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Why does the Megila say "a Jewish man was in the capital of Shushan and his name was Mordechai," when there were many Jewish people who lived in Shushan? The sages explain that many Jews fled Shushan out of fear of Haman; Mordechai was one of the few who did not. Rav Yonasan Eybeshitz disagrees with this interpretation, because later on in the Megila, Esther instructs Mordechai to "go and assemble all the Jews," which demonstrates that there were many Jewish people to be found around Shushan.
Therefore, Eybeshitz explains that the Jewish people in Shushan were "hidden Jews," they did not "wear their Yiddishkeit on their sleeves." Many attempted to conceal their Judaism by integrating into society. Mordechai, however, understood the danger of such attempts. He understood that for the sake of preservation, one must be proud of what the Torah has to offer. This is why the Megila says that Mordechai "was in the capital of Shushan," to be understood literally. He did not remain insular, rather he entered the marketplaces and the social clubs as a religious Jew, demonstrating to his ashamed brethren the value of being subservient to God. Mordechai showed his people that only their allegiance to God would ensure their preservation.
The Megila refers to Mordechai as "ish Yehudi - man of Judah" and "ish Yemini - man of Benjamin." How could Mordechai have been from both the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin? Eybeshitz explains based on the midrash which says that one can change the word "Yehudi" into the word "yihudi", from the word "ehad - unique and one." Mordechai was from Benjamin, but the Megila describes him as "yihud - one" because he was the one Jew who in turn publicized the "oneness" and sovereignty of God.
Mordechai would publicly wear his tzizit and tefillin, the signs which demonstrated that there is only one God. As the Jewish people attempted to hide from who they were, eating and drinking from the utensils of the Temple, indulging in Ahashuerus's lavish feast, Mordechai loomed over their consciousness as he donned his tallit and tefillin. His steadfast conscription to the symbols and laws of religious Judaism saved and sustained the Jewish people.
RECENTLY I READ that the Hillel at the University of California at Berkeley holds dance parties on Holocaust Remembrance Day and for the past two years, refuses to offer Jewish students the option of a Pessah Seder. In preparation for Purim this same Hillel ran an ad portraying a hassidic newlywed couple and labeling them as "scary." The advertisement was an invitation for Jewish students to meet "normal" people in a "normal atmosphere" at a Purim disco bash.
Some, like myself, found the advertisement offensive. But what disturbed me most was after some Orthodox students complained about the ad, one of the secular students responded that the intention wasn't to paint Orthodox Jews as scary, but rather the prospect of marriage as scary. Isn't it interesting (or sad) the way history repeats itself. Yet again, Jews attempt to ridicule and rid themselves of the outstanding symbols and commandments which have assured their preservation.
Berkeley Hillel thinks marriage is scary because it symbolizes responsibility, security and selflessness. Mordechai also found marriage scary because to him, it embodied potential spirituality, the quest of husband and wife to instill, enhance and embrace the essence of holiness. Berkeley Hillel choose a life which is noncommittal; Mordechai chose one of commitment. Berkeley Hillel shirks responsibility even after history slapped their entire nation in the face; Mordechai embraced it. Berkeley Hillel seeks a comfortable and formidable lifestyle; they are afraid of their own shadows and embarrassed of their ancestors' legacy, choosing to ignore the painful sacrifices they made to uphold it; Mordechai sought purpose and meaning as he displayed his ancestors' traditions and customs with pride and satisfaction.
Berkeley Hillel chooses to partake of the feast of Ahashuerus to pursue hedonism. This Purim I choose once again to follow my ancestor Mordechai. I will wear my tzizit, don my tefillin, and come to pray with my children in hand to the synagogue where we will all proclaim as "one": "A Jewish man was in the capital of Shushan and his name was Mordechai."
Mordechai's name is still with us.
Rabbi Shalom Hammer teaches in Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Gat. He is the author of two books, The Family Parsha Book and The Eybeshitz Haggadah, and serves as guest lecturer for Jewish communities worldwide.