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6 Adar II 5768 - March 13, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Shushan "State of Law"

by Yisroel Spiegel

Law and order prevailed in the capital of Shushan, and Haman sought a libel against the Jews that is strangely parallel to these times in our own country where judicial law prevails. "There is one nation, dispersed and disparate among the nations... And they do not keep the statutes of the king..." This was the rationale which Haman presented to Achashverosh as grounds to issue the decree of annihilation against them. Haman was a man of proper procedure. He would not dream of a wild genocide, nothing that smacked of arbitrary martial law, but an edict passed by His Majesty, himself. Everything according to legislative order and detailed clauses.

"It shall be written to destroy them," he suggested to the king. Something similar to a bill that must first pass three readings and an unchallenged legal vote. And after the king grants his permission, all the necessary formal steps are taken. The king's scribes are summoned and they record the legal promulgation to the pashas ruling each respective province, to the ministers of each and every people, all duly recorded and sealed by the king's signet ring. Haman is a man of impeccable decorum and formality. He does not risk any legal loophole that will threaten him legally at some future time. He wants to remain on the safe side of the supreme court, and not risk the judges claiming that he violated some fundamental principle of a state of law and correct procedure.

"And the edict was given in Shushan." Rashi says: "The location of the king was where the law was issued." In other words, law prevailed in every area, lest someone come and try to undermine it through a court procedure. If we study to what extent Haman showed a sensitivity to legalities and how meticulous he was in executing every clause, the conclusion is clear, that if he had been the attorney general, it would have been impossible for his decision to be nullified by any judge. His edict was airtight, flawless, devoid of loopholes or errors that would not stand up to the hard and fast principles of the State of legal procedure. He was fully covered and safe.

The royal couriers went out in haste. Everything was signed and sealed with the king's signet ring. Haman was exceedingly efficient and organized; he anticipated every detail and was always careful to have royal approval. "The copy of the writing to be given out as a law in every province, was published to all the peoples." Perhaps he had a premonition that a day would come when he would be challenged for that programmed genocide campaign, and then he would be able to prove to all how punctilious he had been to the letter of the law. Haman may have been arrogant and ambitious, but you could not catch him doing something not perfectly legal and proper. The Megilla notes this and states, "...for thus did the king command him." Which proves that he would not have risked anything without royal sanction.


"A State of Law" remark all the statesmen and historians with reference to Achashverosh's system of rule. A model of structured government based purely on law, with no flimsy loopholes or clauses. No minister or executive would dare lift a finger without making sure that all legal aspects were in order.

Let us examine what exactly Mordechai did here and how he began weaving his plan of action to save his people. "And Mordechai knew everything that was going on," we are told. Therefore, "He donned sackcloth and ashes and went forth in the city and shouted a great and bitter cry. And he came up to the gate of the king, for one must not come to the king's gate in sackcloth."

What is the significance of this irregular show of sorrow? In our modern world, he would be blasted with all kinds of abusive names. "Diaspora tactics", the experts on Kol Yisrael Radio would call it. "Archaic demonstrativity," the people of the Hebrew Academy would term it. "The Middle Ages are upon us again, with all of their ugliness!" the Left would say as they presented a no-confidence motion against the government, perhaps also demanding the establishment of an investigating committee. And all the legal commentators of the radio stations would raise the question, "Should we not consider Mordechai's expulsion from the country?"

But the Megilla tells us: "And Mordechai knew." Not only did he know, as Rashi explains, but, "He was told in a dream that Heaven sanctioned [the decree] since the Jews had bowed to the statue in the times of Nevuchadnezzar and had joyfully partaken of the feast of Achashverosh." He also knew, however, that this was a government of law, that everything was done under the cover of legal procedure. If, however, this is what happened in a country which transformed the law from a means to an end, and the legal procedure became an end in itself, something to be worshiped as inviolate, it was necessary to first attack this point, fearlessly and without hesitation. Even more: this would be the very cornerstone of the rescue effort of his people.

This is why the Megilla tells us that "one must not come to the king's gate in sackcloth." This negates royal protocol; it is inconsonant with the law, says Rashi. The Ibn Ezra goes one step further and explains that "This is abusive to royalty." Logic would dictate an altogether different tactic. If there is such a terrible decree issued by the king, how can Mordechai dream of taking a step that not only shows a lack of respect for the king, but is downright degrading to him?

