We read in the Megilla (2:11) that after Ester was taken to Achashverosh’s palace as part of the search for a new queen, Mordekhai would go each day outside the area where the women were being held in order to inquire into Ester’s wellbeing. The Midrash (Ester Rabba 6) comments that the seeds of Mordekhai’s future position of leadership were sown at that point, when he showed his concern for Ester after she had been taken to the palace: “The Almighty said to him: You looked after the wellbeing of a single soul; by your life, you will ultimately look after the wellbeing of an entire nation.” The Midrash notes that in the final verse of the Megilla, which tells of Mordekhai’s prominent position and his esteem in the Jews’ eyes, he is described as “doresh tov le-amo” – “seeking the wellbeing of his nation.” This privilege of caring for the needs of the entire Jewish nation, the Midrash claims, came in reward for his caring for the needs of his orphaned cousin.
Chazal here convey an important lesson regarding leadership, noting that a leader is one who shows concern for individuals, specifically, for the lowly, desperate souls whom people generally tend to ignore. From Chazal’s perspective, leadership skills begin not with a grand vision, but rather with simple, genuine sensitivity and kindness to the vulnerable and the underprivileged. Just as Moshe became leader after he displayed concern for people who suffered persecution and bullying (the Israelite slaves, and Yitro’s daughters), similarly, Mordekhai assumed a leadership role due to the kindness and generosity he extended to a poor orphan girl.
Additionally, however, Chazal here draw our attention to the importance and significance of the seemingly small, trivial act of “derishat shalom” – inquiring into a person’s wellbeing. Before Ester was taken to Achashverosh, Mordekhai had adopted her, caring for her and tending to her needs as a parent. In fact, the Megilla uses in this context the word “omen” (2:7), which is generally used to describe a nurse. Mordekhai was not only a father to Ester; he acted as her mother, tenderly caring for her as a nurse cares for an infant. And yet, despite all that Mordekhai had already done for Ester, Chazal afford special significance to the seemingly simple measure of arriving each day to check up on her. The Midrash draws our attention to the fact that beyond providing much-needed assistance to the needy, chesed also includes simple things such as paying a visit (or, in modern times, a phone call) and inquiring into a person’s wellbeing.
Significantly, Mordekhai is said to have been rewarded for having inquired into the wellbeing of “nefesh achat” – “a single soul.” It made no difference to the Midrash that this “single soul” was that of Ester, who ultimately became queen and saved the Jewish People. What was important is that he concerned himself with the needs of another person, and for this he was rewarded. The needs of every individual should be important to us, regardless of how simple and unremarkable as he or she may seem. In the eyes of Chazal, even a simple inquiry into the wellbeing of a seemingly simple person is a significant act of kindness, rendering one worthy of rising to the stature of a “doresh tov le-amo.”