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 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
  • The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
  • Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
  • Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
  • The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
  • The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
  • The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
  • The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.

Esther 8:11, Question 5. Why do the letters call the threat against the Jewish lives “al nafsham” (“on their souls”)?

  • In Machir Yayin, the Rema writes that the verse’s use of the phrase “al nafsham” (“on their souls”) rather than “al gufam” (“on their bodies”) implies that the Jews’ targets were their spiritual enemies, not their physical enemies. In other words, Jewish survival depends upon their defending themselves from sin.

  • The Sfas Emes focuses on the word al (“on”). He explains in this context that teshuva out of a sense of love is greater than teshuva out of fear. According to him, the Jews were on a higher level at this point – no longer threatened with annihilation – and the verse therefore uses the word al.

Esther 8:9, Question 2. Why does Mordechai send these letters so long after getting the king’s permission?

  • Aside for Mordechai’s desire to send these letters in Sivan for the reasons mentioned above, the Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai waited for Haman’s couriers to return from their original mission (Esther 3:13). Utilizing the same couriers would add legitimacy to Mordechai’s letter.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 100:6) writes that H-Shem rewarded the gentiles for mourning Yaakov for 70 days (Bireishis 50:3) by giving them these 70 days between the 13th of Nisan and the 23rd of Sivan to do teshuva.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that a common calculation in the Torah is a day for a year, as when the Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:17) with 40 years of delaying their entry into the Holy Land for their believing the spies who traversed the land for 40 days. Therefore, he writes, these 70 days were for the Jews to perform teshuva in gratitude for H-Shem’s saving their lives, which the verse (Tehillim 90:10) says lasts an average of 70 years.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon explains that the Jews were scared about their fate for these 70 days to get an atonement for the 70 years of exile which they had caused upon themselves.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that these 70 days represented the 70 nations of the world were allowed to think that they were in control of the fate of the Jews.

Esther 8:8, Question 5. Why is Achashverosh concerned about annulling the decree?

  • According to Megillas Sesarim, Achashverosh is concerned that annulling the decree would lead his people to say that not only is the king fickle, but he is also playing favorites. Historically, nepotism has been a legitimate cause for rebellion. Many wars have begun over the choosing of an undeserving successor.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Achashverosh is afraid to annul the decree because he is overcompensating for his own fickleness.
  • In accordance with the previously mentioned opinion of the Rema (see #458 above), there are things stamped with the seal of the King that cannot be changed. There are sins for which teshuva (“repentance”) can gain atonement, but will still not be taken back, like chillul H-Shem (“debasement of H-Shem’s Name”). The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 1:4) writes that such a sin can only be overwritten by a diametrical act of Kiddush H-Shem (“sanctification of H-Shem’s Name”).

Esther 8:7, Question 4. Why is the word “Yehudim” Masoretically spelled with and extra letter, yud?

  • For a similar question above, it was assumed that, the gematria of yud being ten, the additional yud may represents the Ten Commandments, and that perhaps the spelling implied that the Jews were rescued from the decree in the merit of their teshuva (“repentance”) (see Esther 9:27).
  • The total gematria of Yehudim with the extra yud (10+5+6+4+10+10+40=85) is 85, the same gematria as peh (“mouth”) (80+5=85). This represents prayer, which is what rescued the Jews from the decree.
  • Interestingly, with the above verse (Esther 8:1), there seems to be a reference to two mouths, perhaps implying a parallel with the verse (Shemos 33:11) in which H-Shem praises Moshe as one with whom He communicates “peh el peh” (“mouth to mouth”). Part of the reason the Jews were saved was in the merit of Moshe, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:14) says explicitly. Throughout Jewish philosophy, Moshe represents the Torah that he received and taught. Taken all together, the Jews’ repentance, prayer, and acceptance of Torah rescued them from this terrible fate.