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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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Fast of Esther
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

On the 13th of Adar of the year 3405 from creation (356 BCE), battles were fought throughout the Persian Empire between the Jews and those seeking to kill them in accordance with the decree issued by King Achashveirosh 11 months earlier. (Achashveirosh never rescinded that decree; but after the hanging of Haman on Nissan 16 of the previous year, and Queen Esther's pleading on behalf of her people, he agreed to issue a second decree authorizing the Jews to defend themselves against those seeking to kill them.) 75,000 enemies were killed on that day, and 500 in the capital, Shushan, including Haman's ten sons (Parshandata, Dalfon, Aspata, Porata, Adalia, Aridata, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizata), whose bodies were subsequently hanged. The Jews did not take any of the possessions of the slain as booty, though authorized to do so by the king's decree. (The Book of Esther, chapter 9).

Link: The Story of Purim; see also "Today in Jewish History" for tomorrow, Adar 14.

The Maccabees defeated the Syrian General Nicanor in a battle fought four years after the Maccabee's liberation of the Holy Land and the miracle of Chanukah.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was one of the major leaders of American Jewry in the 20th century. Born in 1895, he came to New York in 1936 in order to escape the oppressive Soviet regime.

In addition to the students in the yeshivah he headed, he guided rabbis and lay people with his insightful and definitive responsa on virtually every area of Jewish law. Many of them have been collected in the multi-volume Igrot Moshe.

Laws and Customs

A fast is observed today by all adults (i.e., over bar or bat mitzvah age) in commemoration of the three-day fast called at Esther's behest before she risked her life to appear unsummoned before King Achashveirosh to save the Jewish people from Haman's evil decree (as related in the Book of Esther, chapter 4). The fast also commemorates Esther's fasting on the 13th of Adar, as the Jews fought their enemies (see "Today in Jewish History"). No food or drink is partaken of from daybreak to nightfall. Pregnant or nursing women or people in ill health are exempted from fasting.

In commemoration of the half shekel contributed by each Jew to the Holy Temple -- and which the Talmud credits as having counteracted the 10,000 silver coins Haman gave to King Ahasuerus to obtain the royal decree calling for the extermination of the Jewish people -- it is customary to give three coins in "half denomination" (e.g., the half-dollar coins) to charity on the afternoon of the Fast of Esther. (In many synagogues, plates are set out with silver half-dollars, so that all could purchase them to use in observance of this custom).

Links: Parshat Shekalim; the mystical significance of the half-shekel

The festival of Purim begins at nightfall tonight, and the Megillah (Book of Esther) is read for the first time this evening. See entries for tomorrow, Adar 14.

(Except for Jerusalem and other ancient walled cities, where the festival is observed beginning tomorrow night--see entries for Adar 15.)

Daily Thought

G‑d said to Abram, “Go to yourself, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.”—Genesis 12:1

If you were not you, if you saw yourself from the eyes of another, how would you see your journeys through life?

You would see how each journey leads away from home. Away from your birthplace, from those who nurtured you and that which made you what you are. Outwards, away from yourself in so many directions.

But you see your journey from within. From within, every journey leads in one direction: Towards within. Towards yourself. Closer and yet closer.

To the land in which G‑d shows you yourself.

Maamar Lech Lecha 5738.