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Home » Ki Tisa, Purim

Ki Tisa: Humble Pride

Submitted by on February 26, 2013 – 3:39 amNo Comment | 7,701 views

The Perfume of Art

G-d instructed Moses on the art of making anointment oil with which Jewish kings and priests were anointed. The ingredients included spices of the finest sort: 500 shekel weights of pure Myrrh, half of it, 250 shekel weights, of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekel weights of fragrant cane and 500 shekel weights of cassia.[1] As we shall see, these groupings of weights speak to the quality of humble pride.

Curious as to why the Torah found it necessary to point out that the weight of cinnamon was half of myrrh, our sages explained that the word half applies to the cinnamon. There was a measure of cinnamon, the half of which was 250 shekel weights. In other words, there was actually 500 shekel weights of cinnamon, but the word half informs us that it was weighed in two equal parts, each against a 250 shekel weight, half the weight of the full measure.[2] Of course this answer only leads us to another question: why is the cinnamon measured differently from the other spices?

The obvious answer is that it is a Torah decree directed by G-d’s inscrutable will, however, when we are told to stop digging it is human nature to dig deeper. The instruction to accept a teaching on faith only whets our appetite for more understanding. Accordingly, the Chassidc masters culled a highly inspiring teaching about humble pride out of this obscure directive.

Mordechai’s Strength

These verses are chanted in close proximity to Purim and indeed our sages found relevance to Purim in this particular verse. Seeking allusions to the story of Purim in the Torah our sages found a link between the name Mordechai and the words Mar-Dror, Hebrew for myrrh.[3] The Aramaic translation of Mor-Dror, is Mira-Dachya, a close approximation of the name Mordechai. The meaning of Mira-Dachya, a leader among spices, also resembles Mordechai, for he was a leader among leaders and scholars.

Working on the premise that when G-d directed Moses to use Myrrh in the anointing oil he was laying the spiritual roots for the ascendancy of Mordechai, Rabbi Yisrael of Modshiz[4] explained the meaning of the differing weights among the spices.

Mordechai’s contribution to the Megillah is primarily illustrated by his stubborn refusal to bow to Haman. humble pride - innerstreamI bow only to G-d Mordedchai would proclaim loudly when Haman appeared and though all others fell to the ground, Mordedchai stood tall. This was not arrogant pride on Mordechai’s part, it was humble pride. It was a pride that derived from his absolute subservience to G-d.

Taking this stand entailed a great deal of courage and self sacrifice, but Mordechai derived strength from the generations before him that weighed their Myrrh or Mira Dachya with a single weight. Mira Dachya’s or Mordechai’s loyalties, they seemed to be saying, doesn’t split in two directions, one toward G-d, the other toward Haman. Mordechai has only one master; his loyalty is only to G-d. The next ingredient, the cinnamon, can be weighed in two parts with two separate weights, but the Myrrh is different, it has only one weight.

Like the myrrh, the cassia was also 500 shekel weights. Kidah, the Hebrew word for cassia also connotes bowing. Hence the spices of the anointing oil for the leaders of Israel are bracketed by the stiff necked backbone of Jewish endurance and unswerving loyalty. The first spice, the myrrh, which connotes Mordechai and the last spice, the cassia, which connotes, prostration, are of a single weight. The message is clear: Mordechai does not bow to Haman. Mordechai’s loyalties are exclusively to G-d.

There are many kinds of leaders; there are high priests and kings and both are anointed with the same oil. One leads with power and the other with piety for which reason the middle spice, the cinnamon, is split into two portions, one for priesthood and the other for royalty.[5] However, notwithstanding the difference between them, all Jewish leaders are bracketed by single weight spices. The beginning and end, their purpose and destiny, is to inspire unswerving loyalty in the nation to the one true G-d and to protect them fiercely from idol worship.[6]

Humble Pride
This is why the Torah concludes the list of spices for both the anointing oil and the incense with the words, “And the incense that you make, you shall not make for yourselves according to its formula; it shall be holy to you for the Lord.[7]  These ingredients are holy to G-d. We may mix this formula for G-d’s sake, but never for ourselves. That would be sacrilegious.

Continuing along the theme of our essay we apply this teaching to Mordechai, whose strength of will and supreme confidence were necessary to combat Haman’s influence of idol worship. Had Mordechai been somewhat less stubborn and self assured, the nation might have bowed to Haman and slid down the slippery slope of idol worship.

However, the key to Mordechai’s success was his abject humility and self abnegation. Mordechai was a study in contrasts. On the one hand he was confident and self assured, a consummate leader. On the other hand, he was a humble and gentle soul, seeking always to serve G-d. Mordechai was not concerned with his own future; he was prepared to die for G-d’s cause.[8] Arrogance by itself is anathema to holiness, no good can come from it and had this been the extent of Mordechai’s qualities he could not have been a Jewish leader. It was his blend of humility and self assuredness, his humble pride, which saved the day. It was a holy blend and it was all for G-d.

[1] Exodus 30: 23-24.

[2] This was to ensure accuracy. See Babylonian Talmud, Krisus, 5a quoted by Rashi on this verse. See also Ibn Izra’s question and Or Hachayim’s answer.

[3] Babylonian Talmud Chulin 139a.

[4] Divrei Yisrael Al Hatorah on Exodus 30: 23-24

[5] See Haamek Davar, Exodus 30:23. The Cane was also not divided, but it was comprised of one half – 250 shekels.

[6] It is beyond us to suggest that the priests who ground and measured these spices had foreknowledge of Mordechai, but we might suggest that they were familiar with the meaning behind the single weight. They might have passed this tradition down through the ages until Mordechai received it and put it to good use. We might alternately suggest that this information only came to light after the Talmud found a link between Mordechai and the myrrh, but once this link came to light, it was obvious that Mordechai’s soul was fortified spiritually and girded emotionally by these words and this practice.

[7] Exodus 30: 37-38.

[8] Mordechai gathered thousands of children and taught them Torah. When Haman got wind of this he stormed the academy and Mordechai urged the children to flee. What about you, they asked. I am old and am ready to die, he replied. But they refused to leave without him and ultimately they all survived. Babylonian Talmud Megillah.

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