Why didn't Mordecai bow to Haman? - LaTorah.com (2023)

The reason for Mordecai's resistance is not explained in the book of Esther. The Midrash, Targum, and Greek versions of Esther fill in the gaps.

The risky challenge of Mordecai

The Book of Esther is full of fear as it tells the story of the precarious existence of the Jews in the Diaspora. The drama revolves around a perplexing mystery: why Mordecai, known as "the Jew",[1]refuse to bow down to Haman and put his people in danger?

Mordecai's opposition provides Haman with a reason for the genocidal decree, describing the Jews as "having different laws than all other peoples,and do not keep the laws of the kingso that it is not expedient for the king to carry them” (3:8).[2]This leads to Ahasuerus' genocidal decree against the Jews, the "Final Solution", although he does not know the exact cause or even the identity of the people. As a wise courtier, Mordecai was certainly wary of the king's arbitrary ways. What was so problematic about bowing down to Haman that could have led Mordecai to take such a terrible risk?

The Masoretic Text (MT) – i. h. the hebrewfitwe have today - it's dark. Mordecai does not answer the question of the king's servants: "Why do you disobey the king's order?" (3:3).[3]He probably just told them that he was a Jew (v. 4).

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The exegetical tradition suggests two different lines of thought. The first is that Mordecai refuses to bow to religious principles: obedience to Haman is an expression of idolatry. The second points to ethnic revenge: the refusal serves as a pretext for the eternal struggle between Amalek and Israel.

Interpretation 1: A form of idolatry

At the beginning of chapter 3, Haman is promoted to viceroy:

וְכָל עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן כִּי כֵן צִוָּה לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמָרְדֳּכַי לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה.
And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and bowed down to Haman; because the king had commanded him. But Mordecai did not bow down or show obedience (Est. 3:2 NIV).

The requirement that a courtier bow to the king's representative seems harmless enough; The Hebrew Bible is full of examples of reverence for people.[4]No law in the Torah specifically forbids it. But this particular placement יִכְרַע וְיִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה, "to bow down and pay homage",[5]it appears only in the Hebrew Bible as a gesture of homage to the One God.[6]This could be understood, at least by ancient interpreters, as Haman being presented as some kind of deity.

Haman Wearing an Idol - Rabbinic Interpretation

Rabbinic tradition suggests that Haman wore an idolatrous figure, such as a medallion around his neck or embroidered on his turban.[7]They supposedly suggest this because, as mentioned above, nothing in the Bible, or rabbinic halacha, prohibits a Jew from bowing down to a person. However, the Septuagint and theShen's targetmake another claim.


Bow Alone Before God - Septuagint andShen's target

The Greek version of Esther (the Septuagint),[8]presents Mordecai's defense in this regard. By obeying the rule of the Persian king and bowing down to Haman, he would betray his allegiance to the King of kings, the god of the Jewish people. In what scholars call Appendix C (following MT chapter four), Mordecai addresses God in prayer, with an explicit theological message.Nofound no massoretic text:

…You know, O Lord, that I did not do it out of insolence, nor out of pride, nor for love of glory, nor did I refuse to bow down before proud Haman; because I would be willing to kiss the soles of your feet to save Israel! But I did it not to put the glory of man above the glory of God and to bow down to no one but you, my Lord; and I will not do these things with pride. (Greek Esther, Supplement C; 13:12-14, NIV).

His tone is touching, almost apologetic for the plight he has brought to his people. But he justifies his integrity with the "glory of God."

the aramaicShen's target, like the Greek version, does not mention an idol, but argues that it is improper for "the Jew" to bow down to a mere mortal man.[9]For example, in chapter 3, in response to the king's servants' question: "Why do you disobey the king's command?" (3:3, where no answer is given in the TM), Mordecai protests against the arrogance of man,

"Proud and lofty...born of a woman whose days are few...and whose final end is to return to dust...must I kneel before him?" Nope! I only bow before the eternal God..."[10]

not bothShen's targetand the Septuagint of bowing down to a man is itself a form of idolatry, and therefore presents a challenge to monotheism, which exhorts the Jew to render allegiance to God alone.

