"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
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
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.)
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