Purim celebrates Jewry's rescue from annihilation in 4th century BCE. Persia. Jewish history portrays Mordechai, one of Purim's main protagonists, as an extraordinary man. Scholar-par-excellence and Jewish leader, Mordechai emerged from Purim's intricate story of palace intrigue events as a political powerhouse; he had actually become viceroy to the king.

Mordechai comes across as a true 'renaissance man', respected and adored by his people. But the Talmud reveals a little-known fact: Mordechai's public acclaim wasn't exactly unanimous.

Our attention is first drawn to the Megillah's (Scroll of Esther's) conclusion: "Mordechai…was a great man among the Jews, and was loved by most of his brethren…" It sounds like some of 'his brethren' (albeit a minority) had a problem with him.

The Talmud also notes a second curiosity: Mordechai is mentioned among the Jewish leaders who returned to Israel (from Babylonia/Persia) to build the Second Jewish Commonwealth. When the book of Ezra enumerates that list of leaders, Mordechai appears as the fifth name; the Book of Nechemiah's later listing has Mordechai as number six. There seems to have been a ‘demotion’.

What was going on?

The Talmud teaches that some in the rabbinate disapproved of Mordechai' new public persona. Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of seventy-one sages. He was a man totally immersed in Torah.

Now he had become a political figure, a position which doesn't allow for the single-minded Torah-focus he'd enjoyed.

It's a fact that community involvement distracts from one's internal spiritual pursuits.

A community leader has to worry about the people's welfare, at every level. It's a burden that simply doesn't allow for total preoccupation with Torah.

So, some of Mordechai's Sanhedrin-colleagues disagreed with his 'new' lifestyle. Although he was as observant as ever, they felt that he had sacrificed his total-immersion Torah study for the sake of political leadership. For some Torah-Jews, this was a mistake. In that sense, Mordechai took a step down in the religious world when he became a political leader.

But Mordechai, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, took a different position. Why?

The Midrash (Tanna D'bei Eliyahu Rabba ch. 11) teaches that the "It would behoove the Sanhedrin's Sages…to lift their robes…and circulate amongst the cities teaching the Jews…"

This isn't a simple statement. The Sanhedrin was a very rare group of people. They were spiritual and intellectual giants, and they were supposed to convene on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - a Holy place that lent the Sanhedrin special clout and spiritual strength. For example, it was only when they gathered there that the group could decide capital cases.

Yet the Midrash says that it would behoove these religious titans to leave the Temple Mount, lowering themselves as it were, in order to teach the nation.

In other words, the Sanhedrin's rabbis weren't to obsess on their own spiritual achievements. They most definitely had the obligation to study, pray and climb to greater heights; but they also had the responsibility to lead, even if that impacted their personal spiritual pursuits.

Mordechai made a choice. He could've chosen to closet himself in a yeshiva and devote his every breath to Torah study. He undoubtedly wanted to do just that. But Mordechai didn't think about what he wanted; he thought about what G‑d wanted from him. He saw the need for a leader, and he took the lead.

This is true leadership. Genuine leaders aren’t people who yearn to ‘be in charge’, to be ‘the boss’; that smacks of megalomania.

Real leaders are people who would prefer to focus on self-mastery than on the mastery of others. They would prefer the peace of mind and privacy that a non-leadership role would afford. But they see a communal need, and feel a responsibility to step into the breach.