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Interpretation 2: Do not bow down to an Amalekite

The second possibility is that Mordecai "the Jew", as the personification of Israel, refuses to bow before Haman the Agagite, as the personification of Amalek. This tradition is inscribed in the liturgical practice of Shabbat.Sachorbefore Purim when we read (imEnergy) the command "Remember what Amalek did to you", attacking the old and weary who were expelled from Egypt after a sojourn in the desert. And so, paradoxically, we are asked to "erase the memory of Amalek" (Dt 25, 17-19; cf. Ex 17, 8-16).

We also read of King Saul's failure to carry out God's decree to spare the life of Agag, the Amalekite king (1 Sam. 15 as Haftorah). Mordecai, a descendant in the line of Saul, son of Cis, of the tribe of Benjamin (Esth. 2:5, cf. 1 Sam. 9:1-2), then has to do the work, so to speak.

In the Esther Scroll TM, the genealogical associations point to an ethnic vendetta between these two characters. However, the Greek version never calls Haman an Agagite, so the allusion to this ethnic divide would have been lost on Greek readers. Rather, Haman is referred to as "the Bougean" (in the Septuagint alpha text), presumably a pejorative association for Greek-speaking Jews at the time.[11]

In contrast, the TM-based rabbinic tradition cannot help but hear the warning trumpets at the beginning of chapter 3: "And after these things King Ahasuerus magnified Haman the son of Hamedata the Agagite...", which resonates along Megillah, nicknamed "Enemy". of the Jews [tzror ha-yehudim]” (3:10, 7:6, 9:10 e 24).


Combining the Performances –Shen's target

it isShen's target(about 3third-6ºPenny. C.E.) makes use of the same vengeance, but it goes back to Jacob and Esau. Haman is presented at the beginning of chapter 3 with a list of ancestors going back 20 generations, ending with Amalek's father Eliphaz, Esau's firstborn son (cf. Genesis 36:12). The Targum then links this genealogy to Mordecai's refusal to bow down.

In the MT, the king's servants recount their exchanges with the Jewish courtier Haman "to see ifmordecai wordsthere would be… (God forbid the word of God)” (3:4). What words? While the clear meaning of the text may refer to Mordecai's refusal to bow down because "he was a Jew" (as he told them, v. 4), the Midrash points to a "lost" conversation between Mordecai and the king's servants. 🇧🇷

עניין ואמרין למרדכי: והא אשכחן דאבהתך סגדין קדם אבהתיה דהמן.
King's servant: But we find that your ancestors bowed down to Haman's ancestors.
עני מרדכי ואמר להון: מן איתוי דסגדין קדם אבהתיה דהמן.
Mordecai: Who bowed down to Haman's ancestors?
אמרין ליה: לא כרע אבוך יעקב קדם עשו אחוי דהוא אבוי דהמן.
Servant: Did not your ancestor Jacob bow down to his brother Esau, Haman's ancestor?
אמר להון: אנא מן זרעיתיה דבנימין, וכד סגיד יעקב קדם עשו, בנימין לא ילוד הוה, ולא סגד קדם אינש מן יומוי. מטול כדין נטר יתיה קיים עלמיא במעי אימיה עד עידן דיסקון לארעא דישראל, ויהוי בית מקדשא בארעיה, ותישרי שכינתיה בתחומיה, וכל בית ישראל יחדון תמן, ועממיא כרעין וסגדין בארעיה, ואנא לית אנא כרע וסגיד קדם המן רשיעא ובעיל דבבא הדין.
Mordecai: I am a descendant of Benjamin, and when Jacob bowed down to Esau, Benjamin was not yet born, and he bowed down to no one all his days; therefore the Lord of the world kept him in his mother's womb until the time they went up to the land of Israel and the temple was rebuilt in his land, and theSchechinait would dwell within its borders, and all the house of Israel would rejoice there, and all nations would bow down and pay homage in the land. As for me, I will not bow down at this gate or worship wicked Haman.[12]

What makes this exegetical narrative unique is the combination of religious principles and ethnic pride that underpins Mordecai's argument.[13]Of course, as we know, Haman does not accept "these words" as a legitimate reason for disobeying the king. Rather, he established his determination to kill all the Jews, "the people of Mordecai," because he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone (3:6). The reasons are irrelevant, since the anti-Semite only sees that he "he is a Jew".

