וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו...
and accepted by most of his brethren...



Favored by Most, but not By All

The Megillah concludes1 by describing Mordechai as: “favored by the majority of his brethren, seeking the welfare of his people, and speaking [words of] peace to all his family.” Our Sages infer,2 however, that these words of praise contain a subtle hint of criticism: He was favored by “the majority of his brethren,” but not by all of his brethren. “Some of the Sanhedrin disassociated themselves from him,” because “he neglected the study of Torah, [not dedicating himself to study] as often as before, and becoming involved with government affairs.”3

Our Sages continue, stating that with Mordechai’s assumption of court responsibilities, his station among the Sages declined; originally he was mentioned as fifth in stature among the Sages,4 and afterwards he was mentioned as the sixth.5 This leads the Sages to conclude that “the study of the Torah surpasses saving lives.”

This passage raises several questions: a) Since “the study of the Torah surpasses saving lives,” why was Mordechai demoted only one position? Why wasn’t he removed from the Sanhedrin entirely?

b) Why didn’t Mordechai himself realize his failing and correct his behavior? Moreover, the above-mentioned verse indicates that he was “favored by the majority of his brethren.” Although “some of the Sanhedrin disassociated themselves from him,” the majority of his brethren, the Sages of the Sanhedrin, approved of Mordechai’s course of action.

These questions suggest that Mordechai’s conduct was in fact considered desirable by the majority of the Sages, and that it was appropriate for him to serve as one of the leading Sages of the Sanhedrin.6 Indeed, even those Sages who disassociated themselves from him did no more than that. They did not censure him, or seek to have him rebuked, and they did not maintain that Mordechai’s approach was inconsistent with the Torah’s ways; they merely sought a different path of Divine service for themselves.


“Blessed” or Merely “Protected”

The motivating principles for these two approaches can be traced to a difference of opinion between the Babylonian Talmudand the Jerusalem Talmud.7 The Babylonian Talmudstates8 that the pious men of the early generations would spend nine hours every day praying, preparing themselves for this Divine service, and composing themselves afterwards. The Sages ask: Given this commitment of time, “How was their Torah protected, and how was their work conducted” (i.e., how was it possible that in the few short hours left them, they were able to maintain their level of Torah study and support themselves financially)? And the Sages answer: “Since they were pious, their Torah (knowledge) was protected and their work was blessed.”

The Jerusalem Talmud9 raises a similar question and explains: “Since they were pious, their study and their work were endowed with blessing.”

The phrase “Their Torah (knowledge) was protected” in the Babylonian Talmud indicates that their piety prevented their Torah knowledge from being forgotten.10 In the brief time they had to study, they could not, however, advance further in the study of the Torah. The phrase used by the Jerusalem Talmud, “their study... [was] endowed with blessing,” by contrast, implies that they were also able to grow in their knowledge of Torah. Despite the minimal amount of time available to them, “they succeeded in understanding and comprehending ideas immediately, without delay.”11

Thus, there were some Sages who — following the approach of the Babylonian Talmud — saw Mordechai’s approach as necessary to maintaining the existence of the Jewish people, but as possessing an inherent limitation. It would preserve the reservoir of Torah knowledge which he possessed, but not lead to its expansion. Therefore, they “disassociated themselves from him.”

The majority of the Sages — following the approach of the Jerusalem Talmud — realized that Mordechai’s self-sacrifice in taking on the yoke of court affairs would, like the piety of the Sages mentioned previously, bring blessing to his Torah study and enable him to advance to new frontiers of understanding. Therefore they continued to support him. Similarly, Mordechai himself, aware of this dynamic, persevered in his court responsibilities despite the spiritual sacrifice it entailed.


Light and Darkness

This difference of opinion between the Jerusalem Talmudand the Babylonian Talmud is not merely an isolated, specific issue, but points rather to a more comprehensive difference in approach between the two Talmuds.12 Our Sages interpret13 the verse:14 “He has set me down in dark places,” as a reference to the Babylonian Talmud, for the Babylonian Talmudis characterized by “darkness”: questions and challenges,15 arguments and disputes. Solutions are proposed and rejected in a lengthy process of analysis that can be compared to a person groping in the dark.

The Jerusalem Talmud, by contrast, is characterized by light. Concept follows concept in a natural progression. And when questions do arise, they are answered directly without an extensive process of search.

