We mark those events which are considered of permanent significance in Jewish History in two ways: fasting or feasting.

To commemorate the events surrounding the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the resultant exile (galut) of the Jewish people, we fast on the 10th of Tevet (when the siege of Jerusalem began), the 17th of Tammuz (walls of Jerusalem breached), the 3rd of Tishrei (the Jewish governor Gedaliah was assassinated, extinguishing the last vestiges of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land after the First Temple's destruction) and of course, the 9th of Av (the day that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed).

We feast on Passover (the Exodus), Shavuot (giving of the Torah), Rosh Hashanah (creation of man), Sukkot (G‑d's protection in the years of journeying through the desert following the Exodus), Chanukah (Macabee victory and miracle of the oil) and, of course, Purim (when we were saved from Haman's decree of annihilation) — all marking days of salvation and joy.

Yom Kippur is something of an enigma. The day marks the giving of the second set of the Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments and our attaining of atonement for the events of the Golden Calf. It is a celebration of our return to a full and unimpeded connection with G‑d. But it is a fast day rather than a feast day. Our sages explain that Yom Kippur is a day of such closeness to G‑d, that we transcend our physical needs. An old Jewish saying puts it thus: "On the 9th of Av, who can eat? And on Yom Kippur, who wants to eat?"

In essence, this is really true of the other fasts as well. The failings that led to the national disasters marked by the fasts were the product of making our physical desires and ego the source of our identity and the primary motivator of our actions. So we attempt to rectify those failings — and negate their effects — by leading a less physical existence, at least for one day.

If this is the case, why not fast on all the holidays? After all, they celebrate the triumph of the spiritual. Why invite the problem we liberated ourselves from back in?

Indeed, Purim has its own fast day — the "Fast of Esther" observed the day before the festival. To follow that with a day of eating and drinking seems a spiritual regression rather than an advance.

The answer is that the physical is not intrinsically evil. It can be a runaway train destroying all in its path. Or it can be the vehicle to realize the soul's agenda in the physical world. The choice is ours, and therefore:

Fasting is for when the body and soul are at odds and the body needs to be reminded of its limitations. Feasting is for a body and soul in synchronicity.

Where the physical is an obstacle to our connection to G‑d, we need to deprive ourselves of it and transcend it. All the fasts , even Yom Kippur, are related to a state of physical self being an obstacle — as it can indeed be — to the expression of our G‑dly soul.

This is why Esther told the Jews to fast as she is about to seek salvation for her people. The Jewish people had to engage in a much-needed reorganization of priorities. In the friendly and opportunity-rich environment they enjoyed in the Persian Empire (at least until Haman came along), they had elevated their physical desires and ambitions to a place of primacy in their lives. They needed to reject their material identities and seek their deeper and truer selves. This return to their essence is what guaranteed Esther success — not the whims of some waffling monarch with serious substance abuse issues.

However, once the Jewish people reconnected with their true, G‑dly self, their entire reality changed. With the soul in ascendance, the body becomes a vehicle for the expression of the soul. Now, the enjoyment of the body expresses not egotism but the soul's agenda. The very pleasure of the body becomes a vehicle to express the fact that G‑d created it in a way that expresses His being no less than the soul — when it follows the vision of the soul.

This is why we are commanded to feast on the Jewish holidays, and most of all on Purim, the day of the greatest salvation in Jewish history. The body and soul feast together, celebrating the power of their united agenda.

A happy and festive Purim to all!