Credit:(photo: Flickr/Chris Sampson)
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” — Esther 4:14
This week Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, the Divine deliverance of the Jewish people from certain annihilation, in the events described in the book of Esther. Please enjoy these devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, in his loving memory.
— Yael Eckstein, President
The account of Queen Esther is among one of the most stirring and beautiful portrayals of courage and the willingness to take a stand against evil in the Bible. After uncovering a plot to kill all the Jews in the country, her Uncle Mordecai pleads with Esther to intervene on behalf of the Jews before her husband, King Xerxes. Esther is faced with a difficult choice.
If she refuses to say anything, the Jewish people will surely perish. If she does speak up, however, she risks death, since entering the king’s presence without being called for could mean death. Who can forget Esther’s inspiring words, as she made her decision: “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (v. 16).
Both Mordecai and Esther recognized that they had been placed in a unique position to save the Jewish people. They could have walked away from it. They could have decided to save themselves. But they saw they had an opportunity to make a difference, and they seized the moment and acted.
During another time in history when the Jews once again faced annihilation, there were individuals, groups, and even an entire village who recognized that they had an opportunity to make a difference — and they seized the moment and acted. We call these brave souls the “Righteous Gentiles,” non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
These men and women, many of whom were Christians, rescued Jews by offering them a place to hide, providing them with false papers and identities, smuggling and assisting Jews to escape, and saving children. And they often paid for their heroism with their lives.
But many of these people humbly denied that they were acting heroically. The people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village in southern France, offered a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. Under the leadership of their pastor, Andre’ Trocme’, and his wife, Magda, the people of Le Chambon acted on their conviction that it was their duty to help their “neighbors” in need.
“Things had to be done, and we happened to be there to do them. It was the most natural thing in the world to help these people,” the Chambonais said.
Their story, and countless others of those who stepped forward, offers powerful affirmation of their biblically mandated duty to stand up for their brethren. Indeed, as Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
We may never be asked to put our lives on the line in the way that Esther, or the Righteous Gentiles, did, but we can make a commitment to stand against injustice, anti-Semitism, and prejudice in our own communities. I pray that we will have the insight to see the opportunities where we can make a difference and the courage to seize the moment and act.