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Mordecai

Mordecai in the Bible, the cousin of Esther who is taken into favour by the king after the execution of his enemy Haman, the previously favoured counsellor. In the biblical story (Esther 5:13) Haman's hatred of Mordecai is represented as obsessive.

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Mordecai

Mordecai (môr´dēkī, môr´dēkā´ī), cousin and guardian of Esther.

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Mordecai

Mordecai •pink-eye • Mordecai • sockeye •croci, foci •buckeye • Diadochi • Malachi

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Mordecai

MORDECAI

MORDECAI (Heb. מָרְדֳּכַי ,מָרְדֳּכָי hypocoristic masculine proper name containing the theophoric element Marduk), name of two Biblical figures:

1) One of the 12 leaders who returned from Babylonia to Jerusalem at the time of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7).

2) A Jew who lived in Shushan (Susa), the residence of the Persian King, Ahasuerus (Xerxes i), who reigned from 486 to 465 b.c.e. Mordecai was the great-grandson of a Benjamite of Jerusalem by the name of Kish who was a member of the group that was taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon together with King Jehoiachin of Judah in 597 b.c.e. Since this group consisted mainly of the upper classes (ii Kings 24:14), and since the name Kish is otherwise known only as that of the father of the Benjamite king Saul, the implication is doubtless that Mordecai's great-grandfather and, hence, he himself were descended from King Saul. Mordecai was foster father to his cousin *Esther (Esth. 2:5ff.).

When Esther was chosen for the harem of King Ahasuerus as a replacement for the deposed Queen Vashti, Mordecai charged her not to reveal her ancestry or nationality. Since he "sat in the king's gate" (Esth. 2:21), i.e., was one of the king's consultants (cf. Dan. 2:49), Mordecai was able to inquire daily about her welfare (Esth. 2:10–11); and when he discovered a plot by Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate the king, he informed her and she passed the information on to the king in Mordecai's name. The plotters were impaled; and the incident, with the part played in it by Mordecai, was recorded in the royal annals (Esth. 2:21ff.). For the time being, however, he was not rewarded, while Haman, a descendant of the Amalekite Agag, who was spared by Mordecai's ancestor Saul (i Sam. 15), was elevated by the king above all his other officials. Mordecai was the only one of these officials who refused to obey the king's command to bow down to Haman (Esth. 3:1ff.). This refusal has often been explained on religious grounds, but not only does Judaism not forbid, it actually enjoins, the showing of respect to highly placed persons, Jewish or otherwise. When Mordecai's colleagues asked him for the reason for his behavior he merely told them that he was a Jew, and the narrator evidently takes it for granted that everybody knew that there was a sacred, perpetual feud between Jews and Amalekites (Ex. 17:14ff.; Deut. 25:17ff.).

Haman for his part resolved to avenge himself not only on Mordecai but on the entire Jewish people, and persuaded the king to decree their extermination by a pogrom on a given day (Esth. 3:6ff.). Then Mordecai urged Esther to intercede on behalf of her people with Ahasuerus. Providence, he saw, had put her there for such an act. Failure to act would result in her own destruction but the Jews would still be delivered (Esth. 4). In an unexpected turn of events, Mordecai was rewarded for having saved the king's life by being dressed in royal garb and promenaded around the city on a royal steed by Haman (ibid. 6). As a result of Esther's intervention, Haman was hanged on the same gallows (7:10) he had prepared for Mordecai (5:13f.), who was further rewarded by receiving Haman's property (8:1f.) and being appointed vizier (10:3). His fame spread abroad and all Persian officials aided the Jews in destroying their enemies. Mordecai recorded all these events and he and Esther wrote to all the Jews to commemorate the days of deliverance annually (14th and 15th day of Adar; Esth. 9). In Hasmonean times, the 14th of Adar was known as the "Day of Mordecai" (ii Macc. 15:36).

