In speaking “words of gentle reproof” on a fast day it is proper to review, in short, the general outline of the themes of the fast days, and to concentrate on the aspects of this particular fast day, the Fast of Esther.

In Iggeres HaTeshuvah the Alter Rebbe refers to a fast day with the term “desirable day.” The term “fast day” (taanis) is actually related to the term “inui,” suffering, which would indicate that the theme of the day is to convert the negative day of suffering into the positive “desirable day.” This transformation produces a “desirable day” of greater quality.

The additional Divine service of a Jew on a fast day enhances this power — so that he not only takes neutral actions and devotes them to G‑dliness, but he also has the ability to deal with the negative and convert it to be positive. This is the quality of light out of darkness.

The Fast of Esther will place some special influence on the general theme of fast days — and it will introduce some unique aspects of its own.

The Fast of Esther differs from the other fasts of the year which are all related to some aspect of the destruction of the Temple and Yerushalayim. In the case of those fast days the theme of making the day desirable would be focused on the ultimate rebuilding of the Third Beis HaMikdash.

The Fast of Esther, on the other hand, was set for a special reason, not at all connected with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and hence not directly associated with the redemption, for even after the miracle of Purim we remained “subjects of Achashverosh.”

This point could provide the Fast of Esther with an important plus. Being a “desirable day” connotes the revelation of “Divine desire.” In this case the revelation would be so intense that there would be no difference if it is followed by exile or exodus! In the period of galus we would fast on the Fast of Esther and during redemption time we would fast as well. For this reason in the era of the Second Temple, Purim was celebrated and the Fast of Esther was observed. And when Mashiach will come we will still fast on the Fast of Esther (cf. Rambam, Laws of Megillah).

Hence on the Fast of Esther there is a revelation of “Divine desire” which supersedes the distinction between galus and redemption.

Coming on the eve of Purim, the Fast of Esther also serves as a preparation for Purim; the Divine service of the Fast of Esther creates the theme of Purim which is very basic to Torah and mitzvos. The Gemara tells us that on Purim the Jews “confirmed what they had accepted long before” (Shabbos 88a). Purim brought the reaffirmation of the faith, by all Jews, all over the world!

At the same time “It is the duty of man to mellow himself on Purim until he does not know....” Which indicates that the affirmation of Purim goes beyond the power of the intellect to the degree of “with all your might” — the power of self-sacrifice — and as the Zohar explains that Yom Kippur is like Purim! All of these aspects of Purim develop from the preparation of the Fast of Esther.

Now we may also find a greater emphasis during Taanis Esther on the other aspects common to all the fast days.

Every fast day includes the theme of repentance, which reestablishes in a greater measure the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. Since Purim especially saw the reaffirmation of the faith, which is also the theme of teshuvah, we can see the influence of the Fast of Esther in the area of teshuvah, more than in other fast days. Going beyond “knowledge” on Purim reaches the state of the “unique one,” the essence of the Jewish soul. Chassidus explains that true repentance also stems from the essence of the soul. Thus the teshuvah of the Fast of Esther is on a loftier level.

Chassidus also explains that a fast day evokes the aspect of “desirable day” because the spiritual sustenance is increased when one fasts. This concept is fundamentally related to the fast of Yom Kippur — and since we have mentioned the special association of Purim and Yom Kippur, it may be understood that the Fast of Esther represents this force with more vigor.

On fast days it is customary to increase Torah, prayer and tzedakah. In the Haftorah of the fast day we find the term “Ya’aleh Hadas” (Yeshayahu 55:13) which the Gemara says refers to Esther who was called Hadassah. In the Torah reading of the fast day we read the 13 attributes of mercy which, Chassidus explains, reaches beyond the level of G‑d’s Names. Similarly, in the Megillah we do not find the Name of G‑d mentioned — for it is above names.

And finally in the realm of charity on the Fast of Esther we specifically donate the symbolic half-shekel.

This year we can find additional salient points about this fast day. Being a leap year, the 13th of Adar I was not a fast day.

The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, yet in a leap year we add a full month — this covers the discrepancy from previous years and also provides a few extra days for the future.

