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One Is Plenty

Our culture is saturated with messaging about efficiency, instant feedback in real-time, and rapid scale and success. But as Steve Jobs said, overnight success stories take a really long time.

What appears sudden to others is the product of many invisible moments and a sustained commitment to pursuing goals and ideals. People who have experienced success will usually admit it was the culmination of a long journey of unseen hard work and dedication filled mostly with countless setbacks and perhaps the occasional win.

The Book of Esther starts slowly, with a lengthy prologue before it gets going, and even when it does get into the main story, the main story goes slowly too. Before Haman rose to power, the story tells us the kind of person Mordechai is and what he’s about – someone who shows up for Esther day after day:

וּבְכל־יוֹם וָיוֹם מרְדֳּכַי מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי חֲצַר בֵּית־הַנָּשִׁים לָדַעַת אֶת־שְׁלוֹם אֶסְתֵּר וּמַה־יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ – And every single day, Mordechai would walk about in front of the women’s quarters, to know how Esther was doing and what was happening with her. (2:11)

After Haman’s rise but before his plot begins, Mordechai is still there every day, only now he’s dealing with daily resistance, defending his refusal to bow to Haman:

וְכָל־עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן כִּי־כֵן צִוָּה־לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמָרְדֳּכַי לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה … וַיְהִי כְּאָמְרָם אֵלָיו יוֹם וָיוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם וַיַּגִּידוּ לְהָמָן לִרְאוֹת הֲיַעַמְדוּ דִּבְרֵי מָרְדֳּכַי כִּי־הִגִּיד לָהֶם אֲשֶׁר־הוּא יְהוּדִי – All the king’s courtiers in the palace gate knelt and bowed low to Haman, for such was the king’s order concerning him; but Mordechai would not kneel or bow low… When they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordechai’s resolve would prevail; for he had explained to them that he was a Jew.  (3:2,4)

The Sfas Emes highlights how only someone with the dedication and sensitivity to care day in, and day out, who recognizes the value in showing up every day, will have the sustained staying power to withstand the formidable challenge of swimming against a powerful current, resisting the prevailing norm to face off with one of the most powerful villains in Jewish history.

But for the person with that kind of determination and perseverance, this story offers not just a history but a prediction; not just that he did not bow, but that he would not, in the future tense – לֹא יִכְרַע וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה. We all choose whether to bow to the forces of Haman in our lives or whether to go with the flow, getting dragged along through passive inertia.

The Sfas Emes notes that this promise is directed at us, the readers of the future, an assurance that in all times and places, there will always be a person who refuses to bow. When the story introduces us to Mordechai, the protagonist, it doesn’t even say his name, giving him a generic title, a Jewish man – אִישׁ יְהוּדִי. It could be anyone; in that particular time and place, his name was Mordechai.

Our sages suggest an alternate reading, not that there was a Jewish man, but that there was a single man, one person who could stand alone in the face of adversity – יהודי / יחידי.

One doesn’t sound like much, but in truth, one is plenty. One spark can burst into flame. One compliment can build newfound confidence. One date can turn into a lifelong relationship.

One person’s commitment to their ideals and courage to stand up for their beliefs can inspire others to stand with them. One person’s kindness or generosity can generate a ripple effect that influences everything else. One person can change the course of history and leave a lasting impact on the world.

Your choices and actions can extend far beyond yourself and deep into the lives of countless others and catalyze powerful transformation; even minor actions can produce significant results. One idea or action can make a difference.

As the story and this teaching remind us, Mordechai might have been the only one, but one person is all it takes.

One person is enough.