…[But] Mordechai would not bow down or prostrate himself.
Chazal (Megillah 6a) teach us, “If you see a wicked person who is enjoying good fortune, do not contend with him,” for the endeavors of this wicked man will be successful.
If this is so, since bowing to Haman — who made himself an object of idol worship — was not an option for Mordechai, he should have fled Shushan, or at the very least avoided areas Haman would frequent, as it is not correct to contend with a wicked person whose fortune is on the upswing.
So why did Mordechai continue to sit at the gate of the king, placing himself in a position of provoking the fury of Haman by not bowing to him?
In 5289 (1529), Harav Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, perhaps most famous as the composer of Lecha Dodi, had an original idea for mishloach manos to send his father-in-law. He compiled a sefer on Megillas Esther named Manos Halevi. In this work he quotes his Rebbi, Harav Yosef Taitchik of Salonika, who incidentally was also the Rebbi of the Alshich:
There are three possible ways to criticize Mordechai Hatzaddik’s actions — all of them erroneous.
One is that Mordechai acted out of arrogance; he refused to recognize the fact that his adversary was enjoying good fortune.
A second is that is that he acted in total disregard of his people, ignoring the fact that his actions would put them all in danger, as his nationality was well known to the servants of the king.
A third criticism is Mordechai’s apparent failure to learn Torah. If he spent his days at the gate of the king, and replaced Haman as a viceroy to the king, when did he have time to learn Torah?
Each of these potential criticisms is addressed by the following Midrash, which teaches us that Mordechai was in his generation the equivalent of Moshe Rabbeinu in his. The Midrash makes three comparisons between them.
In the Megillah, Mordechai is called ish Yehudi — a Jewish man. Moshe Rabbeinu is also called ish — “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble.”
Secondly, Mordechai was omed baperetz, “he stood in the breach,” much like Moshe Rabbeinu. About Moshe Rabbeinu it says, “He said He would destroy them, had not Moshe His chosen one stood before Him in the breach” (Tehillim 106:23). About Mordechai it says, “He sought the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of all his posterity.”
Third, the Midrash goes on to bring proof that Mordechai taught his generation Torah, much as Moshe Rabbeinu did his.
Mordechai’s humility rules out the possibility that he acted out of arrogance. The fact that he is referred to as the one who was omed baperetz, who “sought the welfare of all his people,” teaches us that he was motivated purely by devotion to Klal Yisrael. And the possibility that he was guilty of bitul Torah is ruled out by the third comparison.
So why indeed did Mordechai provoke Haman?
Harav Shlomo Alkabetz explains that Mordechai sought to rectify the sin that would later cause the terrible decree against his people.
Two reasons are given by Chazal for the decree to destroy the Jewish people. One was enjoying the feast of Achashverosh, which Esther later rectified. After being taken against her will to the royal palace, she refused to partake of the food there, and Hegai the custodian of the maidens was forced to give her kosher food.
The other reason is that they prostrated themselves to an image in the time of Nevuchadnetzer. This sin Mordechai was intent on rectifying, by refusing to bow to Haman.
(The ways of Hashem are mysterious. While at the time it might have appeared that the “extremist” actions of Mordechai caused the terrible decree, in fact it was the merit of those deeds that would save his people from the decree!)
The Rebbe Harav Yonason Eybischutz offers a similar explanation for Mordechai’s actions.
He explains that Mordechai was aware through ruach hakodesh of what Haman would try to do his people. Therefore, he purposely provoked Haman, hoping that an enraged Haman would immediately demand that the king put him to death.
Later, when Haman would approach the king to try to convince him to kill all the Jews, the king would reject his arguments as biased. After all, he had been personally offended by one of the leaders of the Jews — Mordechai — to such a degree that he had had him put to death.
Thus, Mordechai planned to sacrifice his life to save his people.
Haman understood Mordechai’s intent, however, and went to the king with his “grand plan” against all the Jews, carefully omitting to mention any complaint or feeling of personal animosity against Mordechai.
This is actually another way Mordechai acted similarly to Moshe Rabbeinu. Following the sin of the egel — a sin that took place while he was in heaven — Moshe had declared to Hashem, “And now, either if You would but forgive their sin, but if not, erase me from the Your book…”