But we must not forget that we are dealing with a state based on proper law. The decree to "destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews" was issued under legal cover. In such a situation, if he acts according to the law, he is an accomplice to the idolatrous fallacy that law is a goal unto itself, something to be worshiped for its own sake and that legal procedure is something above life, itself. Yechezkel Hanovi exhorts and says, "And the sons rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes and did not heed My ordinances to do them, which man should practice in order to live by them." Chazal say (Yoma 85:), "To live by them — and not to die through them." The novi continues, "And I, too, have given them laws that are not good, and statutes by which they will not be able to live..." Radak explains there, "Since they despised My laws, I delivered them into their enemies' hands that they should pass harsh statutes against them, not like My statutes which would have been good for them if they had followed them... And laws by which they cannot live — their enemies will impose laws and decrees upon them which will cause them to die."

This came about, says Rashi, because they worshiped Nevuchadnezzar's statue and partook of Achashverosh's feast. This sin of abandoning Hashem's laws brought about this terrible decree in the form of flawless law which could stand up to all norms and codes. But it is as the Radak states: "That their enemies will impose laws and decrees upon them by which they will be unable to exist, but would die through them." In such a situation, in defying such a state where proper legal procedure prevails, one must not show the proper diplomatic courtesy and exhibit respect for the law, but on the contrary, one must come in sackcloth and ashes to express defiance to the king and to abuse the law of such a land.


In the sharp interchange that takes place next, through Hasoch, between Mordechai and Esther, this question occupies central position. Mordechai is a godol beYisroel, third in importance to the ministers who came with Zerubovel (Ibn Ezra). He is capable of getting to the essence of the mystery of these events and grasps precisely the why's and wherefore's of Esther's attaining her present position. "Who knows if it was not for this very time [and purpose] that you reached royalty?"

When Esther's maidservants come and tell her that Mordechai is walking about in sackcloth and crying out bitterly by the king's gate, she is greatly dismayed. Such a thing? To thus flout the laws and mores of the land? Her first act is to "send clothing to dress Mordechai and to remove his sackcloth from him." But the Megilla tells us that he refused to don them. Only then did Esther realize that Mordechai understood perfectly the implications of his deed. At this point she sends Hasoch to find out what the meaning is of his action. Mordechai then informs her of the terrible decree and all of its details.

The argument in principle continues. Mordechai demands that she pursue his mode of action, to flout accepted custom, since this is the tactic required in battling a state in which `law' prevails. Not only must one not honor such laws; one must defy them, disregarding all personal risk, for this is the only avenue of true deliverance. Mordechai demands that she "go before the king" while she maintains that "every man and woman who goes before the king unsummoned... is slated for death." Mordechai persists that she go and not be deterred by the danger, for if not, she and her father's house will perish. Precisely by ignoring this unconventional mode of action will she be sealing her doom.

Esther now finally understands the crux of the matter and asks that not only he, but all of the Jews, back her up. She realizes that her only recourse is "to thus come before the king shelo kados, against accepted procedure." I, like you and all of Jewry, must defy the law and custom of the land. We must protest, even though the `media' declare this an illegal demonstration or some celebrated judicial expert declare this unlawful, that such violation has never before been perpetrated in all the history of Achashverosh's rule.


"Bad statutes and laws they did not have" is not merely a monopoly of gentiles against Jews. It can also happen in a Jewish state that has rejected the laws of the Torah and constantly waves the banner of its own defiance and worships its own `rule of law', when this law becomes an end rather than a means and supersedes even the sanctity of life itself.

We are more than sixty years after the horrendous days of the European Nazi Holocaust. We must remember, and never forget, that the Germans first prepared a very punctilious code of laws. No Jew was killed wantonly without full coverage of law. The world powers that are also guilty for the Jewish blood that was split during the Second World War had plenty of legal reasons for not intervening and not saving lives. To our great disgrace, there were also Jewish national institutions that rejected appeals to demand that the world powers change their policies and divert some of their war effort to saving Jewish lives — because this idea was in direct opposition to their idolatrous worship of a `state based on law'. This is law? This is order? This kind of law and order does not protect people, as it is meant to do; it leads to death!

When it is necessary to save, one can defy the law and negate order. One must ignore accepted custom and protocol. Haman is hanged on the gallows in a moment of the king's anger, without judicial procedure; beheading the antisemite is a vital act. In our modern society, a court injunction would have been issued and an investigating committee would have been appointed for an act committed without due process of law in the king's garden!

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