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Thought for the Day: Ta'anis Esther -- A Celebration of HaShem Keeping Us Close

There are five rabbinically mandated fasts during the year: Tzom Gedaliah, Asara b'Teives, Shiva Asar b'Tammus, Tisha b'Av, and Ta'anis Esther.  (I know I left out Ta'anis B'choros; first, it is only a fast for the first born; second, it is almost entirely observed by voiding fasting by attending  a siyum.)  One of these fasts is not like the other.  One of these fasts just doesn't belong.  Can you tell which fast is not like the others?  Did you guess which fast is not like the others?  Did you guess which fast just doesn't belong?  If you guessed that Ta'anis Esther is not like the others, then you ... are ... right!

How do the differences manifest?  For one thing, Chazal never decreed a fast to be on Shabbos.  The general rule is not to rush into problems, so if the scheduled date of a fast were to fall on Shabbos, we usually push it off till Sunday.  Not Ta'anis Esther; that one we pull forward to Thursday.  Ta'anis Esther is also so easy to get an exemption.  Nursing or pregnant?  Don't even think about it.  Your eyes hurt?  Think about it, but you can probably get out of it.  Bris on that day, there are some poskim who say you don't need to fast at all; especially if it is a nidche (pushed forward to Thursday).  You really should fast if possible, though, so as not to separate yourself from the community.

How about this?  When was Gedaliah assassinated?  The 3rd of Tishrei.  When do we observe the fast?  The 3rd of Tishrei.  Same for the 10th of Teves, 17th of Tammuz, and 9th of Av; the date of the event corresponds to the date of the observance.  Ta'anis Esther?  Esther fasted for three days in Nissan, including the seder night.  Our observance?  Some places on the 13th of Adar, others on the 14 of Adar; not Nissan and not three days.  Now you are wondering why it's even called Ta'anis Esther, I'll bet. (Well... you should be, anyway!)

The other fasts are penance for past bad deeds, and we we are still living with the outcome of those bad deeds; we still don't have the Beis HaMikdash.  Those dates are more than just happenstance; when Koheles says there is a season to cry, Rashi says that he means the 9th of Av.  Those dates of sorrow were so powerful that they left an eternal impression on the spiritual cycle of the year.

Ta'anis Esther, on the other hand, celebrates that HaShem is close to those who sincerely call out to Him.  Esther needed to approach the king; something essentially without precedent and carried with it a death sentence of the king was not amenable.  How did she prepare?  She fasted for three days.  How do you think she looked when she approached him?  Right, not so good.  Pretty awful, in fact.  What was she thinking?

She was thinking of HaShem and only HaShem.  She wanted nothing on her mind but doing what HaShem wanted and saving His nation.  That's what we're celebrating.  Why these two dates?  Because Klal Yisrael also did something that didn't make sense... we fasted during battle.  14th of Adar in Shushan, the 13th of Adar in the rest of the world.  Fasting during battle doesn't make sense.  Unless, of course, you are only doing hishtadlus to show your attachment to and longing for HaShem.

Then it's the only thing that does make sense.

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