Jewish survival in the Diaspora

Central to the drama of the Esther story in all its forms is the question of the survival and integrity of the Jews in the Diaspora. In whichShen's target, probably originated in the Land of Israel between the 3rd and 4th centuriesthirdmi 6ºAt the end of the 20th century AD, the response to the anti-Semite that Haman exemplifies is expressed both in Mordecai's particularistic attitude and in his universal vision of the end times.

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By persisting in his refusal to bow down to Hamango deadGath” (in the Persian court), all the peoples of the earth will eventually recognize the one true God within the borders of the land of Israel.[14]The Targum conveys a clear homiletic message through the voice of Mordecai, combining national concerns with universal acceptance of ethical monotheism.

The Greek text, on the other hand, is addressed to a Jewish audience under Roman rule in the Second Temple period (c.S tcentury BC. BC), where ethnic identity plays a minimal role against religious values. Each one features a different model of Mordecai in today's world, one to wear with pride.kipá, guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen or Paris, the other, in a striped suit and tie, may be speaking eloquently to Christian clerics and statesmen. In both cases, the Jewish courtier represents the "dignity of difference," to use Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack's phrase. He carries the banner that defends the uniqueness of the Jews in the face of assimilation and the threat of a violent and arbitrary authoritarian regime.

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Why did Mordecai not bow to Haman? ›

The protagonist Mordecai, cousin to the heroine Esther, responded to Haman's racial anti-Semitism by encouraging Esther to intervene with King Achashverosh on behalf of her people. Early on, the scroll poignantly asserts that Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman.

Why was Haman upset with Mordecai? ›

You may remember from previous lessons how that Haman became very angry at Mordecai for not bowing down to him. Mordecai would only bow before the Lord. This made Haman very angry and he convinced the king to write a decree that on a certain date all of the Jews should be killed.

Why did Mordecai stop at the gate? ›

(Romans 8:28). Mordecai was positioned to hear the plans of the enemy, similar to when Elisha would tell the King of Israel the plans of the king of Aram.

What is the connection between Haman and Mordecai? ›

Esther's uncle Mordecai draws the ire of a powerful leader named Haman -- the King's second-in-command -- because Mordecai won't bow down to Haman. In fact, Haman grows to hate Mordecai so much that he comes up with a plan to kill not just Mordecai, but all of the Hebrew people.

What can we learn from Mordecai? ›

Mordecai has taught us to maintain hope, remain faithful, and to never allow adversity to define who you are. If that were the case, Mordecai would have bowed down to the earthly power of Haman and renounced his own faith. Instead, he stood strong and never allowed the challenges he faced to define who he was.

How did Haman honor Mordecai? ›

As Solomon says, “The one who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27). Haman expected to be worshipped, but instead the king “clothed Mordecai and paraded him through the city square” (Esther 6:11). All this is so because the proper relation of creature to Creator is trust.

What was Haman's plan to punish Mordecai? ›

What did Haman plan to do to Mordecai? He planned to hang him. 8.

What does Haman represent? ›

In Rabbinic tradition, Haman is considered to be an archetype of evil and persecutor of the Jews. Having attempted to exterminate the Jews of Persia, and rendering himself thereby their worst enemy, Haman naturally became the center of many Talmudic legends.

What does Mordecai mean in Hebrew? ›

Origin:Hebrew. Meaning:follower of Marduk. Mordecai is a baby boy's name of Hebrew origin, meaning “follower of Marduk”. In Hebrew cultures, Marduk was the Babylonian god who ruled over their kingdom with compassion.

How old is Mordecai at the end? ›

Mordecai (voiced by J. G. Quintel) is a 23-year-old anthropomorphic blue jay who works as a groundskeeper at The Park.

What did Mordecai change his name to? ›

When Rigby nervously denies it, Mordecai pushes him aside to find what he is holding behind his back: a "Certificate of Name Change," revealing that he officially changed his name to Trash Boat.

What happens to Mordecai at the end? ›

After six years of working at the park, Mordecai and Rigby quit their jobs and move on with their lives. Mordecai becomes a successful artist, marries a bat named Stef, and has three children with her. Rigby marries Eileen and has two daughters with her.

What happened to Haman's daughter? ›

Long story short, Haman had a daughter who killed herself. She was looking out from her balcony as she noticed two men approaching her streets. One sitting on a horse wearing royal attire, while the other was leading the horse by its reins.

