Haman’s “Final Solution” was scheduled for the 13th of Adar. Instead, Haman was hanged, and by royal decree the Jews mobilized in self-defense and successfully defended themselves against all attacks. On the next day, the 14th of Adar, the Jews rested, savored their miraculous salvation, and established the holiday of Purim.
Whenever in peril, we are commanded to institute a fast day to repent, pray, and ask for Divine mercy. Thus the 13th of Adar, the day of battle, was a day of fasting.
Earlier in the Purim narrative, Esther risked her life by appearing before the king without permission. But first she asked the Jews to fast with her for three days.
Whenever in peril, we are commanded to institute a fast day to evoke Divine mercyWe commemorate these fasts every year by fasting on the day before Purim, a fast which is called Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther). If Purim falls on a Sunday, the fast is observed on the Thursday beforehand.
Fasting is simple. If you are healthy and over the age of bar or bat mitzvah, don’t eat or drink from dawn (click here to find out when that is in your location) until after the Megillah reading on Purim night (or, if the fast is moved up to Thursday, after nightfall).
Click here for basic fast-day information.
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 talents 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” denominations (e.g., half-dollar coins) to charity on the afternoon of the Fast of Esther, before minchah (the afternoon prayer services).
In many synagogues, plates are set out with silver half-dollars, so that all can purchase them to use in observance of this custom.
It is customary to give three half-dollars for every member of the family. This commemorates the three contributions the Jews gave for the building of the Tabernacle and for its sacrifices.
If you didn’t manage to give machatzit hashekel before minchah, you can do so afterwards, or before the Megillah reading on Purim night or morning.