The Koren Megillat Esther is illustrated by Ira Golub and Avraham Borshevsky.
Rabbi Reuven Taragin – credit Yeshivat Hakotel

Leadership is “a process of social influence in which one person enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”[1] Both Mordechai and Esther play this kind of leadership role in Megillat Esther. Comparing their respective roles is one of the Megillah’s central themes and accounts for its very name.

Mordechai’s Leadership

Mordechai, the first Jewish character mentioned in Megillat Esther, is introduced with a detailed description of his lineage and personal history [Esther 2:5-6]. Mordechai’s ancestors were exiled together with Yerushalayim’s leaders. He followed their path and assumed a leadership role in Shushan.

He is the key (Jewish) actor in the first part of the Megillah. He adopts Esther (2:7) and discovers and foils the plot to kill Achashveirosh (2:22). Later, he actively responds to Haman’s decree by donning a sackcloth (4:1-2) in the king’s court and commands Esther to beg Achashveirosh to spare the Jewish people.

When Esther hesitates due to the danger involved, Mordechai responds with sharp rebuke. He emphasizes the personal responsibility she has to use her position on behalf of her people and explains that it is, in actuality, Esther, not the Jews, whose fate hangs in the balance. If Esther fails to act, Hashem will find another way to save the Jews, but she and her ancestry will be lost [Esther 4:13-14].

Mordechai definitely qualifies as one who “enlists (even after being rebuffed!) the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” [2]

Esther, on the other hand, is passively taken to the palace and, eventually, to Achashveirosh. Her decisions, such as not revealing her nationality [Esther 2:10] are based on Mordechai’s directives.

Considering Mordechai’s central role in the various stages of the narrative, it is surprising that the Megillah is named after Esther. Should it not be named after Mordechai, at least in some form? [3]

Esther Takes The Reins

The answer lies in Esther’s response to Mordechai’s rebuke. She not only takes action, but also takes the leadership reins. She responds not by consenting to Mordechai’s command, but rather by 1) changing the plan to include parties for Achashveirosh and Haman [See the Gemara, Megillah 15b] which questions this decision] , 2) expanding his plan to include the Jewish people in the process, and 3) charging Mordechai with the responsibility for galvanizing them.

She commands Mordechai to gather the Jews of Shushan and fast with them for three days in preparation for her mission to Achashveirosh [Esther 4:15-16]. Esther reminds us that Jewish salvation hinges not on the heroic actions of individual martyrs, but on the individual’s ability to inspire the rest of the people to identify with the mission.

Esther’s response changed her role from being passively commanded to becoming the active commander. Mordechai was not the only leader; Esther also “enlisted the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Esther’s emergence as the leader eclipsed Mordechai’s leadership and turned him into the commanded. [Esther 4:17]

From this point forward, Esther becomes the central active character in the story, while Mordechai fades into the background. In the Megillah’s central perakim, when the flip (“v’nahafoch hu”) occurs, it is Esther, not Mordechai, who plays the active role. Mordechai is brought back into the picture by Esther only after Haman is hanged (8:1). Mordechai may be the one to record the story, but it is a story highlighted by Esther’s leadership and heroics. Though Mordechai was the initial leader, it was Esther who ultimately conceived the plan of action and played the pivotal role. Therefore, the Megillah bears her name: Megillat Esther.

Leadership Lessons

We are meant to learn important lessons from each of the Megillah’s models of leadership. Mordechai models a leader’s responsibility to consider the significance of the position in which we find ourselves, speculate about what actions and sacrifices we are called upon to make, and ensure that we and others answer the call.

Esther teaches us that even those initially led by others have a responsibility to carefully consider the correct path forward and redirect as necessary.

May Mordechai and Esther’s example inspire us to carry out the leadership roles we are expected to fill. n


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.


1. Chemers M. (1997) An integrative theory of leadership. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8058-2679-1

2. Mordechai’s leadership continues after the miraculous turn of events in his authorship not only of the letters sent to reverse the decree (8:9), but also of those eternalizing Purim as a Jewish holiday (9:20)

3. Presumably, the Megillah is named after Esther because she is the only one mentioned in the last pasuk (9:32) that reports the Jewish people’s acceptance of Purim as a holiday and of the Megillah as part of the canon. This pasuk supports Chazal’s description (Talmud Bavli Megillah 7a) of Esther as the one who pushed the rabbis to recognize the Megillah and the Purim holiday. This having been said, earlier pesukim describing the establishment of the holiday (9:29, 31) mention both Esther and Mordechai. Ultimately, the question is why the last pasuk (and thus future credit) focus only on Esther.


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