We learn from this the lesson that a Jew can add months to the year, which will correct any deficiencies which exist in his past Divine service and he can even provide for the future. This indicates that the regular order of Divine service is sometimes not sufficient but we must undertake a drastic increase and improvement, similar to adding a full month, which corrects much more than the 11 missing days. This enhances the teshuvah aspect of the Fast of Esther this year.

This year the Fast of Esther occurs in the week when we read the portion “Tzav.”

Rashi comments on the word “Tzav”:

The expression “command...!” always implies urging one to carry out a command at once, and is binding upon future generations. (Rashi, Vayikra 6:1)

This means that in all matters of Torah and Yiddishkeit there must be zealousness. In fact, the great accomplishment of the Akeidah — the binding of Yitzchok — was mainly the fact that Avraham was zealous in all that he did (cf. Iggeres Hakodesh 21).

In addition to the zeal, joy and enthusiasm, a Jew’s Divine service must also influence all the future generations — not enough that he cares about others around him and extends a helping hand; he must also be concerned about future generations — to influence them to do good — and to see that his good deeds will last forever.

This zealousness in the present and projection into the future enhances the power and influence of the Fast of Esther on the theme of Purim — the reaffirmation of the faith.

In the second Chumash section of Tzav, which we study today, we read about the daily offering of the Kohen Gadol and the Chattas (sin-offering) and Asham (guilt-offering) sacrifices.

The purpose of sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash was to bring a person back to G‑d’s good graces. In Iggeres HaTeshuvah the Alter Rebbe explains that the offering a person brought caused G‑d to accept his regular Divine service and find happiness in what he does. Now that we do not have sacrifices, for there is no Holy Temple, the fasting serves to effect the same response and to evoke the graciousness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and to engender the “desirable day.”

When the Fast of Esther is juxtaposed to the Torah reading about the sin-offerings how powerful the message is!

Let us take a moment to study the offering of the Kohen Gadol who, as representative of the Jewish people, had to bring a private offering daily, in addition to the communal sacrifices he may have sacrificed, in which he too had a share as part of the community.

Our sages explain that this daily sacrifice was appropriate to give him the opportunity for greater personal contemplation, concentration and spiritual intensity — one cannot feel as strongly about a common undertaking as one can about a personal offering!

In our personal Divine service this is symbolic of the essence of the “unique one” of the soul, the “Yechidah,” which must be awakened to function morning and evening, 24 hours a day. And the general feeling must be followed by specific details — just as the Kohen Gadol’s offering is followed by the specific sacrifices for unintentional sins and then intentional transgressions. One must understand that the essence of his actions will influence the details of his Torah and mitzvos.

In today’s Rambam section we see that the Rambam lists confession as part of the mitzvah of repentance and in his list of the mitzvos the Rambam counts only confession as the mitzvah of repentance! The reason for this; since teshuvah in one’s heart encompasses all the mitzvos of the Torah, it cannot be listed per se. And whenever there is a mitzvah which has two parts, one in the mind or heart and one to be spoken the Rambam counts the spoken part as the mitzvah.

May all of these lessons from the fast day of Taanis Esther, in this leap year, when we study these particular points of Torah, bring the double salvation and the speedy redemption through our righteous Mashiach.

To bring the redemption even closer, we should increase tzedakah and I will therefore distribute dollar bills through the “Tankists,” with the intention that they be donated to charity with an added amount of your own.

And may we merit the redemption in all its fullness and perfection, with the complete nation, and the whole Torah and in the complete land, with its full boundaries — just as the leap year compensates for all losses and projects more to the future.

Being that this year Purim is in Adar II this emphasizes the point that we connect one redemption to the other. (It could have been in Adar I but it is celebrated in Adar II to show that we place one redemption close to another: Purim close to Pesach.)

So may it be, that we merit the true and ultimate redemption speedily and truly in our time.

Automatically, we will then be able to offer all the sacrifices in the Third Beis HaMikdash on the Holy Mountain — in the Holy City of Yerushalayim. And we will then have “light” for all Jews in all their dwelling places. And in this way we will dance out to greet our righteous Mashiach with great joy — beyond the limitations of the intellect.