The Book of Esther tells us to celebrate the defeat of Haman and his Jew-hating followers. “Celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as a time when Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy, and their mourning into a day of celebration.” Mordecai also “wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy; and giving presents of food to one another, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:21-2). To this day, the Jewish community joyously celebrates Purim; many Jews give gifts of food to each other and to the poor.
But there is another group of Jews mentioned in the Book of Esther that most seem to have forgotten. “These days were called Purim, from the word pur, because of everything written in this letter and because of what they (Jews) had seen and what had happened to them. So the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who joined them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed” (Esther 9:26-7).
Who are these people described as “all who joined them”?
Inspired by Jewish Fortitude
Thousands of non-Jews, when they heard of Haman’s permission for everyone in the Persian Empire to loot, plunder and kill Jews without fear of punishment, did not join those who were planning the attacks. Instead they came to Jews with offers to hide them from the mobs. These non-Jews had been positively influenced by their friendships with Jews and their exposure to Judaism, especially the teachings of the Torah and views about the one God of all humanity. These righteous Gentiles were more in fear of God then they were afraid of the mobs who had the backing of the powerful Haman.
The Book of Esther says, “In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear for the Jews had seized them” (Esther 8:17).
These righteous Gentiles were at first motivated by feelings of compassion and fairness to help Jews. Then, after the danger had passed, they were inspired by the miracle of Jewish fortitude and survival. Thousands of them must have converted to Judaism, or why would there be this special mention of them in the Book of Esther? Their descendants, who are still among us, are a very special gift from God to the Jewish people. Just as the tens of thousands of non-Jews who have become Jewish in the decades following the Shoah have been a blessing to us and to future generation of Jews.
Perhaps all Jews should include expressing appreciation to the righteous converts among us as a special part of our celebration of Purim.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is rabbimaller.com. His new book, “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism” (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale on Amazon and Morebooks.
Image: “Purim: Attack of the Happy Kids” by Flavio~; CC BY 2.0