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The Megillah explains that Mordechai's refusal to bow to Haman is what provoked Haman and nearly resulted in the death of many Jews worldwide.

Halachically was Mordechai correct in not bowing down, if for arguments sake Haman did indeed have some sort of Avodah Zara if it could have major repercussions on world Jewry?

To extend the question slightly may one prostrate oneself to an idol if refusing to do so means that many Jews will be killed?

  • I believe Rava somewhere in Megillah says that it was wrong of Mordechai not to bow down and therefore the tribes did not want Mordechai to belong to their tribe. Even to the point that they would have preferred that David had killed Shimi Ben Gera as he was the ancestor of Mordechai – El Shteiger Mar 2 '15 at 2:37
  • It is possible that Rava does not hold like Rashi that bowing to Haman was an issue of Avoda Zara. In such a case, your question is even stronger - but that is not the question you are asking here. – LN6595 Mar 2 '15 at 4:11
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    have read in the name of the zohar that mordechai and haman were gilguls of yaakov and esav in vayishlach. as tikun for bowing to esav, mordechai was to not bow to haman. – ray Mar 2 '15 at 18:27
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The following answer was given by Ohr Sameach, "Ask the Rabbi". It gives three reasons as to why Mordechai did not bow. The third reason is an interesting take on the matter. It basically says that the king himself had exempted Mordechai from the command to bow. It explains why Haman had to come up with a totally different reason for killing the Jews. Had Mordechai actually disobeyed a command of the king, Haman could have had him seized and executed. he could also have used it as an excuse to claim that "the Jews" intended to rebel as shown by Mordechai's refusing to obey the king.

PURIM – TO BOW OR NOT TO BOW

This is an intriguing question. Why did Mordechai refuse to bow down to Haman arousing Haman’s anger and thereby endangering his people?

The Sages explain that Haman intentionally hung an idol over his heart in order to cause the prostrating Jews to bow in front of the idol while bowing down to him and thus ensnare them in sin. Since idolatry is one of the transgressions which one may not commit even under threat of death, Mordechai refused to bow before Haman’s idol. However, there is also a deeper reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow before Haman. Mordechai descended from Binyamin while Haman descended from Amalek who came from Esav. Since Binyamin had not yet been born at the time that Yaakov and his wives bowed in honor before Esav, he was not tainted by submission to Esav. Therefore, Binyamin’s descendants, such as Mordechai, do not bow before Esav’s, such as Haman.

This explanation is alluded to by the fact that the verse describing Mordechai’s refusal to bow is in the future tense: Rather than saying “He did not kneel or bow”, the verse actually states, “He will not kneel or bow down”. This suggests that Mordechai’s refusal was part of the larger metaphysical dynamic that Binyamin will not bow before Esav.

The use of the future tense in the verse suggests yet a third reason why Mordechai would not bow before Haman. As opposed to the beginning of the verse which says, “And all the king’s servants who were in the king’s gate kneeled and bowed down to Haman, for thus did the king command concerning him”, the verse concludes, “and Mordechai will not kneel or bow down”. This suggests that the entire verse is discussing the king’s decree, and while others were required to bow before Haman, Mordechai was, according to the language of the decree, specifically exempt by the king from bowing.

This would explain why Haman didn’t actually slander Mordechai before the king for contravening the decree: it did not apply to him. Rather, he conjured up a different pretext for complaining against the Jews

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Mordechai was a major figure for the Jews. His refusal to bow down took place in public. Let's presume that, as Rashi writes, he did not bow down to Haman because Haman wore/became an Avoda Zara.

Both bowing to an idol and doing any sin in public (Chillul Hashem) are sins for which one must put oneself in danger rather than transgress. A Jew is forbidden to desecrate G-d's name in such a way regardless of the reprecussions involved.

An interesting parallel case is brought in the Rambam. He writes that a group of Jews may not cause the death of one of their members even to save the entire group. (This is different than the individual Jew sacrificing himself for the group, which is indeed permitted, even commendable). Certain acts can never be permitted regardless of the repercussions that may result.

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