Based on the Midrash,16 it is possible to conclude that the difference between these approaches depends on “spiritual geography.” In Eretz Yisrael, spiritual truth is more apparent. As such: “No[where] is Torah study comparable to the Torah study of Eretz Yisrael.” The spiritual darkness which characterizes Babylonia — and all lands of exile, by contrast, causes the search for truth to be more protracted and to involve hypotheses which must ultimately be dismissed.17


The Effects of “Spiritual Geography”

To relate these concepts to the issues mentioned above: Since the process of analysis which characterizes the Babylonian Talmudis lengthy and involved, it was impossible for the Sages of the Babylonian Talmud to conceive of a person progressing in Torah study without devoting a large block of time to this endeavor. Therefore, when considering the Torah study of “the pious men of the early generations,” they could not envision the possibility for growth. They could only see that the attainments they had already achieved would be protected because of their piety.

On the other hand, the Sages of the Jerusalem Talmud, whose approach to Torah study was more focused and more direct, recognized the possibility that a person could “succeed in understanding and comprehending ideas immediately, without delay.”10 Accordingly, the study of the pious could be “endowed with blessing”8 that would enable them to advance to new frontiers, instead of merely protecting the knowledge which they already possessed.

Since, as mentioned above, these two approaches are dependent on the spiritual influence of Eretz Yisrael, similar concepts can be explained with regard to Mordechai’s involvement in the Persian court at the expense of his Torah study. At the time of the Purim story, the Sanhedrin, the High Court in Eretz Yisrael, followed the approach to study of the Jerusalem Talmud. Therefore, Mordechai and the majority of the other Sages of his era maintained that it was proper for him to sacrifice his complete involvement in the study of the Torah for the welfare of the Jewish people. They felt that the spiritual influence aroused by his efforts on behalf of his people would “endow his study with blessing” and he would be able to continue to progress in the study of the Torah despite his court duties.

There were at that time, as there were in the subsequent generations,18 Sages who came from Babylonia and whose pattern of thinking was nurtured in that land.19 Therefore they were unable to conceive of the possibility that Mordechai would grow in Torah study while burdened with the responsibilities placed upon him by Achashveirosh. Accordingly, they “disassociated themselves from him” and sought other individuals to serve as spiritual mentors and guides.


Giving up Greatness for Others

There is, nevertheless, no question that Mordechai’s court duties involved a certain dimension of spiritual sacrifice, as reflected in his loss of position in the Sanhedrin. Even according to the approach of the Jerusalem Talmud,which sees the possibility of Divine blessing enabling a person to continue to advance in Torah study despite a small investment of time, there is no question that a constant involvement in Torah study endows a person with a dimension of greatness that cannot be attained through any other endeavor.

In this vein, our Rabbis20 point to the uniqueness of those “whose Torah is their occupation,” who do not interrupt their study of the Torah for any reason whatsoever, for their study crowns them with an aura of greatness. For this reason, our Sages say2 that “the study of the Torah surpasses saving lives,” for the greatness with which the study of Torah endows one is truly unsurpassable. Because he was forced to forego this dimension, Mordechai descended in stature among the Sages. Nevertheless, it was — in the opinion of Mordechai and the majority of the Sanhedrin — necessary for him to make this individual sacrifice for the welfare of the Jewish people at large.21


In the Present as well as in the Past

The Baal Shem Tov22 interpreted the Mishnah:23 “A person who reads the Megillah in a non-sequential order (lemafreia) does not fulfill his obligation” to mean that a person who considers the Purim saga as merely a chronicle of history without deriving a contemporary lesson does not fulfill his obligation. Instead, the directives to be derived from the Megillah, including its final verse, are relevant in all times and in all places.

A Jewish leader must know that his main concern is not his personal greatness, nor the contributions to Torah study that he can make, but the welfare of the Jewish people as a whole. When a leader commits himself to this goal, he should not be deterred by the fact that “some of the Sanhedrin disassociate themselves from him.” Instead, he should persevere in his efforts, confident that “since [he is] pious,24 [his] study and [his] work [will be] endowed with blessing.” He will be given Divine assistance to advance the frontiers of Torah study, and his “work,” his efforts on behalf of his brethren, will be crowned with success.