Who was Mordecai's wife in the Bible? ›

The Babylonian tradition maintains that Esther was Mordecai's wife.

What happened to Haman in the end of the story? ›

Instead, Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and, on the day planned for their annihilation, the Jews destroyed their enemies. According to the Book of Esther, the feast of Purim was established to celebrate that day, but this explanation is surely legendary.

What is Mordecai personality? ›

Mordecai is mild-mannered, laid-back, and big-hearted. Like Rigby, he lacks clothing, plays video games, sings karaoke, and drinks copious amounts of coffee and soda. Of the duo of two main characters, Mordecai displays far more patience, responsibility, and intelligence than Rigby does.

Why did the king honors Mordecai? ›

It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. "What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?" the king asked.

What did Haman's wife say to him? ›

In another midrashic account, Haman had 365 advisors, like the days of the year, but none could give him advice as good as that of his wife Zeresh. She told him: “If this man of whom you speak is of Jewish stock, you will not overcome him, but you must act wisely against him.

What was Haman's wife name? ›

Zeresh (Hebrew: זֶרֶשׁ) was the wife of Haman the Agagite who is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Esther. Zeresh advised her husband to prepare a high gallows (50 cubits) and to hang Mordecai on it (Esther 5:14).

Why was the king unable to cancel out Haman's decree? ›

8) Now write another decree in the king's name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king's signet ring—for no document written in the king's name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.” So, the decree that Haman wrote could not be stopped by law.

Why was Haman elevated? ›

QUESTION: Why was Haman elevated only after the incident with Bigtan and Teresh and not before? ANSWER: It was Haman who advised Achashveirosh to kill Vashti and appoint a better person as Queen.

What was Haman's plan? ›

Haman wanted to punish not just Mordecai, but all the Jewish people in Persia. And so, the punishment far, far outweighed the crime. Haman dismissed an entire people and pursued them to death.

What ethnicity is Mordecai? ›

Jewish and Welsh: from a Hebrew Biblical personal name etymologically related to that of the Babylonian god Marduk.

Why is Mordecai important in the Bible? ›

Mordecai Saves the King

One day, when Mordecai was walking outside the royal gates, he overheard two eunuchs plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai told Esther of what he had heard, and she in turn, told the king. Thanks to Mordecai, he was able to stop the attempt and execute the conspirators.

What animal was Mordecai? ›

Mordecai is a young blue jay with a burgeoning sense of responsibility, decency, and his own mortality.

Why was Esther reluctant at Mordecai's first request? ›

Esther's explanation could imply she lived in fear of the king, as such, she was hesitating to approach him.

What happened between Esther and Mordecai? ›

The Babylonian tradition maintains that Esther was Mordecai's wife. Esth. 2:7 states: “Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter [literally: took her le-vat],” which the midrash understands as: Mordecai took her le-bayit, that is, as a wife (BT Megillah loc.

What lesson does the story of Esther leave us? ›

The Story of Esther emphasises the power of God, instructing us we should use the blessings given by God to help others. The moral of the Story of Esther, for children, is to always do the right thing, using the influence you possess to help others as Esther does in the story.

Who is the main villain in the Book of Esther? ›

Haman, biblical character, a court official and villain whose plan to destroy the Jews of Persia was thwarted by Esther. The story is told in the Book of Esther.

What was Esther's secret? ›

Esther hid a secret, she was the cousin of Mordechai, the Jew. When the wicked Haman develops a plot to kill all the Persian Jews, Esther reveals it to the king who kills Haman and rescinds the decree. The shy orphan girl becomes the heroine of her people.

What does the name Mordecai mean? ›

Mordecai is a baby boy's name of Hebrew origin, meaning “follower of Marduk”. In Hebrew cultures, Marduk was the Babylonian god who ruled over their kingdom with compassion.

How many husbands did Esther have? ›

And she was so stringent in her fulfillment of the commandments that "she did not taste anything except her own food, and ate nothing from the king's table" (Yalkut Shimoni Esther). Yet such a modest woman had two husbands?

Why was Haman terrified before the king and queen? ›

So Haman was terrified before the king and queen: Haman never imagined that Esther was a Jew; now he stood before the king being rightly accused of plotting the murder of the king's wife.

What tribe was Mordecai from? ›

He is described as being the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin.


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