The entire story of Purim transpired because of one crucial decision of Mordechai in Chapter 3:
(ב) וְכׇל עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן כִּי כֵן צִוָּה לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמׇרְדֳּכַי לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה...
(ה) וַיַּרְא הָמָן כִּי אֵין מׇרְדֳּכַי כֹּרֵעַ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן חֵמָה. (ו) וַיִּבֶז בְּעֵינָיו לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בְּמׇרְדֳּכַי לְבַדּוֹ כִּי הִגִּידוּ לוֹ אֶת עַם מׇרְדֳּכָי וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הָמָן לְהַשְׁמִיד אֶת כׇּל הַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכׇל מַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ עַם מׇרְדֳּכָי.
(2) And all of the king's servants who were in the king's gate, would kneel and bow down to Haman, for such was the king's command concerning him, but Mordechai would neither kneel nor bow down...
(5) And Haman saw that Mordechai would not kneel or bow down to him, and Haman was filled with rage. (6) But he disdained to lay hands on Mordechai alone, since they told him of Mordechai's people, and Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, Mordechai's people, throughout the whole kingdom of Achashverosh.
Mordechai's defiance of the king's directive leads Haman to attempt to annihilate the Jewish nation. Surprisingly, though, the Megillah explains neither Mordechai's motives1 nor the backdrop for Achashverosh's original order. Why did Haman desire that the king's servants bow to him?2 What were the factors which caused Mordechai not to comply?3
A Reckless Act?
As Mordechai's actions led to the near annihilation of his people, it begs the question of whether his action was justified or reflected poor judgment. There appears to be no prohibition against bowing to people, as evidenced by the many Biblical characters (including Moshe) who do so.4 What, then, could have been so critical that would prompt Mordechai to endanger his entire nation? As Ibn Ezra writes:
והנה יש לשאול למה הכניס מרדכי עצמו בסכנה גם הכניס כל ישראל היה ראוי שידבר לאסתר ותסירנו משער המלך ולא יכעיס את המן אחר שראה שהשעה משחקת לו!
- "כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוּא יְהוּדִי" – Do these words provide the reason for Mordechai's refusal to bow, or do they point only to the antisemitism of the servants who informed on him to Haman?
- "לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה" – The pair of kneeling and bowing is repeated three times in a span of four verses. Is there a difference between them? Is each used as a means to honor another person, or is kneeling more of a religious act? Are they equally permitted or prohibited?
- Haman's edict – Did Mordechai anticipate the consequences of his actions?5 Was he cognizant, even after the fact, that it was his refusal that led Haman to his decision of destruction, or did he never connect between the two?
- "כׇל עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ" – Who was included in the command to prostrate themselves – only members of the king's court or the entire populace? What might this teach regarding either Haman or Mordechai's motives?