In the Purim story, Mordechai the Jew refuses to bow down to the wicked Haman. As a result, Haman enacts a decree to annihilate the entire Jewish nation. Did Mordechai do the right thing? Even if Haman thought he was a god, shouldn't Mordechai have bowed down to him rather than risk the lives of the entire Jewish people?


In my youth, I attended a non-Jewish school. Jews made up about 10 percent of the student body, and we felt quite comfortable there. But sometimes we stood out.

It wasn't a particularly religious school, but on occasion they did hold prayer services in a big hall with a huge cross at the front. At a certain point during the service, everyone was told to kneel and bow before the cross. So everyone did.

But I didn't. I don't know why, but as everyone else went down on their knees, I just sat there. I was a little nervous that I would be caught not kneeling. But then I realized that anyone who saw me not kneeling was himself not kneeling, so I was safe.

Here's the funny thing. Looking around, I saw I was not alone. Scattered around the hall were others who did not bow. In fact, about 10 percent of the students were sitting upright. None of the Jewish kids would bow down. It was quite a sight—a sea of bowed heads, with a few Jewish heads sticking out like protruding icebergs. Or maybe Goldbergs.

On reflection, this is astonishing. Where did we get this defiance from? We were all from irreligious homes and were for the most part completely uneducated in Judaism. No one ever told us not to bow down. In fact, for some of those students, this non-bowing may have been the only public statement of being Jewish they ever made. So what inspired us to be different?

I believe we got it from Mordechai, the Jew who refused to bow down. Somehow, his story of defiance has permeated the Jewish psyche, to the point that even 2500 years later, we know in the depth of our souls that we don't bow down to anyone but G‑d.

When Mordechai stood up to Haman, he wasn't putting the Jewish people at risk. On the contrary, he was saving countless Jews in all future generations who would be inspired by his singular act of bravery, refusing to bow to the forces that would try to compromise their identity.

Our enemies will hate us for not bowing to them, and they will hate us even more if we do bow to them. But when we stand tall and proud, unabashedly stating our Jewishness, then, like Mordechai, we will see the downfall of evil and the triumph of good.