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Are You Willing to Bow?

Monday, 9 March, 2020 - 12:07 am

 

Question of the Week:

 

In the Purim story, Mordechai the Jew refuses to bow down to the wicked Haman. As a result, Haman enacts a decree to annihilate the entire Jewish nation. Did Mordechai do the right thing? Technically, bowing to a dignitary is not forbidden by Judaism. So even if Haman thought he was god, shouldn't Mordechai have bowed down to him rather than risk the lives of the entire Jewish people?

 

Answer:

 

In my youth I attended a non-Jewish school. Jews made up about ten percent of the student body, and we felt quite comfortable there. But sometimes we stood out.

 

It wasn't a particularly religious school, but on occasion they did hold prayer services, in a big hall with a huge cross at the front. At a certain point during the service, everyone was told to kneel and bow before the cross. So everyone did.

 

But I didn't. I don't know why, but as everyone else went down on their knees, I just sat there. I was a little nervous that I would be caught not kneeling. But then I realized that anyone who saw me not kneeling was themselves not kneeling, so I was safe.

 

Here's the funny thing. Looking around I saw I was not alone. Scattered around the hall were others who did not bow. In fact, about ten percent of the room were sitting upright. None of the Jewish kids would bow down. It was quite a sight - a sea of bowed heads, with a few Jewish heads sticking out like protruding icebergs. Or maybe Goldbergs.

 

On reflection, this is astonishing. Where did we get this defiance from? We were all from irreligious homes and were for the most part completely uneducated in Judaism. No one ever told us not to bow down. In fact, for some of those boys, this non-bowing may have been the only public statement of being Jewish they ever made. So what inspired us to be different?

 

I believe we got it from Mordechai, the Jew who refused to bow down. Somehow his story of defiance has permeated the Jewish psyche, to the point that even two and a half thousand years later, Jews know in the depth of their soul that we don't bow down to anyone but G-d. 

 

When Mordechai stood up to Haman, he wasn't putting the Jewish people at risk. On the contrary, he was saving countless Jews in all future generations who will be inspired by his singular act of bravery, refusing to bow to the forces that try to compromise our identity. 

 

Our enemies will hate us no less if we bow to them, and our friends will only think higher of us for refusing to bow to pressure. Regardless of what anyone thinks of us, our job is to stand tall and proud like Mordechai, unabashedly stating our Jewishness. When we do, we play our part in the epic Jewish story, the story of an eternal nation that survives every attempt to make us bow.  

 

Good Shabbos and Happy Purim!

Rabbi Moss

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