A cuneiform tablet from the end of the reign of Darius i or the beginning of that of Xerxes (Ahasuerus) mentions an official named Marduka, whom some scholars have identified with the biblical Mordecai. It has further been suggested that the prominence of Jews in the Murashu tablets from the time of Xerxes' successors, Artaxerxes i and Darius ii, and their absence from documents of earlier reigns, accords with the statement that Mordecai "sought [and achieved] the welfare of his people" (Esth. 10:3).

[Bezalel Porten]

In the Aggadah

The fact that Mordecai is referred to as both a Benjamite (Yemini) and a Judean (Yehudi) (Esth. 2:5) is explained in various ways: as a tribute to David, who belonged to the tribe of Judah, for saving the life of Shimei the Benjamite who is regarded as Mordecai's ancestor, or because his mother was of this tribe. His name is interpreted to mean "pure myrrh" (mor-myrrh, decai-pure) for he was as refined and noble as pure myrrh (Meg. 12a). Mordecai was a prophet and is sometimes identified with Malachi (ibid.). He prophesied in the second year of Darius (Meg. 15a). Mordecai fasted from the eve of Passover till its seventh day, supplicating God to mete out punishment to Ahasuerus for his desecration of the Temple vessels (Targ. Jon., Esth. 1:10).

Mordecai was appointed to the royal court at the request of Esther (Yal., Esth. 10:53). Thus it was while attending on the king that he discovered the plot of Bigthan and Teresh. They were Tarseans and spoke their native language in plotting to poison Ahasuerus, unaware that Mordecai knew 70 languages (Meg. 13b). It was on account of his ability as a linguist that he was called Bilshan (Men. 65a). When the court officials asked Mordecai why he refused to pay homage to Haman while his ancestor Jacob prostrated himself before Haman's ancestor Esau, Mordecai answered, "I am a descendant of Benjamin, who was not yet born when that took place" (Targ. Sheni, Esth. 3:4). The true reason for Haman's hatred of Mordecai and the Jews was that he had once sold himself as a slave to Mordecai and whenever they met his erstwhile master used to remind him of this fact (Meg. 15b).

After the fatal decree had been signed, Mordecai asked three school children to repeat to him the biblical verses they had just learned. The children recited three different biblical verses, each containing a prophecy that Israel should not fear the evil designs against them. Mordecai had been informed of the king's decree by Elijah. The prayer he and Esther prayed then unto God was the Hallel. The days Mordecai decided that Jews should fast were the first three days of Passover (Meg. 15a). When Mordecai saw Haman coming to him with the royal insignia, he thought his last moment had come. He therefore told his pupils to flee and leave him alone to his fate, but they refused. Mordecai spent what he thought were his last moments in prayer and Haman had to wait until he had finished. Since Mordecai had been fasting and mourning for several days he refused to don the king's apparel until he had bathed and trimmed his hair. But upon a decree of Esther, the baths and all the barber shops were closed on this day, so that Haman had to act as valet to Mordecai. Haman had also to offer him his back to enable Mordecai to mount the horse (Meg. 16a).

While Haman conducted Mordecai through the streets, 27,000 youths from the court marched before him, bearing golden cups and beakers (Targ. Sheni, Esth. 6:11). As he rode, Mordecai and his pupils gave praise to God (Lev. R. 28:6). As soon as the procession was over, Mordecai put off the royal attire and again covering himself with sackcloth, resumed his prayers and fasting (Meg. 16a). He did not stop praying until Ahasuerus charged him with the execution of Haman. In spite of Haman's pleas, Mordecai insisted upon hanging him like the commonest criminal (Targ. Sheni, Esth. 7:10). Mordecai became king of the Jews (Esth. R. 10:12). As such he had coins struck which bore sackcloth and ashes on one side and a golden crown on the other (Gen. R. 39:11). However in the measure in which Mordecai gained worldly power and consideration, he lost spiritually, because his high political function left him no time for study of the Torah. From first among the scholars of Israel, he had dropped to seventh place among them (Meg. 16b).

bibliography:

S.H. Horn, in: bre, 9 (1964), 14ff. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index.

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