1. The central theme of all fasts is that they are “a day desirable to G‑d” — desirable to G‑d Above, and an auspicious time for man below to undertake good resolutions in matters of holiness. In general, this means to increase in the three things on which the world stands: Torah, prayer, and good deeds. Torah: the special reading for a fast; Prayer — the special prayers said on a fast; good deeds — to give more tzedakah on a fast. Since a fast is “of the ways of teshuvah,” and teshuvah is the idea of doubling one’s efforts, it follows that the above three things must be performed with double effort.

In addition to this central theme, Ta’anis Esther (the fast of Esther) emphasizes the above three things more than the other fasts.

Tzedakah: On Ta’anis Esther, we give three half-coins (“machatzis hashekel”) to tzedakah, thereby giving tzedakah the special strength that comes from something done three times (“chazakah”).

Torah: Ta’anis Esther is associated with Purim, on which the acceptance of the Torah was emphasized — “they fulfilled that which they previously accepted.”

Prayer: The miracle of Purim was achieved through praying and crying out to G‑d.

Even the haftorah said on a fast day is especially associated with Ta’anis Esther. It states: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle.” The Talmud (Megillah 10b) says “‘Shall come up the cypress’ — this refers to Mordechai; ‘shall come up the myrtle’ — this refers to Esther.”

Likewise, the ultimate fate of the fasts is emphasized most greatly in the fast of Esther. The Rambam states the fasts are destined to be changed to festivals and days of rejoicing. And it was through the fast of Esther that the plot against the Jews was changed into the joy of Purim, as stated in the Megillah: “It was turned around.”

The above applies to every Ta’anis Esther. This year, because erev Purim is Shabbos, Ta’anis Esther is not on erev Purim (the 13th of Adar) as it usually is, but on the preceding Thursday (11th of Adar).

Ta’anis Esther is associated with that related in the Megillah — “Go, gather all the Jews and fast for me.” The Megillah, however, relates that this fast was for three days and nights, whereas Ta’anis Esther which we observe is only for one day. When Ta’anis Esther is on Thursday, three days before Purim (on Sunday), the idea of a fast (its spiritual effect, the idea of teshuvah, etc.) exists for three days (Thursday, Friday, Shabbos) — similar to the fast related in the Megillah.

The lesson from this in our service to G‑d:

Since on most years Ta’anis Esther is erev Purim, it serves as a preparation to Purim. This year, when Ta’anis Esther is three days before Purim, the preparations to Purim are more strongly emphasized — for three days: Thursday, Friday, and Shabbos. The lesson then is that we must increase in all the preparations to Purim, by properly utilizing the three days from Ta’anis Esther to Purim. These extra preparations then elicit extra blessings from G‑d that the preparations should be very successful.

In practical terms, this means everyone must see to it that all Jews should celebrate Purim with “light and joy, happiness and honor” — through properly fulfilling all the mitzvos of Purim. This applies especially to those who need help in fulfilling the mitzvos of Purim (e.g. those in hospitals, prisons).

2. Uniting together with other Jews in fulfilling the mitzvos of Purim not only makes the celebration of Purim a proper one, but also eradicates the claim against the Jews that they are “spread out and scattered among the peoples.” For the Jews show the opposite to be true: they are united in a true bond — “one people.” Although Jews are in exile, their souls are not — and the reason their bodies are in exile is to utilize the exile for good and sacred purposes. Thus, although in exile, Jews must remain proud and firm in all matters of Torah and mitzvos.

This is emphasized in the Megillah, which relates that “Mordechai did not bend the knee nor did he bow down” to Haman — to idolatry. Idolatry in Hebrew is “avodah zorah” which literally means “strange worship.” Something which is “strange” to a Jew and Judaism, Mordechai opposes with all his force, and “not bend the knee nor bow down.”

Mordechai is not influenced by money, honor, or what the non-Jew will think — nor what “the strange G‑d that is within you” says. The only thing that counts in Mordechai the Jew’s eyes is G‑d’s will.

Even when one wishes to twist around the facts and say that bowing to Haman is not “avodah zorah” but only showing respect — even then Mordechai, with self-sacrifice, refuses to bow down. For since the bowing may be construed (by non-Jews or Jews) as bowing to something foreign to Judaism — something connected to Haman, a descendant of Amalek — Mordechai does not want anyone to even think that he is separate from G‑d.

This was not only Mordechai’s conduct, but every Jew’s. The Megillah calls all Jews “Yehudim,” because a Yehudi is one who “denies idolatry.” Even non-Jews know that all Jews belong to “Mordechai’s people” for they conduct themselves as Mordechai does — “he did not bend the knee nor did he bow down.”

Denial of idolatry means denial of all its aspects, not just some. If he performs “strange worship” in any aspect — be it money, honor, fear of the gentile, etc. — he has not behaved as a Yehudi.

3. Conduct in the manner of “Mordechai’s people” is emphasized in this week’s parshah, “Tetzaveh” (“You (Moshe) shall command”). Tetzaveh is the idea of “tzayseh v’chibur,” meaning bonding. When even the simplest Jew fulfills the mitzvos of the Torah, his essence is bonded with Moshe Rabbeinu’s essence. In such a state, a Jew’s conduct will certainly be like Mordechai’s — the Moshe of his generation — and will not bow down or bend the knee.

When Jews conduct themselves in this fashion, they have “light and gladness, joy and honor” — even in the days of preparation to Purim, and certainly on Purim itself: “Light and gladness, joy and honor” literally, and also as our Sages have interpreted it — “Light is Torah ... honor is tefillin.” In other words, Jews increase in the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvos, particularly the mitzvah of tzedakah which is equal to all the mitzvos.

Even in exile, the integrity of the Jewish nation is kept whole and intact — which is connected with the wholeness of the Torah: fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos to perfection. When we have the whole people together with the whole Torah, we merit all the blessings even while in exile — as it was in the exile of Egypt, when “To all the children of Israel there was light in their dwelling places.” Until finally the promise “You shall be gathered one by one, 0’ children of Israel” will be fulfilled — when G‑d takes out each Jew from exile, and together with our righteous Moshiach, we go to our holy land.

Even in exile, the land too must be “whole” — those territories which G‑d has miraculously delivered into our hands must not be given up. For it is a matter of pikuach nefesh, saving of life: surrender of the land endangers the lives of Jews. Since Yamit was surrendered, terrorists have infiltrated Eretz Yisroel and wounded and killed Jews, may G‑d avenge their blood.

What is worse, Israel, because of fear of gentile reaction, has feared to apprehend these terrorists, and have hushed up the whole matter. Israel set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the massacre in the refugee camps — something in which Jews were not guilty (except, perhaps, for not intervening). Yet, in the case of Jews being killed — it does nothing! It is prohibited to keep silence on this matter, and everything possible to change this state of affairs must be done.

May it be G‑d’s will that very soon we merit the fulfillment of the promise in the haftorah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” — that “all the nations” will come to the Bais Hamikdosh to pray.

But even before this, when Jews are still in exile, “to all the children of Israel there was light in their dwelling places.” And then, very soon, we merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, who will build the third Bais Hamikdosh, and gather in all the dispersed of Israel.