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Unintended Consequences
‘Mordechai Was Second To The King…’
(Megilla 16b)



The Gemara on our daf relates how, following the downfall of Haman and his evil plot against the Jews, Mordechai was elevated to his post as Viceroy, second to the King of Persia, and that he gained the approval of most of his brethren. The Gemara infers that since the Megilla records “most of his brethren,” not all approved of him, referring to some of his colleagues on the Sanhedrin. They felt that he detracted too much time from his Torah study. The Gemara infers this from a conflict between two verses, the first in Ezra (2:2) and the second in Nechemia (7:7). The first verse lists him after four leaders and the second lists him after five.

R. Yosef deduces from here that greater is the study of Torah than saving lives, for Mordechai was faulted for spending too much time in the King’s court involved with matters of state, even though through this he was protecting the Jewish people from harm and destruction.


No Sin Stands In The Way Of Pikuach Nefesh

The commentators wonder how to reconcile R. Yosef’s rule with the rule that no sin stands in the way of saving lives [except for idolatry, adultery, and murder]. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 251:14) rules that charity funds that were designated for the advancement of Torah study [as for a yeshiva or a kollel] may be diverted to pay a governor’s tax because failure to do so could lead to endangering Jewish lives. Apparently, the Shulchan Aruch is of the opinion that pikuach nefesh takes precedence over all mitzvos, even the mitzvah of talmud Torah. Now, since pikuach nefesh overrides Torah study, how is it possible to fault Mordechai, whose entire involvement with the king’s court was to save Jewish lives?


Three Different Views

Taz (Yoreh Deah 251:sk6) answers that although one is obligated to interrupt his Torah study in the face of pikuach nefesh, it is a greater merit for one to study and not be faced with such a dilemma.

The Chasam Sofer (Expositions to Parshas Zachor, p. 193) explains that if one’s Torah study is beloved by Hashem, Hashem will not present him with pikuach nefesh situations, so as not to interrupt his Torah study. The fact that Mordechai was confronted with the dilemma of needing to save klal Yisrael was construed by his colleagues as an indication that his Torah study was lacking.

Ben Yehoyada suggests that Mordechai was not faulted for his role in the episode of Purim, where he saves klal Yisrael, but rather for his subsequent acceptance of a high post in the government. His intention was purely to deflect any further decrees that might ensue; since there was no known danger or crisis at the time, a decrease in Torah study was unwarranted.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.