1. The custom of speaking “words of remonstrance” on a fast day is associated with the assurance of the prophet: “... He will suppress our iniquities” (Michah 7:19). In dealing with neutralizing the negative forces, the fast day has the ability to transform the evil to good so that the transgressions “... are considered as merits.” These converted merits have a special precariousness because they represent the merits of the baal teshuvah, whose Divine service is higher even than the merits of tzaddikim, who follow the orderly path of Divine service.

The fast day attains the quality of being a “desirable day” as the Prophet Yeshayahu says, and therefore teshuvah together with fasting represent a higher system of Divine service, even above the normal order which includes eating and drinking. Yet, rather than being a time of suffering, the fast day assumes the loftiness of Yom Kippur, in the manner of the world to come, when there will be no physical activity such as eating, but the life will be in its essential form and spiritually intense.

A fast day nullifies all negative aspects and transforms them to the realm of good and raises the person to a loftier level.

Taanis Esther (the Fast of Esther) has an additional factor and quality because it is called Erev Purim; in a sense it is a preparatory day to Purim. As such, the miracle of Purim and all aspects of Purim are effected by the preparatory day of Taanis Esther.

One of the mitzvos of Purim is feasting and joy, which Chassidus explains, raises Purim to a loftier level than Yom Kippur. Although we just explained that fasting is like the world to come, there is actually a higher level which will be reached in the “Olam Hatechiyah” [future world of life] in which the highest form of perfection will be attained specifically in a pure physical existence. This future world is represented now by Purim in our temporal existence.

Taanis Esther, therefore, has a quality above all other fasts; it is a preparation and preface which causes the day of Purim to rise to be even loftier than Yom Kippur.

Consequently, we must emphasize and strengthen all aspects of the fast day: Torah, prayer and acts of lovingkindness.

Torah means the special Torah reading plus the Haftorah. Prayer refers to the specially assigned prayers of a fast day. And acts of kindness means giving more charity than normal.

In all of these areas we can find a special emphasis on Taanis Esther.

The blessings of the Haftorah constitute an additional form of prayer on Taanis Esther and in the Haftorah we read: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the b’rosh (cypress); instead of the briar shall come up the hadas (myrtle)” (Yeshayahu 55:13). The Talmud relates on this verse: “The myrtle shall come up: this is the virtuous Esther who is called Hadassah as it is said, ‘and he brought up Hadassah”‘ (Megillah 10b).

Esther of course followed Mordechai’s instructions, thus the fast is also associated with Mordechai and the Talmud also makes the connection:

.. The cypress shall come up; this is Mordechai, who is called the chief of all the spices, as it is said, “and you shall take for you the chief spices, flowing myrrh,” which we translate in [Targum] Aramaic “Mar deki,” [pure myrrh, a popular etymology of Mordechai.

Clearly this verse of the Haftorah indicates a special emphasis on Taanis Esther.

In the realm of Torah, the special emphasis may be found in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, on which Rashi comments:

.. to teach you the formula when praying for mercy ... and according to the manner in which you see Me [doing this] cloaked [as it were] in the tallis and proclaiming the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, do you teach Israel to do. And because they will make mention before Me [of the attributes:] “Merciful!” “Gracious!” they will be answered, since My mercies do not fail ... thus assuring him [Moshe] that they will never prove ineffective. (Shmos 33:19)

Chassidus explains that the double usage of “The Eternal” at the start of the Thirteen Attributes connotes the supernal appellation “Eternal.” And the lack of a subject for the verb “called” indicates the level even higher than names: the Essence above the name “Eternal.”

This would seem to have a common theme with the Chassidic interpretation for the absence of G‑d’s Name in the Megillah. Why does the Name of G‑d not appear in the Megillah? Because the Divine force drawn down during Purim, which brought about the miracle of Purim, was from a spiritual source even loftier than the “Name” of G‑d. Thus, in the Megillah the Name of G‑d appears only in symbolic form. The Jews in the Megillah are also called only by the unusual term “Yehudim,” which refers to the power of self-sacrifice — the revelation of the soul essence of the Jew.

So there is a special connection between the Torah reading of the fast day and Taanis Esther, the day of preparation for Purim. Tapping the hidden essence — above the revealed.

