From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
How Both Mordechai’s Love of All Jews and His Prayers Countered Haman the Wicked’s Lashon Hara About Am Yisrael
It states in Megillat Esther, “Then Haman said to King Achashveirosh, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from every other people’s and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them’” (3:8).
Our chachamim said in Talmud Megillah (13b), no one quite knew how to tell lashon hara better than Haman the Wicked. Our chachamim explain that Haman the Wicked behaved just like his grandfather Amalek. Just as Amalek devised tactics for his wicked behaviour so did Haman. Amalek mocked and derided the covenant of the holy brit milah that Am Yisrael are accustomed to fulfil, namely that they circumcise their children at eight days old. Haman decreed a decree “against humanity” that they be forbidden to circumcise their children. As our chachamim say, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honour” (ibid. 8:16), “joy - refers to brit milah”, Rashi explains that initially Haman decreed that they won’t be allowed to circumcise their sons, and when they killed him the decree was annulled.
Haman the Wicked said, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm”, let’s go and annihilate them from the world!
We must understand what was Haman arguing when he said, “a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed”? He was suggesting that there was a “conspiracy” of the Jews. Haman said, these Jews are inclusivists and so they are intentionally scattered with the across the world in order to incite and influence all the people into their belief. “Their laws are different from every other people’s”, it is impossible for us to accept their religion! For their laws are illogical! “And they do not observe the king’s laws”, means that Am Yisrael didn’t agree to pay taxes, which they would take from them for idol worship purposes.
It is also possible to explain that which Haman said, “a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed”, in a further dimension. What is the connection between “scattered” and “dispersed”? The normal way of things are that generally speaking if two people are constantly close to one another and always together they are prone to have friction and hatred, “In an abundance of words offense will not be lacking” (Mishlei 10:19), and as it further states in Mishlei, “Let your feet be scarce in your fellow’s house, lest he be satiated with you and come to hate you” (25:17). However, if two aren’t so close one man with his fellow and they only meet occasionally, then there is hope that they will always remain in a state of amity. This is what Haman the Wicked intended when he said, “scattered and dispersed”, that they are scattered from their friends, with distance, yet despite this they are dispersed from one another in their hearts meaning that they have enmity in their hearts, each one hates his fellow. This was his vicious attack on Am Yisrael, he said to the king, look at the Jews, see how the Jew who lives in Shushan proudly declares, “I am a Persian from Shushan the capital!” And the person who lives in Babylon says, “There are none with a more privileged genealogy than the Babylonians!” (Ketubot 111a). One says, “I am a pure Sefardi”, and an Ashkenazi states, “You are all Franks”, this hatred evolved in Am Yisrael due to the exile and they became adversaries of one another.
Therefore when the pessukim came to mention Mordechai the Jew, statements were made that counteract Haman the Wicked’s claims:
“There was a Jewish (Yehudi) man in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai son of Yair son of Shimi son of Kish, a Benjamite” (Esther 2:5). Our chachamim already commented that there is a contradiction here. On the one hand it states “a Yehudi man”, meaning from the tribe of Yehudah and after it says “a Benjamite”, meaning from the tribe of Binyamin. It could be explained that the Megillah wanted to indicate that for Mordechai they were all the same in his love for Am Yisrael. Whether from the tribe of Yehudah the seed of kingship, the choicest of Am Yisrael, or from Binyamin the youngest a Benjamite, the smallest of Am Yisrael’s tribes, Mordechai didn’t distinguish between congregations or tribes. Therefore he merited to be the “son of Yair”, as our chachamim explain that he enlightened the eyes of Am Yisrael with his Torah, “son of Shimi”, a son whose prayers were heard [shimi from the Hebrew word shama - hear), “son of Kish” that he knocked (kish from the Hebrew to knock) on the gates of mercy and they were opened for him.
We need to analyse the repetition, “son of Shimi son of Kish”, meaning as our chachamim explained in a repetitive way that Mordechai’s prayers were answered, (that Hashem heard his prayers and that he knocked on the gates of mercy and they were opened for him). Why the repetition?
The Gaon Rav Hayyim Abulafia z”l (1660-1744) in his work Mikraei Kodesh explains that they said in Talmud Ta’anit (25b) that Shmuel HaKatan decreed a fast (since rain hadn’t fallen during times of drought) and rain fell that day just before sunrise. Meaning before the fast had actually begun rain had already fallen. The tzibbur thought that this was a good sign for them since they won’t need to fast, and that before they even cried out to Hashem they have already been answered. Shmuel HaKatan said to them, to what is this analogous? To a servant who seeks a prize from his master, the master said to his servants, give it to him so that I won’t have to hear his voice! Meaning that the king didn’t even want to hear the servant and preferred to give him whatever he wants, the main thing is just that he won’t have to hear his voice. The tzibbur understood that it wasn’t praiseworthy for them that they were answered but on the contrary the reverse. Hashem didn’t want to hear their voice at all.
The following year Shmuel HaKatan again decreed a fast for rain and the rain fell after sunset meaning at the end of the fast. Shmuel HaKatan said to them this year too it isn’t a good sign for the tzibbur, to what is this comparable? To a servant who came to seek his prize from his master, the master said to his servants, what until he is weak and in pain and then give it to him.
If so, what scenario is praiseworthy for the tzibbur? When do we see that the tzibbur really are desirable before Hashem? When the shaliach tzibbur says “Mashiv haRuach umorid haGeshem” (Who causes the wind to blow and the rains to fall) and immediately the rains of blessing fall! When Heavens hear the prayer and do not wait long, this is a sign that the prayers are desirable before Hashem.
Therefore they said, “son of Shimi”, that Hashem heard his prayer, and He didn’t say “give him and I won’t have to hear his voice”. “Son of Kish”, that he knocked on the gates of Heaven and they opened them for him, meaning immediately after he knocked, they opened the gates of righteousness and he didn’t have to become weak and experience pain but rather as they said, he said “mashiv haRuach” and immediately the wind started to blow.
May the merits of Mordechai and Esther endure for us that we merit to witness a complete redemption, both a spiritual and physical redemption. Amen ken yehi ratzon.