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Monday, March 6, 2023

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Fast of Esther
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 (Achashveirosh never rescinded that decree; but after the hanging of Haman on Nissan 16 of the previous year, and Queen Esther's pleading on behalf of her people, he agreed to issue a second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.

R. Yehudah HaChassid—the pious—was held in high esteem for his piety and saintliness. He authored Sefer Chassidim, a collection of ethical and halachic teachings that is widely studied to this day. The kabbalistic instructions included in his so-called “testament” are accepted and practiced in many communities.

Links: Rabbi Judah HaChassid; Why Don’t Jews Write ‘This Book Belongs to…’?

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.

The Fast of Esther: What, Why and How
Why Is It Called the Fast of Esther?

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 can purchase them to use in observance of this custom).

Parshat Shekalim
The Mystical Significance of the Half-Shekel
Why Give Half-Shekels to Charity on Taanit Esther?

Starting in the afternoon, Tachanun (confession of sins) and similar prayers are omitted, including the long Avinu Malkeinu normally said on fast days.

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 is always with the oppressed. Even if the oppressor is righteous and the oppressed is wicked, our sages tell us, G‑d is with the oppressed. (Lev. Rabba 27:7)

Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Sit with them, as one of them. Treat them with respect. Bring them joy, and you will find joy there with them.

In that uplifted spirit you will bring them, they will feel human again. They will begin to feel that, if they will only so desire, they could live as a human being was meant to live, in the image of their Maker.

And then there will no longer be any need for the walls of this prison.

Purim 5736:4