The Mishnah (Sheqalim 5:1) lists those appointed for special duties in the Beis haMiqdash, naming the appointees. (The Yerushalmi opens with a dispute as to whether these were the appointees at the time this mishnah was first composed, or exemplary holders of each job.) Among them:
…פתחיה על הקינין. ”פתחיה“ זהו מרדכי. ולמה נקרא שמו ”פתחיה“? שהיה פותח דברים, ודורשן, ויודע בשבעים לשון.
Pesachiah [was the appointee] over the birds [sold to those who needed tahor birds for their offering].
“Pesachiah” is Mordechai. And why was his name called “Pesachiah”? Because he opened [pasach] words [of Torah], expounded upon them, and knew [all] seventy languages.
The Yerushalmi (21b in the vilna ed.) elaborates:
Come and see how great is the potential of this person, that he could open words [of Torah] and expound upon them!
The Yerushalmi continues by discussing the mishnah’s praise that he spoke 70 languages, which, while remarkable, was far from unique – every Sanhedrin had to have such people. (And all members had to be able to understand, if not speak them.) The gemara gives three examples of women who came to procure birds, explained why they were bringing sacrifices, and were misunderstood by all but Mordechai / Pesachiah. One said they were for “עינתי”, which they thought meant “my wellspring”, a reference to zivah bleeding (zivah, unlike regular niddah, requires a bird-offering afterward), and Mordechai realized she meant “my eye” — she wanted to thank G-d after being healed from an eye condition. Another said “ימתי”, which they similarly understood as “my sea”, and Mordechai explained she too was thankful, that she was saved from the sea. The third said “זיבתי”, which certainly sounds like “my zivah“, and Morechai again realized she was actually saying “ze’evasi” — that she was saved from a wolf.
What was unique about Mordechai was not just the technical ability to speak many languages. It was the human ability to understand others. Mordchai realized that women would not go to the Beis haMiqdash and speak so crassly as it seemed, in public no less. He understood his listener.
I discussed in the past the link between Esther’s anavah (modesty) and redemption. Both in her repeating something in Mordechai’s name rather than get personal credit:
Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: … and (#48) saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings ge’ulah to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”
- Beraisa, Avos 6:6
As well as in her willingness to place the cause ahead of her own welfare:
In the story of Purim, Esther faces the same dilemma. Mordechai calls upon her to use her position as queen to save the Jewish people. She balks, and Mordechai counter-argues. “For if you are absolutely silent at this time, then will relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish; and who knows — im la’eis kazos higa’at lemalkhus, perhaps it was just for a moment as this you came to royalty?” (Esther 4:14) Unlike her ancestor, Sha’ul, or Yoshiahu, Esther rises to her calling….
Perhaps this skill of Mordechai’s is also an instance of modesty leading to redemption. There linguistic similarity between anavah (modesty) and la’anos (to answer). It is all too easy to spend the time someone is speaking to me planning my “brilliant” reply. An anav listens, and truly answers. Mordechai heard the person, not just their words.
There is a famous gemara:
“And they [Bnei Yisrael] stood under the mountain [Sinai]” (Shemos 19) — R. Avdimi bar Chama bar Chisda said, “This teaches that HaQadosh Baruch Hu flipped the mountain [Sinai] over them [Bnei Yisrael], like a barrel, and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, good, and if not, there will be your graves.’” R.
Acha bar Yaakov said, “This provides a major complaint against the Torah.” Rava said, “Even so, the [whole] generation accepted it in the days of Achashveiros. For it says (Esther 9), “the Jews fulfilled and accepted”, they fulfilled that which they had already accepted.
This generation saw a fundamental change in the nature of Torah. In the era of miracles, the autonomous choice to keep the Torah was limited. The consequences of the choice were too often too obvious. Now, in the era of hidden Providence, the Torah is more a willingly entered covenant.
Rav Levi Yitzchaq, the Bardivitzher Rebbe, writes in Qedushas Levi that this even changed how the Torah was written. It seems that the gemara’s conclusion (Sanhedrin 21a-22b) is that until Ezra’s day, the holy script was not in mass use among Jews. It was used in the first luchos, but not the second. (Aside from being a reward to Ashur for not participating in the Tower of Bavel, and thus the Assyrian script.) In this generation, Torah was restored to Ashuris script. It was with the generation that saw G-d’s Presence in the mundane that was ready to see Hashem’s Word even in the limitations of specific shapes.
Mordechai, in the role that earned him the name Pesachiah, taught an entire generation how to complete the acceptance of the Torah that began at Sinai, almost a millennium earlier. By listening before he taught, and understanding the people before attempting to teach them. Modesty brings redemption.
Interesting gematria (see Reb Chaim HaQoton’s comment for sources): Each letter in the name Pesachyah (פתחיה), relates to the corresponding letter in the name Mordechai (מרדכי). Each of the first three letters is double in value to that in Mordechai – פ (80) = 2 x מ (40); ת (400) = 2 x ר (200); ח (8) = 2 x ד (4). Each of the last two are half the value – י (10) = ½ כ; ה (5) = ½ י (10).
The root of the name is doubled because Mordechai expanded himself by opening the words of Torah in a way the people were ready to receive. This required the humility and readiness to really listen implied in the last two letters – the humility that took the “כי” and revealed a name of G-d – “י־ה”.