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FAST OF ESTHER

"Then Esther spoke to Mordechai, "Go, assemble all the Jews who may be found in Shushan and fast for me; do not eat and do not drink for a three-day period, night and day. I and my maids will also fast in this way..." (Esther 4:15-16)

On the thirteenth of Adar, as Esther prepared to approach King Ahasuerus and beg him to revoke Haman's evil decree to annihilate the Jews, she and Mordechai gathered the Jews of Shushan to fast for 3 days and pray for God's mercy in defeating their enemies, in order to encourage members of the Jewish community to direct their hearts and prayers to God and to plead for his help in overcoming the decrees that had been made against them. On the third day, she approached the king and enacted her plan to save the Jews, beginning by issuing an invitation to both Haman and Ahasuerus to a feast that lead to the downfall of Haman and his plot against the Jews.

Every year, the Fast of Esther is held one of the days prior to Purim. Usually it is the day immediately before Purim. What is the source of this fast? In the Megillah (4:16), Esther agrees to see the king uninvited, and asks the Jewish People to fast for three days beforehand. Why did she call for a fast? Because a fast helps to lower the volume on our physical pursuits in order to focus more acutely on our spiritual selves. This facilitates the process of "teshuva" -- literally "return." We return to our essential state of purity. Esther called for a fast, knowing that through soul-searching the Jews would forge a spiritual connection necessary to make her mission successful. (And it paid off!) This is not a fast of sadness. Rather, the purpose of the fast is elevation and inspiration.

On the thirteenth of Adar, the very day Haman sought to annihilate every Jew in Shushan, events were turned about, and the Jews gained the upper hand over their enemies (Esther 9:1) . To achieve this victory, they had to organize and defend themselves, and to involve themselves in a war against their numerous enemies. The Torah prescribes that whenever a Jewish army goes to war, the soldiers should spend the previous day fasting. This is in stark contrast to a secular army which spends the day preparing weapons and armaments. A Jew's best weapon is the recognition that strength and victory come only through God. (see Exodus 17:10) Additionally, the fact that we are physically weakened when the battle begins, assures us that any victory cannot be attributed to our physical prowess.

Mortals have limits, but God can achieve the impossible. (Case in point: the Six Day War.) As Mark Twain wrote, "All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" It is actually this one-day pre-battle fast that we commemorate every year before Purim. However, in honor of the Purim heroine, it is called Taanit Esther -- the Fast of Esther.

The Fast is called by the name of Esther because it was she who first requested the observance of a fast, of Mordechai: 'Go and gather all the Jews who are found in Shushan and fast over me, and do not eat and do not drink three days, night and day; and I and my maidens will also fast thus.

Originally the Fast was observed by Esther and the entire people of Israel on the 14th, 15th and 16th of Nisan, immediately after Mordechai was informed of Haman's decree and of the letter of annihilation which Haman wrote on the 13th of Nisan. Our Fast however, is observed on the 13th of Adar, in memory of the Fast observed by Israel on the day of their mobilization for war against the enemies. The Fast is nevertheless called by the name of Esther since it was she who first proposed its observance.

It is interesting to note that in order to prevent celebration at a time when Persian non-Jews were losing their lives in battles against the Jews, the fast was held on a day when the fighting was still going on; the festivities could only begin a day later, when the bloodshed was finally over.

On the 13th of Adar during minchah, it is customary to give three halves of the coin which is the basis of the local currency. The money is given to the poor to do with it as they wish. This contribution is made in memory of the half-shekel given by Israel when the Beit Hamikdash still stood; and whose forthcoming collection was announced on Rosh Chodesh Adar.

This memorial act is performed before the Reading of the Megilah, because all Israel gathers for the Megilah Reading in the Synagogues. It is proper to give the half-shekel before minchah, since 'the diligent perform mitzvot earlier.' Those who live in 'open-cities' give the half-shekel before the Megilah Reading on the night of the 14th, whereas the inhabitants of Yerushalayim give the half-shekel before their Reading of the Megilah - the night of the 15th.

HALACHAS (LAWS) OF FAST OF ESTHER

1) The fast begins at dawn ("Alot Hashachar") and ends after nightfall ("Tzait Hakochavim").

2) No eating or drinking is permitted. Though other aspects - like wearing shoes and washing -- are permitted.

3) Since this is not a major fast, pregnant or nursing women are exempt from the fast, as are moderately ill people. If one is otherwise healthy but has a headache and finds it difficult to fast, he may eat, but is obligated to "make up" the fast another time. In all cases, a competent rabbi should be consulted.

4) If the 13th falls on Shabbat, we don't fast that day, due to the honor of Shabbat. The fast is not even held on Friday, since this would adversely affect Shabbat preparations. Rather, we observe the fast on Thursday, the 11th of Adar.

5) It is customary to extend the fast until after the Megillah is read. (Except in walled cities, where the Megillah is read on the night of the 15th.)

 

 

 



SHALOM FROM SPIKE & JAMIE

 


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