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 3:5, Question 1. Why does Haman wait until he sees this to become angry?

ה וַיַּרְא הָמָן כִּיאֵין מָרְדֳּכַי כֹּרֵעַ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן חֵמָה

5. And Haman saw that Mordechai was not kneeling and bowing to him, and Haman became filled with fury.

  • As human beings, things often do not register until we actually see them for ourselves. In Acharei, after the death of two of Aaron’s sons, H-Shem teaches the laws of the Yom Kippur service. Explaining the Torah’s reason for relating these two events in his commentary there (Vayikra 16:1), Rashi brings a parable from a Midrash (Toras Kohanim, Parshas 1:3-4) that has one doctor ordering a patient to keep a certain regimen. Then, a second doctor comes in to order that patient to keep the very same regimen, but with the precaution that he should do so in order not to die as did so-and-so. This second doctor is more convincing because his using the story of so-and-so as a cautionary tale made the reality of the threat to his life more concrete for the patient.
  • Malbim points out that Haman was observing Mordechai at this point. Apparently, hearing the words of these men caused Haman to pay attention to the behavior of the people around him. Perhaps we can say that he simply did not believe them. The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) teaches a famous dictum: “kol haposel b’mumo posel” (“all who invalidate, in their own negative trait invalidate”). In other words, people judge others as reflections of their own characteristics. Being a dishonest, evil person himself, Haman thought everyone was dishonest, and simply would not accept the words of anybody.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:9) quotes Tehillim (69:24) “the eyes of the evil one are darkened.” What evil people see brings them to their ultimate destruction. The Midrash continues to bring numerous verses of evil people seeing something that causes their downfall. The opposite is true for the eyes of the righteous, because they raise them up. The Dubno Maggid asks why vision is the focus of this Midrash. That certainly cannot be the only difference between the good and the evil! He answers that we were all born spiritually equal, and evil people became such by looking at things in the wrong perspective, and thus making physical choices that negatively impacted their spirituality. In our verse, for example, Haman is upset that Mordechai is not bowing to him – whereas he would just as easily have focused on the positive fact that 99.99% of the population was bowing to him. Instead, he focused on the negative – that one person was not bowing to him. That negative focus is the trademark of the evil.