Is the pursuit of material success in the secular world a Jewish ideal and, if so, what is its purpose and goal? The Torah provides two prime examples of Jews who rose to the pinnacle of the secular societies in which they lived in their respective historical periods, Yoseph became viceroy to Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, and approximately 1,000 years later, Mordechai was appointed viceroy to King Achashverosh in ancient Persia. Not coincidentally, both were progeny of Rachel Imenu. Yoseph was her direct son, and Mordechai, a descendant of Rachel’s second son Binyamin. What’s more, both Yoseph and Mordechai rose to power in wholly unexpected fashion after finding themselves in the bleakest and most perilous of circumstances. How did this happen?
We may find a hint in Megilas Esther, read on Purim, which refers to Mordechai as “Ish Yemini,” the “Yemini” man. What is the meaning of this appellation and what clue does it hold for us regarding the key to Mordechai’s ascension to power?
Let us analyze the broad outlines of the stories involving Yoseph and Mordechai.
Yoseph found himself a 17 year old servant in the house of Potiphar after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him to sin with the promise of great wealth and riches. Obviously, his refusal would land him in jail, or worse. Nevertheless, Yoseph steadfastly refused her daily importuning, responding that he could not betray God’s trust in him. After all, God grants all of us the gift of life. How can we utilize this precious gift in a manner that violates His will?
Predictably, Yoseph did end up in jail. Undoubtedly, he was mocked by those who witnessed his righteous sacrifice. “Where is your God now? Your foolish conduct has done nothing more than guarantee you a life of misery in the bowels of Potiphar’s dungeons. So much for faith in a divinity proven to be nothing more than a chimera.”
In time, Hashem responded in near miraculous fashion. Yoseph was whisked from jail to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and instead of being returned to jail, he was elevated by Pharaoh to second in command. Providential justice became manifest for all to see. Yoseph’s unwavering faith in Hashem and his fidelity to upholding the Divine rule of law served to glorify Hashem. Yoseph, in turn was lifted up by Hashem to the heights of success so that all could witness the hand of God in the affairs of man.
Mordechai Ish Yemini:
Mordechai’s nemesis was the evil Haman, who, according to the Talmud, had 208 children, possessed enormous wealth and wielded immense political power. Indeed, the millions of subjects under the rule of the Persian Empire had to bow before Haman whenever he passed by. Only one man refused to bow in fealty to Haman. That was Mordechai the Jew. And despite everything else Haman controlled, he found no rest so long as he could not command the respect of this single objector.
Mordechai, of course, demonstrated the same commitment to God’s word as did his great Uncle Yoseph a thousand years earlier. And again, people railed against Mordechai for his foolhardy behavior which, seemingly, imperiled both his own welfare as well as that of the entire Jewish nation.
However, Hashem had the last word in the matter, rewarding Mordechai, for his undying faith by raising him to second in command to Achashverosh and orchestrating the death of his wicked adversary Haman, all in the blink of an eye.
Hashem’s reward to those who remain true to His Torah is summed up in the Possuk in Mishlei, 3:16, “Orech Yamim BiYiminah,” “Long life in its right hand.” That is to say that the Torah protects and provides for those who trust in it and follow its teachings. Hence, Mordechai, who stood out in his generation as the protector of Torah and glorifier of God, was in turn protected by the Torah and glorified by God with his new found position of power and influence. And thus, he merited the appellation “Ish Yemini,” one who received the bountiful blessing of Torah’s right hand.
These two instances of loyal Jews achieving great stature in this world teach us an important lesson. The pursuit of material success is not a Jewish ideal in and of itself. Our focus must always be on bringing honor to Hashem through faithful observance of His Torah in all of life’s circumstances. Hashem will then reward us so that we may serve as an inspiration both to ourselves and others as examples of Hashem’s Divine intervention.
May we take this lesson to heart in our day as well. Let us dedicate ourselves to living our lives committed to Hashem and His Torah and thereby merit all blessings for ourselves and our families.
Wishing you and your families a joyous and uplifting Purim.