Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Pushing the Envelope

 

Perusing the Medrashim on Purim, I can never come to terms with the vilification that Mordechai Hatzaddik endured for defying Haman and not kowtowing to governmental edicts that they rationalized as dina d’malchusa and then some. The names he was called according to the Medrashim cited in the Me’am Lo’ez were way worse than what many in the community were called in their defiance of certain governmental decrees in recent times.

But reflecting on Mordechai’s defiance, which according to many Yidden endangered Klal Yisroel, I began to realize that there is a greater and deeper picture that only a novi Hashem can project. Unfortunately, many contemporary politicians and activists want to push the same buttons or at least the buttons that they view as similar to the age-old encounter between Mordechai and Haman, between Binyomin and Eisav, and between Shaul and Amaleik.

When you hear the Megillah read in the span of forty-five minutes to an hour (bar the klop Haman hafsakos), you tend to forget that there was a timeline of events that spanned more than a decade. In the third year of his reign, Achashveirosh orchestrated the controversial party that the Jews of Shushan attended against the better judgment of Mordechai. It was at that party that Vashti was killed.

It was four years later, in the seventh year of Achashveirosh’s reign, that Esther was taken as a queen.

What happened during those four years? I would assume much tranquility. I am sure that those who decried and defied Mordechai’s edict and went to the party were gloating. Not only did nothing happen to them, but the evil queen Vashti, who had a reputation for torturing Jewish girls on Shabbos, was executed.

Four years may not be a long time in the span of Jewish history, but in the life of a monarch and the politics of an era, it can be quite a while. For another three years, things seemed to be quiet as well. Esther seems safely ensconced in the palace of the king, and there is not much chatter that is brought down in Chazal. The Jews seem content that they have “a sister in the palace” and all seems well. Indeed, they must have known about an anti-Semite named Haman who was on the rise, but to most of them and surely those who reveled in the political party some nine years earlier, life was good. “Just bow down to the crazy despot and all will be well. Give him the flattery and honor that most government officials crave and all will be fine. Tribute is a way of political life.”

What was Mordechai thinking?

The Maharal explains that Mordechai could have avoided confrontation by walking in a different direction and not antagonizing his nemesis, but he chose to go head-on. Mordechai saw the decline of Klal Yisrael over the prior nine years of Achashveirosh’s reign and the spiraling complacency that led them to believe that a status quo is fine. He had to push the reset button, even if it meant cataclysmic events could happen.

I still hear my rosh yeshiva crying Mordechai’s onus in the name of the Maharal: “Ozvei Torah yehallu resha v’shomrei Torah yisgaru bom. Those who forsake Torah will praise evil, but those who sustain and preserve Torah will battle them.”

Complacency is not an option. It was time to shake things up. It was time to wage war, even in times of perceived peace.

Mordechai was a novi Hashem. He understood that an act of defiance was necessary, even if it meant risking the entire future of Klal Yisroel. He understood that the spiraling path of acclimatization and apathy would have led to a similar calamity. Standing up and recalibrating a situation of complacency was the path of fighting evil. It was painful. It was dangerous. It was precarious and grave. But it led to the result of a realignment of Yiddishkeit and a reacceptance of kimu v’kiblu not seen since the original Kabbolas HaTorah. A naaseh v’nishma-like acceptance of Torah Shebaal Peh that defied all political logic and Machiavellian moves. It was what Klal Yisroel needed and it is what has sustained us throughout our golus.

But pushing the envelope is a dangerous game. Sometimes, it can lead to miraculous salvation. Other times, it can lead to disastrous results.

During Churban Bayis Sheini, a group of defiant zealots wanted to push our nation to war with acts of defiance, not only against the Romans, but by burning the food supply of the Yidden in besieged Yerushalayim.

If not for the appeasement efforts of Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai, who knows if we would have retained the remnants of Torah that flourished into the citadels that saved our eternity?

I write this because I watch the world, which seems to be starting to unravel. Everyone is pushing the envelope. It seems that North Korea is beginning to tire of the little dance with America and is starting to act in a defiant way, as if they want to launch an event that may have cataclysmic results. Putin’s continued brazenness in Ukraine and open threats of the use of nuclear weapons seem like the machinations of a madman who is tired of the complacency of a cold war and wants to goad the eagle to try to rip the bear with its talons.

It can happen within communities and within homes. It can move stalemates to conclusion, but it can shatter a status quo in ways that may be irreparable as well.

Indeed, you may need the wisdom and holiness of a Mordechai to know when antagonizing your foe is the way to react.

Whatever the case, pushing the envelope must be accompanied with all the methodology that Mordechai instituted to save the Yidden: fasting, tefillah, and limud haTorah, especially of the youngest children. Mordechai’s defiance was not an act to push a political reset button. It was an act of defiance guided by the Torah directive that was ordained by the prophecy in which he was endowed, not a political theater meant to just push the envelope of defiance against the nations of the world.

Indeed, it’s Purim and we have to push the envelope. We may have to act out of the box, but only in the ways that follow the derech of Mordechai Hatzaddik. Ozvei Torah yehallu resha v’shomrei Torah yisgaru bom. Those who forsake Torah will praise evil, but those who sustain and preserve Torah will battle them.

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