Compliment or Critique?
Most readers of the Megillah look favorably on Mordechai as a hero who, together with Esther, saved the nation from potential destruction. Was this the view of the people of Mordechai's era as well? When the danger of annihilation had ebbed, did they still view him with admiration? The conclusion of Megillat Esther leaves some room to wonder:
(א) וַיָּשֶׂם הַמֶּלֶךְ [אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ] (אחשרש) מַס עַל הָאָרֶץ וְאִיֵּי הַיָּם. (ב) וְכׇל מַעֲשֵׂה תׇקְפּוֹ וּגְבוּרָתוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת גְּדֻלַּת מׇרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר גִּדְּלוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ הֲלוֹא הֵם כְּתוּבִים עַל סֵפֶר דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים לְמַלְכֵי מָדַי וּפָרָס. (ג) כִּי מׇרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכׇל זַרְעו.
(1) And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea. (2) And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the full account of the greatness of Mordecai, how the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? (3) For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed.
Among the many seemingly positive terms used to describe Mordechai (second-in-command, great among the Jews, seeking the good and peace of his nation) one phrase stands out. Rather than sharing that Mordechai was "וְרָצוּי לכל אֶחָיו" (as per the parallel phrase "וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכׇל זַרְעו"), the verse writes "וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו". Why emphasize that "many" of his brothers were pleased? Does this imply that only many were pleased and that others were not pleased?1 Why might some people have been upset with Mordechai?
Several other questions emerge from this closing unit as well:
- "וַיָּשֶׂם הַמֶּלֶךְ... מַס עַל הָאָרֶץ" – Why does the narrator deem it important to end the story with this fact? How does Achashverosh's policy of taxation bear on the portrait of Mordechai drawn in the rest of the chapter? Does its mention imply that Mordechai played a role in the policy? If so, did this endear him to the people or estrange him from them?
- Descriptions of Mordechai – What is the relationship between all the different terms used to describe Mordechai? What is the difference in meaning between "גָדוֹל" and "וְרָצוּי", or "דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב" and "דֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם"?
- The nation – Are the various terms used to describe the nation ("יְהוּדִים", "אֶחָיו", "עַמּוֹ", "זַרְעו") all merely synonyms, or does each word refer to a different faction within the people?
- דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים לְמַלְכֵי מָדַי וּפָרָס – Why does the text refer the reader to the Chronicles of Persia? Is there a realistic expectation that the reader might turn there to learn more about Mordechai?