Next week, we read the Book of Esther on the holiday of Purim. In a nutshell, the Jewish Nation was threatened with genocide (yes, the holocaust was by no means our first experience of such sentiment) in the Persian empire, under the Emperor Ahasuerus. Against her will, Esther, who was Jewish, was taken as the emperor’s wife. Queen Esther, and her uncle Mordechai, stood up to Haman, the Prime Minister promoting the genocide. They thwarted his plans and the Jewish People were saved.
Prior to all of this, Mordechai was a member of the Jewish High Court of seventy-one elders. In seniority, he was third. After the episode of Purim, however, the rabbis tell us that he was demoted to number five instead, due to his having taken time out and hence lost ground in his depth of understanding of Jewish law.
For a long time this did not sit well with me. I have talked before about a principle that I believe in strongly. If you do the right thing, you don’t lose out. I believe that when you get aligned with something important in God’s world, then God’s world gets aligned with you and things work out. If, for example, I give ten percent of my income to charity, I will not lack what I need as a result. Or if I take refugees into my home, with a sincere desire to be of service, no harm will come to me as a result. As I say, I’m a great believer in this.
But the story of Mordechai seems to go against this principle. He did the right thing, taking time out to protect his people – and yet he lost out by being demoted by his colleagues.
The answer I have for myself, albeit something of a work in progress, is as follows. There is one situation in which you may indeed lose out personally by doing the right thing. And that is where you make a willing sacrifice. You accept that what you are fighting for is worth sacrificing for and so you put what you have on the line. In such a case, you may lose out. Because, in such a case, you are not only willing to lose out, but in a sense you are happy to lose out.
Many brave people in Ukraine today are willing to give up all that they have, including their lives, for the freedom of their country. With that willingness comes an acceptance that if it comes to it, they are not just willing, they are happy to do so. As the famous American patriot, Nathan Hale said in his dying words, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ Whilst we would all prefer to be willing to make sacrifices, rather than actually do so, there is an incredible feeling of meaning when we are actually called upon to make those sacrifices. Mordechai knew that he would lose ground as a rabbinic leader by doing what he did. But he was more than happy to do so. And when he did, I’m sure that the pleasure of having made a sacrifice in the name of a greater good, was far more meaningful for him than his recognition and position amongst his colleagues in the Jewish High Court.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This week we begin the book of Vayikra. It is the third book of the Torah and deals primarily with what are commonly translated as ‘sacrifices’ or ‘offerings’. I’ve talked a lot about the concept of offerings in previous years, so I’m going to leave it alone this time.