Acts of kindness — charity: Here there is also a special connection to Purim. In Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], Laws of Purim, the Ramo Rabbi Moshe Isserles] writes:

Prior to Purim one should donate one half of the set coin [monetary unit, e.g. dollar, shekel, pound] of that place at that time, as a remembrance of the half-shekel which they used to contribute in the month of Adar. Being that the word terumah [offering] is mentioned three times in that chapter, one should give three such coins. The contribution shall be made on the eve of Purim [Taanis Esther] before praying Minchah.

We now see that Taanis Esther encompasses all three aspects of Torah, prayer and tzedakah to a greater degree of intensity and these aspects recur from year to year when we observe Taanis Esther. This year however we should find some special significance in this fast day which will reveal for us the newness of observance, as it says: “Every day they shall be [seen] as new in your eyes” (Rashi, Devarim 26:16).

We will find the newness of this year by looking into the Torah reading of this week — to live with the times — and today’s portion of Rambam which is being studied on a yearly cycle.

In today’s Torah portion [fourth reading section of Ki Sissa], we read of the preparation for the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and G‑d’s promise of their efficacy, expressed in the words: “When My glory passes by ... My Essence [face] itself, however will not be seen.”

It is quite logical to assume, that when the Torah tells us in the first instance of the “glory” of G‑d, it is the same level as the “face” [Essence] of G‑d — which is why this lofty application effected the highest and most intense loftiness; it could not be in a state of revelation — the “face-essence” was the generator of the attributes but “... My Essence itself, however, will not be seen.” Do you now see the connection to Purim? We mentioned earlier that the Name of G‑d does not appear in the Megillah. The usual form of G‑d’s name “Havayah” [the Tetragrammaton] represents the innermost, esoteric appellation, more essential than any other name. By not revealing G‑d’s Name in the Megillah we realize that the revelation of the miracle of Purim was beyond what could be revealed in a name [even the supernal name Havayah]. Just as the joy of Purim must reach the point of “ad d’lo yodah — not knowing,” the joy is so great that it cannot be channeled through the intellect but rather it must remain in a state of not knowing.

The portion of Rambam studied today is the last three chapters of Laws of Inheritance. How is this connected to Purim?

The Talmud states that: “Inheritance cannot be terminated” (B. Basra 129b). This is the theme of Purim, when, “They confirmed what they had accepted long before.” Purim introduced the eternal strength and confirmation of Matan Torah. At the time of the Giving of the Torah certain incidents provided a situation of “a strong protest against the Torah.” As the Gemara says:

.. yet even so, they reaccepted it [the Torah] in the days of Achashverosh, for it is written: “The Jews confirmed and took upon them ...,” i.e. they confirmed what they had accepted long before. (Shabbos 88a)

We must understand this within the framework of our Divine service.

In our daily prayers we say: “Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage!” These three terms: portion, lot and heritage (inheritance) are not arbitrary terms or forms of literary style. Rather each term represents a specific factor in the life of every Jew.

What is our “heritage — inheritance”? In Tanya, chapter 18, the Alter Rebbe explains:

.. with fear and love; namely the hidden love in the heart of all Jews which is an inheritance to us from our Patriarchs ... awe is also incorporated in it.

Every Jew inherits the power for love and fear of G‑d, regardless of his or her personal effort or spiritual service. As an heir he receives the complete inheritance. This love now constitutes the source and motivation for the 248 positive commandments, and the fear comprises the foundation for the 365 negative commandments.

Being conferred automatically, this inheritance assumes a negative aspect of “bread of shame”; no effort was needed to earn this heritage. It follows, therefore, that we must add the aspect of personal effort.

This personal Divine service will assume two forms: “portion” and “lot.” “Portion” refers to the service of the intrinsic powers of the soul, his intellect and attributes. “Lot” represents the transcendental powers of the soul, especially as revealed in the “yechidah” [the unique one], the highest level of the soul.

The Laws of Inheritance teach us that every Jew inherits all the transmitted powers and potentials from our Patriarchs and this heritage must permeate and saturate all our soul powers so that all aspects of our Divine service will be complete and “pedigreed.”

We find an additional lesson from today’s section of Rambam.

