Where Mordechai Is Hidden In The Torah & The Essence Of Purim

We begin our journey in Parshas Vayikra in which the Torah deals with the various offerings brought in the Beis HaMikdash. It starts by discussing the korban olah:

Leviticus 1:1-3:

וַיִּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר׃ דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי־יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַיהוָה מִן־הַבְּהֵמָה מִן־הַבָּקָר וּמִן־הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ אֶת־קָרְבַּנְכֶם׃ אִם־עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ מִן־הַבָּקָר זָכָר תָּמִים יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ אֶל־פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד יַקְרִיב אֹתוֹ לִרְצֹנוֹ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה

And the LORD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock. If his offering be a elevation-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish; he shall bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.

It is unclear precisely why, or how, the korban olah, or “elevation offering,” got its name. The Midrash proposes that it is called as such because bringing a korban olah brings one closer to God, it elevates a person. While this is certainly true, the same could be said about any korban, leaving us with the question as to why it is this korban specifically that received the name “olah.” The most commonly accepted explanation, then, is the fact that the korban olah is entirely consumed by fire, and all of the animal is burnt to God. No one is to eat or benefit from it in any way — rather, it is the only korban that is entirely sent up, as it were, to God. It has no other role; thus, “olah.”

To be sure, if one was to stop and think for a moment — sans any preconceived notions — surely the olah-model of korbanos would make the most sense. Without knowing any better, or what a korban generally was, one would presume that burning the entire animal to God was the norm, not the exception. (After all, it would make little sense to bring a sacrifice to God, and then eat it for your dinner.) Yet, this is not at all the case.

The korban shelamim, or “peace offering,” for instance, is eaten by a number of people. Indeed, Rashi (1:3) wonders why the shelamim got its name, and answers that it is because it brings peace to the mizbeach, the kohanim, and the person that brought the korban — all of whom are to partake in eating some of it.

Certainly, this is a little strange. To burn an entire sacrifice makes perfect sense. Giving it to the kohanim to eat — much less the very person that brought the sacrifice to God in the first place — makes less sense. For that matter, the ultimate example of this is the korban Pesach, all of which must be consumed by the owners. None of it is allowed to be left over. This is, admittedly, something of a weird service of God. The korban olah makes sense; other korbanos do not.

In The Torah

We now turn to Purim. There is a rather well-known Gemara (Chullin 139b) that wants to know where various characters from the Purim story are to be found in the Torah. It begins by asking where Haman is found in the Torah, and answers with the words “הֲמִן־הָעֵץ”, referring to the tree which God commanded Adam and Chava not to eat from (Genesis 3:11). One can read the word “הֲמִן” as the name “Haman”, and, after all, Haman was hanged on a tree — thus, we have our allusion. The Gemara then repeats this exercise with Esther, explaining that she is to be found in the Torah in the words “הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר”, referring to the deep and utter concealment of God (Deuteronomy 31:18). Similarly, as the word “אַסְתִּיר” can feasibly also be read as the name “Esther”, and her story was certainly one of God’s hiddenness, the allusion is clear.

Fundamentally, of course, the answer to where one can find Haman or Esther in the Torah is “nowhere,” but the Gemara, working off the assumption that all is to be contained at some level in the infinite Torah of God, wants to know if there is something to be learned from the allusion to these characters therein. Identities are reveled via posukim. One is privy to a little window into the essence of these characters by where and how they appear in the Torah. Esther’s story and essence was one of hiddenness, while Haman stood for the forbidden fruit, and that which was and is prohibited.

Then the Gemara gets to Mordechai, though. In answer to where Mordechai is to be found in the Torah, the Gemara replies with the words “מָר־דְּרוֹר” — which refer to a particular fragrance that accompanies certain korbanos (Deuteronomy 30:23) — since in Aramaic the words “מָר־דְּרוֹר” are rendered “מירא דכיא”, which sort of sound like “Mordechai.” The implications of this, and what one is to learn from the allusion, are utterly inexplicable.

What Is מָר־דְּרוֹר?

To begin to understand what the Gemara is trying to convey with its odd placement of Mordechai in the Torah we must understand what מָר־דְּרוֹר is in the first place. Rambam (Klei HaMikdash 1:3) writes that it is a fragrance made from the blood of a certain impure animal, a proposition which Ra’avad (Ibid.) refuses to accept on the grounds that there is simply no way that there was an impure animal used in the avodah of the Beis HaMikdash. Instead, Ra’avad proposes that מָר־דְּרוֹר must simply be an extra of sorts from a plant or tree.

