain passive in the face of a genocidal enemy, those days are over,” he stated. He is right. Mordechai got it. Herzl got it, and now Netanyahu gets it. The Jewish people have come home and we will not bow to anyone. We are living in our God-given homeland, thriving and striving to be a beacon of moral clarity in a world that often can be very dark.
Opinion Piece by Rabbi Moshe Rothchild