Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another Rabbinic Candidate For Consideration: But Would He Even Get an Interview? (YIOP Bulletin March 2008)

Here at shul, I sometimes collect the mail in the morning when the secretary is away. If you’ve ever seen my desk, you won’t be surprised to know that the mail can sometimes become buried under an avalanche of papers only to be discovered during the monthly purge. Well, to my chagrin I discovered an additional resume that I quickly forwarded to the YIOP search committee. Because of the unusual circumstances and late date, they asked me to share the details of this candidate with the entire congregation without revealing his name so that the membership can quickly consider this candidate.

Education: Studied under the greatest Torah scholars of the time; extremely knowledgeable in all areas of Torah law, and additionally other secular disciplines. Speaks numerous languages fluently, and also proficient in secular law.

Age: Unclear – but at least in his mid-nineties

Work Experience: has been a leading figure in the Jewish community for decades, with extensive experience both in Israel and abroad.

Other information: Outspoken and passionate, yet can seem overbearing and preachy. Has been known to wander in the streets wailing, crying in mourning and wearing sackcloth and ashes. Seems temperamental and unwilling to demonstrate flexibility in trying situations. Also, he goes by his secular name, and not his given Jewish name.

What are the odds that we would ask this candidate to submit a video, much less invite him for a probo (that’s the Yiddish word for rabbinic try-out) in our shul? First of all, he’s too old. Moreover, who needs an erratic candidate prone to publicity stunts in the community? Oh well, I guess he’s got no shot. There’s only one problem: in rejecting this candidate, we’d be rejecting a man who literally saved the Jewish people from destruction.

You see, this resume belongs to none other than the male protagonist of Megillat Esther, Mordechai the Jew.

Let’s go through his resume one more time:

Education: The Mishnah (Shekalim Chapter 5 Mishnah 1) tells us that “Petachyah was in charge of the bird-related sacrifices [in the Temple, and] Petachyah is [really] Mordechai. Why was he called Petachyah (meaning “opener of God”)? Because he would open with words and explain them, and he knew seventy languages.” The commentators explain that the offering of bird-related sacrifices required the knowledge of ornithology and other sciences. From an educational perspective, Mordechai was what we would call today “the complete package.” Steeped in Torah knowledge in wisdom, he expanded his appreciation for God and His world by studying the sciences, languages and the world around him.

Age: That’s a tough one, but by the time the Purim story rolls around, he must be pretty old. The Megillah tells us that he was exiled from Jerusalem “with the captivity which had been carried away into exile with Yechonya King of Yehuda, who Nevuchadnezzar the king of Bavel had carried away into exile.” (Esther 2:6) That exile takes place in the year 3327 (approximately). The story of Esther takes places between the years 3394 (when Achashveirosh makes his first party) and 3405. Let’s assume that Mordechai -- who served in the Sanhedrin -- is no more than twenty years old during his expulsion. That would make him ninety eight at the end of the Purim story, so if he’s applying to work at YIOP, he’s no spring chicken. But, even at his advanced age he can still ride a mean horse (when led by Haman) and overhear whispered conversations, (see the story of Bigtan and Teresh), and as YIOP does not discriminate on the basis of age, we cannot exclude him on the basis of his age.

Work Experience: With his proficiency in Torah, his experience in the Sanhedrin and his long history of leadership in the Jewish community, clearly this would be a plus.

Other information: Ah, now things get sticky. He can be unpatriotic, unwilling to attend national events (i.e. Achashveirosh’s party for the people of Shushan) for religious reasons, possibly ostracizing the Jewish community in the eyes of the government. He ignores the local laws, refusing to bow down to Haman when every other rabbi and Jewish leader begs him not to make a fuss. He makes public spectacles when he sees fit, crying and wailing in the streets even outside the royal palace. And he uses his secular name – Mordechai, and not his religious name – Petachyah, for reasons we’re not sure about. Finally, for the past number of years he’s been out of the professional rabbinate entirely, working as a magistrate in the local secular courts.

What would we do if our shul received Mordechai’s resume for consideration? Would we give it proper deliberation and deem him a viable candidate, inviting him to meet the shul for Shabbos? Or would we consider him too old, too brash, too unstable and unpredictable, too old-world – to even consider giving him the job?

Sure – he’s all of those things. But it’s those very qualities that would give us cause to reject him as our spiritual leader – which help him and his niece Esther save us all.