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Taanis Esther: Fasting and Teshuva

Today is the fast day of Taanis Esther (13 Adar), commemorating how the Jews fasted on behalf of Esther when she risked her life to speak to Achashveirosh.

We have many different fast days in the Jewish calendar, but there is something unique about Taanis Esther. All the rest of our fast days – such as Asara b’Teves, Tzom Gedalia, 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’av – were instituted to remember the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. It makes sense therefore that we are still fasting today, because we are still missing the Beis HaMikdash and still experiencing the effects of its destruction.

But Taanis Esther is different. Taanis Esther commemorates when the Jews fasted to fend off Haman’s evil decree… and they succeeded! Haman was killed, the Jews were saved, and now it’s all over. So why are we still fasting?

The Rambam1 explains: We fast on all other fast days “Mipnei HaTzaros – to remember the tragedies and to awaken our hearts to doing teshuva. We remember the sins of our ancestors (like sinas chinam, baseless hatred) that caused the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed, and we contemplate how we, too, are guilty of those same sins. The purpose of those fast days is to think how we can rectify those sins so that Hashem will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash and redeem us from our present exile. 

But today is different. Instead of writing that Taanis Esther commemorates the tragedy of Haman’s decree, the Rambam writes that on Taanis Esther, we fast “Zeicher L’Taanis” – to remember the fast of the Jews in the day of Purim.

What does it mean that we fast “to remember the fast”?

The Sifsei Chaim2 explains that the whole point why we fast on Taanis Esther is to remember that fasting, davening, and teshuva have the power to avert ALL evil decrees, even today!

Fasting, davening, and teshuva have the power to avert ALL evil decrees, even today!

It’s not that we are fasting to remember Haman’s evil decree. Rather, we are fasting to remember the power that WE have, to daven and change the entire course of Jewish History.

What role did davening play in the Purim story? The Midrash3 explains: When 18,500 Jews sinned by eating at the feast of Achashveirosh, Hashem wrote a decree to destroy the Jewish people… Eliyahu HaNavi saw the decree, and ran to tell Mordechai. When Mordechai heard about the decree, he realized that there was still a possibility to overturn the decree, if the Jews would just daven and do teshuva.

So Mordechai brought the Jewish children together to learn Torah. They cried out to Hashem, and Hashem heard their tefillos. Immediately, Hashem’s mercy was aroused. Hashem got up from His Throne of Din (Strict Judgement) and sat on His Throne of Rachamim (Mercy) and said: “What is this great voice I hear, like the sound of [bleating] goats?”

Moshe answered: “It’s not goats that You hear… it’s the children of Your nation, who are fasting for 3 days and 3 nights, because soon their enemy wants to slaughter them likes goats!!” Immediately, Hashem tore up Haman’s evil decree, and woke up Achashveirosh in the middle of the night to start the wheels turning for the Jews’ salvation…

So we see that it was the Jews’ davening and the teshuva that made Hashem tear up Haman’s evil decree.

In fact, the turnaround in the Purim story is even more astounding when we consider: Why were the Jews deserving of death in the first place? Because they sinned at the party of Achashveirosh. Later, when the Jews did teshuva, that very same party became the source of their salvation, because it was at that feast that Vashti was killed, which paved the path for Esther to become Queen and save the Jews!!! We see clearly that the power of davening and fasting had the power to transform the past from terrible events into miraculous events that brought their salvation!

Now we understand why Taanis Esther is called “Zeicher l’Taanis” – we are fasting not just to remember the fast in those days (which is long over) but to remind us that the same power of fasting and teshuva that transformed Haman’s decree from bad into good is the same power that exists today and WE can use it switch any bad decree on US from bad into good!

The same power of fasting and teshuva that transformed Haman’s decree from bad into good is the same power that exists today.

We say every week in Havdallah: “LaYehudim haysa ora v’simcha… Kein Tihiyeh Lanu!– The Jews in those days had light and joy… so too should be for us! Just as the Jews in the times of Purim merited their redemption through davening, fasting, and teshuva, we hold the same power today!

Purim and the Power of Prayer

Not only is Taanis Esther a special day for davening, but Purim, too, is an amazing opportunity to achieve whatever we want, through the power of prayer.

On Purim, there is a law that we are obligated to give tzedakah to anyone who stretches out his hand (Kol HaPosheit Yado) – regardless of whether he deserves it or not.4

Chazal tell us that Hashem, too, acts like this on Purim – Hashem will give us whatever we want, if we just ask for it!!

Hashem will give us whatever we want, if we just ask for it!!

So don’t let the opportunity slip away! Let’s use these days of Taanis Esther and Purim to tap into our power of teshuva and tefillah to ask Hashem for everything we need!

Sources: [1] Rambam Hilchos Taanis 5:1 [2] Sifsei Chaim: Moadim Vol. II. pgs. 172-179; [3] Esther Rabba 7:14; [4] Rambam Hilchos Megillah 2:16

Your Challenge

Imagine you could change anything in your life, or get whatever you wanted.
What would you ask for?

For example:

  • Make a list of at least 10 things you’d like to have, and 5 things your friends need.
  • Read this list out loud and ask Hashem to grant your wishes!

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