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How did Mordechai become the leader of the Jewish people?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller


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Jewish leaders of the caliber of Mordechai – whom our Sages compare to Moses1 – are not elected, but rather appointed… by G-d.

The paradigm of Jewish leadership is Moses; we must therefore understand how Moses was chosen for leadership in order to understand why Mordechai in turn became the leader of the Jews in his generation.

The Midrash explains why Moses was worthy of leadership: The blessed Holy One does not elevate a person to greatness without first testing him, as it is said, “G-d tests the righteous.” How does He test him? As a shepherd…. The blessed Holy One said: “Let he who knows to tend the flock tend My people...” Our Rabbis said: When Moshe tended the flock of Jethro in the wilderness, a lamb escaped. He ran after it until he found the lamb at a pool of water where it had stopped to drink. When Moshe reached him, he said, “I didn’t realize that you were running away because you were tired and thirsty.” He picked him up onto his shoulders and took him back to the flock. The blessed Holy One said: “You have such compassion upon a flock of sheep belonging to a person of flesh and blood! By your life, you shall tend Israel, My flock!”2

The blessed Holy One does not elevate a person to greatness without first testing him, as it is said, “G-d tests the righteous.” How does He test him? As a shepherd...
Regarding Mordechai too, the verse states, “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordecahi ben (son of) Ya’ir ben Shim’i ben Kish…”3 Our Sages deduce Mordechai’s qualities from his description in the verse: “ben Ya’ir” – the son who illuminated (he’ir) the eyes of the Jewish people; “ben Shim’i” – for his prayers were heard (sham’a); “ben Kish” – for he knocked upon (hekish) the Gates of Mercy and they were opened for him.4

In other words, Mordechai, like Moses, was chosen because of his concern and care for his people, whom he taught (he “illuminated their eyes”), prayed for, and on whose behalf he begged for Divine compassion.

This is true not only of Mordechai and Moses, but of every one of our great leaders. They did not become leaders because they convinced others to believe in them, but because they believed so deeply in their fellow Jews that each individual could feel that his own problems and difficulties and joys and triumphs had become the problems, joys and triumphs of the Moses and the Mordechai of that generation.  


  • 1. Esther Rabba 6:2.
  • 2. Shemot Rabbah 2:2.
  • 3. Esther 2:4.
  • 4. Talmud, Megilla 12b.


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Chassidism » Rebbe » Chassidic Masters

Cousin of Queen Esther, and Jewish leader in the 4th century BCE. Played a large role in saving the Jews after Haman, the Persian prime minister, plotted to exterminate them all. The holiday of Purim was established to commemorate this miracle.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Moses' father-in-law.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.