Religious Life

Jews, Power & Politics – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – February 22, 2019

Shalom Chaverim,

I want to pick up on last week’s letter discussing antisemitism. Let me be clear from the outset: I am not suggesting that the Jews of America are in the precarious position of the Jews of Shushan. What interests me this week is the nexus of Jews, power and politics.

Antisemitism in Esther takes place at the entrance to Shushan’s palace. There, all the king’s courtiers bowed low before Haman. But Mordechai refused (3:4). This enraged Haman and he vowed to exact revenge on all Jews.

Commentaries on this passage tend to focus on Mordecai’s refusal to bow down. But as I read it, a different question comes to mind: Why didn’t Mordechai just remove himself from the palace gate? Didn’t his stubborn refusal put his people in danger? Ibn Ezra (13th C., Spain) answers that Mordechai stood up to Haman and stood his ground because he was committed to serving the king: “ki b’mitzvot hamelekh omed sham. He stood up to observe the orders of the king.”

As a Jew, Mordechai was loyal to the throne. In fact, previously he had warned King Achasverosh about an assassination plot. Mordechai didn’t leave the gate when Haman approached because he rightly believed that he had a place in the halls of Shushan and that he had important work to do there. He would not allow the threat of an anti-Semite to deter him. With pride, he accepted the privilege and the duty to serve the king and the King of Kings.

Even as I worry about growing antisemitism on the left and on the right, I stand tall. I stand tall feeling supported by leaders of both parties who have condemned antisemitic remarks. I stand tall believing that Jews have a right, indeed an obligation to lobby on issues that matter. I stand tall recognizing that despite our small population, we have learned to raise our voice and make our presence felt in the halls of government. I stand tall knowing that as Jews, we have seen it all before and we have kept standing tall.

Mordechai was harassed day after day to test whether “his resolve would prevail,” i.e., whether he would break under pressure from Haman (3:4). But he did not give in. He stood tall. And so must we.

Rabbi Alexander Davis