Esther’s Fast

March 23, 2016 at 5:43 AM , , ,

All Jewish people today customarily fast on the 13th of Adar, in remembrance of the fast that they fasted in the days of Haman, as is written (Esther 9:31), “the matter of the fasts and the outcries.” (Rambam, Hilchos Taaniyos 5:5)

ונהגו כל ישראל בזמנים אלו להתענות בי”ג באדר זכר לתענית שהתענו בימי המן שנאמר דברי הצומות וזעקתם – רמב”ם הל’ תעניות פרק ה’ הל’ ה

The custom of fasting on the 13th of Adar commemorates the fast that was observed on this date in the Purim story. As explained by the Rishonim, the Jews accepted the 13th of Adar as a day of fasting in order to arouse Divine mercy as they battled against their enemies on that day (Esther 8:11, see Rosh and Ran to Megilah 2a). This fast is not related to the three days of fasting that Esther had called for before she would approach the king to set her plan in motion. That three-day fast took place in the month of Nissan, not in Adar. (There were those who commemorate those fasts as well, although notably, not in Nissan. See Beis Yosef on Tur 429.)

Fast of Ester

If so, why is this fast traditionally known as Taanis Esther, the Fast of Esther? What connection does this fast have to Esther in particular? The explanation is simple. It is called Taanis Esther because although all the Jews accepted the 13th of Adar as a fast day, Esther was the only one who actually fasted.

Jewish law and tradition requires that when we are faced with a mortal threat, such as war, the community must establish days of public fasting and prayer.  The Halacha is, however, that the soldiers going to war may not refrain from eating while fighting, lest their strength wane while they are in battle. Instead, the fighters accept upon themselves to “replace” the fast after the war’s conclusion (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 571:3).

Accordingly, since every Jew living in the Purim era, man or woman, had to protect themselves on the 13th of Adar from their attackers, none of them could actually fast on that day of battle. The only exception to this was Esther, who was safe inside the palace. It is therefore most befitting that we name the fast of the 13th of Adar for the only one who actually fasted on this day, Taanis Esther.

—Likkutei Sichos vol. 6, pp. 371-372


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