The Kesef Mishnah (Ibid.), however, defends Rambam, not seeing what the big deal is. After all, he explains, the blood is never actually seen, but is instead simply ground into the fragrance as dust. More importantly, it is used to create a positive, pleasant smell in the Beis HaMikdash. What could be wrong with that?

While one would be inclined to hand this argument to Ra’avad, the Kesef Mishnah is actually saying something quite deep, complex, and intriguing. He is not inherently bothered by the fact that something impure could be used in a positive way in the service of the Beis HaMikdash. While kedusha can certainly be achieved via asceticism, and the elimination of all possible traces of anything not absolutely holy, the Beis HaMikdash is not a place of such a variety of kedusha. It is, after all, a meat market, the very goal of which is to take the physical and elevate it to the level of the Mikdash. The idea that there would be an impure element used in the service of the Beis HaMikdash should not bother anyone according to the Kesef Mishnah. To the contrary, the use of an impure animal’s blood is the greatest testament to the very thing that the Beis HaMikdash stood for! Namely, the elevation of the mundane and physical to the highest levels of holiness.

It is this act of elevating the impure מָר־דְּרוֹר that the Gemara intended with its choice of the words “מָר־דְּרוֹר” as the allusion to Mordechai in the Torah. This is indeed Mordechai’s essence — he was a man who was able to elevate a nation lost to assimilation and purely physical pleasures, a man who found God despite the fact that he was hidden in the normalcy of everyday life.

Shushan, The Jews, & The Exiles

Esther 8:15-16:

וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה׃ לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר׃

And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a rob of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan shouted and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honour.

While the above posukim are quite famous, it is odd that the Megillah separately stipulates that Shushan and the Jews rejoiced. Why repeat this twice, and why differently? Perhaps one could suggest that the Megillah is drawing attention to the fact that the Jewish people did not experience joy separate from the city itself. Rather, they were able to experience holiness and true happiness even right there in Shushan. This is not to say that they did not long for the ultimate redemption and the return to Eretz Yisrael, but that they were capable of experiencing joy and holiness in Shushan as well.

Indeed, this is the very essence of Purim and the reason for the seudah and the obligation to drink wine. The Jews of Shushan did not find holiness by running away from Shushan, but by elevating it. And it is the duty of all on Purim to do the same, in turn, by elevating the physical act of eating and drinking — even intoxication — to the highest levels of holiness. This is what Purim is all about.


Three times a day, most every day, Jews around the world pray to God with the words “לקבץ גלויתנו”, asking God to gather in the exiles. The fact that the bracha oddly implies that the exiles themselves will be gathered in is taken to mean by some that the very ethos of all the various locations of exile will be brought along with the redemption. Instead of the excision of all that is not purely holy, the various elements of exile will instead be brought along and raised to the level of kedusha.

Similarly, there is a most peculiar Rashi on the second posuk of Vayikra in commentary to the fact that the Torah specifically speaks of an אָדָם that brings a korban. Rashi (1:2) takes this as an allusion to Adam HaRishon. Just as Adam never brought a stolen korban, Rashi explains, so too, no one else can bring a stolen korban.

If ever there was a more difficult-to-understand Rashi, it eludes us. Yet, perhaps we can suggest that Rashi means something much deeper than first meets the eye. R’ Moshe Benovitz points out that the entire world was Adam’s; everything was his for the taking. It is with this mindset that one is meant to bring a korban — with the recognition that the entire physical world is there to be elevated and made holy, just as one does when bringing an animal as a korban. The korban itself is an act of elevating the physical to the level of the spiritual. This explains why the general model involves partaking, via the physical act of eating, so as to further elevate the physical to the level of the spiritual.

Everything in this world can be ours; everything can be holy. Like Adam, we must see things through this perspective. Just as Adam was able to take from anything in the world and elevate it, so too we are able to do the same. A “korban” can be brought from anything. The whole world can be elevated. This is an integral part of the very essence of Purim, and the reason for, and goal of, the obligation of the seudah and drinking.

Mishloach Manos: A Great Rule In The Torah

Parshas Vayikra: What A Simple Grammatical Shift Teaches Us About The Torah’s View On Individualism & Community