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By March 9, 2017 Read More →

Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum: Reflections for the Fast of Esther

My teacher, Rabbi Dr Rafi Zarum posted these thoughts I wanted to share:

Today we Fast…
A short reflection on Ta’anit Esther

Today we fast to relive the bravery of a woman far away from home. Esther was not at all sure she was going to survive. To make her play against Haman and attempt to save her people, she would have to break every law she knew. She’d have to flout the strict regulations of Shushan’s royal court, and she would have to disregard Jewish law too.

Esther had told Mordechai that to approach the throne without permission was suicide (Esther 4:11). The king was surrounded with a whole host of attendants, advisors, servants, policy makers and legal experts (Esther 1:10-18). Persia was legendary for its officious bureaucracy. But Esther was willing to lay her life on the line for her People, “…and if I’m killed, then so be it” (Esther 4:16).

In preparation for her approach to the king she took control of the situation. She told Mordechai to gather Shushan’s Jews and declare a fast, on her behalf, for three days. These days were the 14th, 15th and 16th of Nissan, which meant fasting over Pesach that year. According to the Megillah, Mordechai “TRANSGRESSED by doing everything Esther had instructed him” (4:17). That transgression, according to Rav, was to demand that all Jews not eat, even on Seder night (Talmud, Megillah 15 with Rashi).

What kind of person has the guts to disobey the law of her nation and religion? What gave her the right to take advantage of her privileged position in Persian society as well as her personal relationship with a leading Jewish figure? Never mind the rules of the Great Persian Empire or even the law of God above, Esther was going to do what she thought was right.

Imagine the stern angry faces of the Jewish religious leadership when Mordechai delivered Esther’s message. Imagine the surprise of the Persian courtiers when Esther made her approach to the king. Her sure-mindedness allowed her to ignore public pressure and fly in the face of any opposition. Such is the hallmark of a defiant heroine.

And so we fast. For Esther. For her courage. For her readiness to defy convention. For her willingness to be called a “bad girl”, and make a stand on behalf of her People.

“Answer us, God, answer us on our fast day, for we are in great distress…”, so begins the special Aneinu prayer recited in Shacharit and Minchah today. Why are we, “in great distress”? Our Sages did not understand a public fast as just a moment of remembrance. They saw it as informing our lives today – as speaking to current affairs (Maimonides, Laws of Fasts 5:1).

Esther’s fast demands us to ask what we are willing to fight for on behalf of our People. To make our voice heard when critical political and religious decisions are being made. To challenge our leaders if we think they are wrong, especially if they might harm Am Yisrael. Just ask yourself today, What would Esther do?

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