Oz Torah: How were Mordechai & Esther related? – Ask the Rabbi.


Q. My child came home from school and said her teacher told her that Esther was Mordechai’s cousin, but I always thought that she was his niece. Which is correct?

A. In spite of popular arguments to the contrary, Mordechai and Esther were not uncle and niece but cousins. Esther 2:7 calls Esther “bat dodo” – “the daughter of his uncle”. The uncle’s name was Avichayil and according to the Targum Sheni, Mordechai’s and Esther’s fathers were brothers.

The uncle-niece theory probably derives from Christian and not Jewish sources: the Latin Vulgate says she was the daughter of Mordechai’s brother. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia is ambivalent, calling Mordechai her “uncle (or cousin)”.

The Jewish story tells that Mordechai, who was older than Esther, brought her up (and later married her).


Q. Did the Jews of Persia enjoy seeing Haman hanged?

Illuminating the History of Iranian Jews.

A. It would have been unlikely. An enemy is still a human being, and his inevitable downfall causes more sadness than anything else.

We would much rather that he lived up to his potential of decency and compassion; if he could not refrain from sinning, we would prefer that he repented and came back into God’s good books. We take seriously the admonition,

“Rejoice not when your enemy falls: let your heart not be glad when he stumbles” (Prov. 24:17).

The rabbis comment that, despite the wickedness of Haman, his grandchildren rehabilitated the family name and taught Torah in B’nai B’rak (Sanh. 96b).


Q. I know Haman was a descendant of Amalek. When we make a noise at the reading of Haman’s name does this fulfil the mitzvah to “wipe out the name of Amalek”?

A. It helps. Amalek and Haman are bullies who attack the faint and weary; eradicating Amalek-like traits makes a contribution towards cleaning up the environment.

However there is a problem with the Biblical command to eradicate the memory of Amalek: in Deut. 25:19 it says,

“You (Israel) shall erase the memory of Amalek”, whilst Ex. 17:14 says,

“I (God) will erase the memory of Amalek”.

A Midrashic passage explains,

“When Israel has complete sovereignty, they will erase Amalek’s memory; when it does not, then God will carry out the task”.

What this seems to mean is that in the messianic age Israel will be strong enough to eradicate evil; until then, the task has to be left to God. But that does not mean that in the meantime we have to sit passively and do nothing. We can help God along by working on as much of the evil of the world as we can.


Q. How can you wear a mask on Purim and pretend to be someone else?

A. We move in and out of different worlds and roles all the time.

The Rebbe of Lubavitch says that every Jew alternates between Jacob and Esau – one moment the studious yeshivah bachur living amongst his books; the next minute is a sportsman, hunting, shooting and fishing in the fresh air.

“The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 27:22).

The world needs both, but Judaism prefers Jacob and is comforted by the thought that when Jacob puts on his Esau mask he knows it’s a pretence and that Esau can never be his real self.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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