Esther 8:17, Question 2. Why do the non-Jews seemingly convert at this time?

  • Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.

  • Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.

  • The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.

  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.

  • The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.

  • The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.

  • After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.

  • Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.

  • However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.

  • In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.

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Esther 2:10, Question 2. What is the difference between nationality and lineage?

  • Is Judaism a nationality or a lineage? It is neither, really. Judaism is unique in that it breaks through all of the sociological definitions of groups. It is not a religion because one can be Jewish and yet not observant and not a believer in Jewish ideals, and still can be counted for a minyan. It is not a nationality because one has to be (or have parents who are) from a particular place, and Judaism has converts. It is not a “race” because Jews can have different colors, body types, hair textures, and any of the other qualifiers for this designation.
  • According to the Iyun Yaakov, everybody in Persia wanted to know Esther’s nationality because she looked like she could come from any nation, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) asserts. Only the king was interested in her lineage to see if she was fitting for a king to marry. He would have less problem marrying her if she were not a commoner, but of royal blood.
  • The Rambam notes in his commentary on Megillas Esther that it is interesting that, although Achashverosh offered tax exemptions and other rewards for anyone who would share information regarding Esther’s background, the Jews unanimously refused to give her up, despite their dire poverty. Regarding this, the Rambam comments, paraphrasing a blessing in Mincha for Shabbos, “Mi ka’amcha, Yisroel!” (“Which nation is like you, Israel!”)