There are bits and pieces of stories of converts mixed into the Torah. We read the book of Ruth on Shavuos, which is such a moving story. We look to Avraham as the first of the converts in many ways. However, the story that has always fascinated me is the story of the “mixed multitude” that left with the Hebrews from Egypt.
We know little about these people other than that they dropped everything and left Egypt with the Hebrews, choosing to cast their lot in with the escaping slaves. It’s interesting to me to wonder about them. Did they leave behind family? Did they have businesses or some kind of jobs they dropped? Were they slaves or wealthy people, Egyptians or other enslaved people? Were they a group that kept together after leaving or did they simply disappear into the Hebrew tribes? Surely it took a great amount of courage and faith to walk out of your homeland with a different nation than your own, trusting in G-d to deliver you as well even without the same specific promises spoken to the Jewish people.
The mixed multitude feature prominently up to and during the sin of the golden calf. They’re often blamed for instigating the plan to build the idol. Yet, after that sin, they really aren’t mentioned again. Did most of them die in the plagues that followed? The Hebrew women chose not to participate in the sin of the golden calf and I wonder if the women of the mixed multitude were also wise enough to also abstain?
By the time we reach Bamidbar, the reading of the Torah right before Shavuos, there is no more mention of the mixed multitude. When the layout of the different tribes and their flags are described, there is no separate encampment for them and no separate flag. I wonder if they had simply melted into different tribes and were absorbed or if they had ceased to be somehow? To me, their story is so much more compelling than Yisro, a prominent and well-connected convert who was able to walk right into the Hebrew’s encampment and approach Moses, earning his own parsha. You can’t get much more connected than being Moses’s Father-in-law. I also sometimes find a harder time connecting to the story of Ruth. Her heartfelt plea to her mother-in-law was her conversion and her difficult times came after. While I definitely do relate to her words, her story is still foreign.
We never hear of any of the mixed multitude being entrusted with a position of importance. We never hear their names mentioned, let alone a parsha named after one of them. They just seem to disappear after a while in the story of the Jewish people, aside from a few scant mentions of them essentially making more trouble for the Jewish people here and there.
As we approach Shavuos, I wonder if they stood at Mount Sinai and if they also saw the sounds and heard the sights there, as is famously written? Did they become one with the Jewish people at that moment, the way the Torah speaks of the Jews as one? Did they suddenly know which tribe they belonged to then? Or, did they all end up dying due to the golden calf, so close to being part of the Jewish people, but never quite making it?
Their story wasn’t significant enough to merit much mention in the Torah, but it’s possible that there are other Midrash stories about them. I haven’t dug that deeply yet, because what Midrashim I have heard about them haven’t been positive. I can’t help but feel a connection with these faceless people who dared to walk away from civilization as they knew it and take a chance to be one of G-d’s chosen people. I like to hope that we stop hearing about them because they simply faded into the fabric of the Jewish people and lived simple, but fulfilling lives there.
If that’s true, then I think they may have achieved the goal of most converts perfectly, to simply fade into the people to the point they were just more Jews among many and not needing a separate mention.