In Laws of Inheritance, chapter 9 par. l:

Brothers who have not yet divided their father’s inheritance, but are using, all of them together, what their father left to them, are like partners in every respect ... in the property of their ancestor, and whenever one of them engages in a business transaction with the money left to them, the profits are shared in common.

We may apply this concept to our personal Divine service. As we have explained, our goal is to draw the powers and potentials, which we inherit, into our active service of G‑d. This is similar to using the inheritance in a “business transaction.”

This may be effected either while we are still partners or after dividing the inheritance. Normally when a Jew does a mitzvah the mitzvah is his and he alone merits the reward. Sometimes however two Jews do a mitzvah in partnership and each desires to receive the full credit for the good action. To paraphrase the Mishnah, when two litigants hold a garment each one claims, “It is all mine.” In that case the halachic ruling will be to divide the value of the garment [merit-reward].

There is however a situation where several Jews intentionally embark upon a communal mitzvah with the full knowledge and intention of sharing — such as praying with a minyan [quorum of ten men over bar-mitzvah]. In this case, everyone recognizes the need for the other nine [or more] participants in order to create a minyan and pray as a congregation. It is similar to the brothers who have not divided the inheritance and use it together.

When we remember that the daily prayers were set by the Patriarchs: Avraham the morning prayer, Yitzchok — afternoon, and Yaakov — evening, it becomes all the more relevant; here we are actually dealing with the heritage received from our ancestors and carried out by a congregation of Jews in unison. The reward in this case will be shared equally among all the members of the minyan.

There is also the concept of individual prayer with the concomitant appropriate reward to the individual.

In the Laws of Inheritance we find a unique halachic concept that the successor may not only inherit from, but actually takes the place [stands in stead] of, his ancestor. His Divine service now includes not only the aspect of the inheriting son but also the one who bestows the inheritance, the testator.

This dual role will apply in all three aspects of Torah, prayer, and acts of kindness. In each he recognizes that he is but a vessel and vehicle to carry the word of G‑d to reality. In Torah, “My tongue will repeat Your sayings”; in prayer, “My L‑rd, open my lips and my mouth shall declare Your praise”; and in good deeds he realizes that G‑d is the one, “...Who in His goodness, provides sustenance for the entire world with grace, with kindness and with mercy.” Lucky is he, to have the chance to be the arm of G‑d in giving charity.

There is another point that needs our attention. The last law in the Laws of Inheritance (chap. 11 par. 12):

Although the guardian is not required to render an account, as we have stated, he must make reckoning to himself privately with great care and beware of the Father of these orphans who “rides upon the skies” as it is written: “Extol Him that rides upon the [Aravos] skies ... a Father of orphans.”(Tehillim 68:5-6)

Several points are unclear.

(A) The Rambam quotes a verse where the Father of orphans is referred to as “Him that rides upon the skies.” What is the connection to that verse?

(B) There are many references in Chumash and the Prophets to the special relationship between G‑d and orphans. Why choose this verse in chapter 68 in Tehillim? Additionally, in other sources the actual name of G‑d is related to the orphans, here the term which is used is ambiguous and strange.

By adding another reference to the Rambam we may be able to understand the explanation of these questions. In Gemara Chagigah the Talmud discusses the names of the seven heavens and describes each one. About the heaven named “Aravos” the Gemara says:

Aravos is that in which there are right and judgment and righteousness [charity], ... and dew wherewith the Holy One, Blessed be He, will hereafter revive the dead.

In admonishing the guardian [of the orphans] to faithfully carry out his duty, the Rambam clearly chooses this verse because it speaks of those attributes which the guardian must possess — right, judgment, righteousness — and because it speaks of the “dew of the revival of the dead,” to remind the guardian that the parents of these orphans will also one day be resurrected. So Rambam uses a verse which calls G‑d “Him that rides upon the [Aravos] skies ... a father of orphans....

This brings us to the custom of giving additional charity on a fast day and especially Taanis Esther. I will therefore now distribute dollar bills to everyone through the “Tankists,” on the condition that this money (or equivalent) be donated to charity.

May it be the will of G‑d that this good deed, with all our supplications, will speed up the promise of bringing “one redemption close to another” and from the redemption of Purim may we proceed to the ultimate redemption.