Delores Elliott from Courtenay, British Columbia wrote:
We are confused. Some Rabbis contend that Esther was Mordecai's wife and if she was, that raises a lot of legal questions and yet in Holy Scriptures we cannot find anything except that she was raised by him and that she was like his daughter! Help! Am I missing something here? Thank you so much. We enjoy your answers and have been collecting them in a notebook to refer back to for answers.
Dear Delores Elliott,
The Book of Esther says, "And he adopted Haddasah, i.e., Esther...and when her mother and father died, Mordechai took her to him as a daughter." (Esther 2)
There are three apparent snags in this verse. First, since the verse says that Mordechai "adopted Haddasah," why does it seem to repeat the fact that he "took her to him as a daughter?" Isn't that the same thing? Second, there is no legal status of "adoptive parent" in Judaism; that is, you raise an orphan girl in your home, but you don't "take her as a daughter." Finally and most notably, "took her to him" is always used in the Torah to refer to marriage.
Literally, then, the verse is saying that he married her.
Why does it use the term "daughter?" The terms "sister" and "daughter" are common expressions of endearment, as we see in other places in the Torah (e.g., Ruth 2:8, Shir Hashirim 4:9) and Talmud (e.g., Shabbat 13b). The idea is that a husband and wife should develop a loving and giving relationship as one naturally has with one's child and sibling.
So, it's not hard to see how the Talmudic Sages saw in this verse support for the oral tradition that says Mordechai, Esther's cousin, was also her husband.
Mr. Anon from the UK wrote:
How would you explain the dynamics of "da'at torah" to a secular audience, many of them being total beginners as far as Jewish learning is concerned? By da'as torah I mean the special insight that sincere and intense Torah study imparts to the leaders of the Torah community. Looking forwards to hearing from you as soon as possible. Many thanks in advance.
Dear Mr. Anon,
I would start with some examples that most people know and perhaps can relate to. Take Mordechai, for example. He appeared to do everything wrong, against the common wisdom, but was right in the end.
Shushan's Jews, politically-correctly, attended Achashverosh's feast. (It's not PC to refuse a king's invitation to his victory celebration.) Mordechai, however, warned against it (spoil-sport, not cool, old-fashioned).
Later, when it was time for everyone to bow to Haman, again Mordechai "just doesn't get it." By his refusal to bow, he seems to be the one who brings a death decree on all the Jews.
Indeed, however, as the Talmud says, it was attending the feast, given in celebration of the non-rebuilding of Jerusalem, which brought about the decree. Listening to Mordechai could have saved a lot of trouble!
Let's go on in the story. After Haman's decree became known, the Jews said to themselves: "We have a sister in the palace, Esther. Queen Esther will work to annul this bad decree." What would common wisdom say? "Let Esther tell the king that she's Jewish and we Jews will get favorable treatment." But again, Mordechai seems to miss the boat, instructing Esther to remain silent about her background. What could possibly have been his motive for this bizarre move?
We all know the end of the story. Precisely because Esther did not reveal her Jewishness, the Jews gave up on her and turned their eyes toward Heaven alone, fasting and repenting. This was precisely Mordechai's intent and is the only thing that saved us.
We see that basically everything Mordechai did -- although sometimes seeming to run against common sense -- in the end brought good to the Jewish People. From where did Mordechai get this special insight and ability? From his sincere and total immersion in Torah study; Mordechai, as one of the outstanding Torah scholars of the generation, sat among the foremost of the Sanhedrin, Israel's Supreme Torah court.
Another example is Moshe: When he went to Pharaoh the first time -- at G-d's command, no less -- things got worse(!) for the Jews. Obviously, Moshe was imbued with supernatural insight, and the imperative to follow him was not lessened by the immediate result of his actions. Of course we all know the end of that story and that Moshe eventually succeeded in a big way.
Note that, according to the midrash, 80 percent of the Jewish People were not willing to leave fertile Egypt for the uncharted dessert. Because these millions of people were not ready to follow Moshe, they were forever lost to the Jewish People.
I think these examples show fairly clearly the importance of following the guidance of our Torah leaders, and that such allegiance should not hinge on our short-term perception of the immediate result of that leadership.