A Look Back at Taanit
transition always bothered me intellectually – from a Day of Fasting to a
Day (to simplify grossly) of Feasting!
Furthermore, how could one fast all day, and then sit through the
reading of the entire Megilat Esther, and only then go home to eat, long
after the emergence of three stars. And
yet, once the reading began each year, I never remembered feeling
uncomfortable. There must be
something special about this Fast Day and its relation to Purim.
at this year’s Purim Seudah finally clarified the matter for me.
It turns out that Taanit Esther recalls, in our national collective memory, the
fasting done by Esther and Mordechai and all the Jewish People on the
thirteenth day of Adar, the day on which the “Pur” (meaning “lot,” as in lottery) of “Purim” had fallen.
That identified the day that the enemies of the
Jews throughout the 127-province Empire of Achashverosh, could rise to
destroy (G-d Forbid) their innocent fellow-citizens. But
“events were turned upside down, and the Jewish People were able to
dominate their enemies. The
Jews gathered in their cities, etc.”
And this “gathering,” this becoming a “Kehilah,” a true
community, before HaShem, combined with fasting, that was always the way
Jews had begun a military struggle against evil, going back to the
Chumash’s description of the way the nation would assemble when it was
about to embark upon one of its future wars in Eretz Yisrael.
And going still further back, to our first encounter with Amalek, when
Moshe, who represented all of Israel, had fasted.
counter-intuitive “activity,” of weakening oneself physically before
engaging in what on the surface was a basically physical struggle, has been
our way of showing our faith and confidence in the Master of the Universe,
that He would save us from our overpowering enemies.
For, as HaShem assured Zerubavel, victory lies “not in valor nor in
strength, but with My spirit, says the L-rd” (Zechariah 4:6).
the fact that the Jewish People accepted upon themselves to fast each year
before their celebration is indicated in the Megilah (Esther 9:31), “To
confirm these days of Purim, as Mordechai the Jew and Esther the queen had
established, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants, with
regard to the fasting and the lamentations.”
It is probably an extremely minute share of involvement in preparation for the ancient battle, and of invoking the aid of HaShem for protection against our enemies, that we feel as we hear the Reading of the Megilah, that elevates us above our hunger and allows us to focus on the coming struggle. As the RAMBAM describes the required attitude of a soldier in the Army of Israel (Hilchot Melachim 7:15), “... he should rely on the Hope and Purifier of Israel and its Savior in times of trouble, and he should know that it is for the Unity of His Name that he does battle. And he should take his life in his hands and not be afraid nor fearful, nor should he think about his wife and children, but rather wipe all thought of them from his heart, and he should turn from all other matters to the war...”
is another opinion as to the origin of the “Fast of Esther,” and that is
that it commemorates the three-day fast Queen Esther decreed for herself and
her maidens and for all the Jews, the previous Nisan, when the decree
against the Jews became public knowledge.
But because formal Fast Days were not established during the Great
Month of Salvation, Nisan, it was moved to coincide with the day on which
the Jewish People throughout the Persian Empire gathered together, fasted
and prepared for the actual battle, on the 13th of Adar.
our time, when the Jewish People is facing dangers considerably more lethal
than usual (at least in recent history), in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galut,
once again we turn in prayer to Almighty G-d, “for the miracles and the
redemption, and for the mighty deeds and for the acts of salvation, and for
the warlike acts that He” will, if we deserve them, perform for us, in these
days, “at this time.”
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel