Today is April 24, 2024 /

Shabbat Shalom ~ Vayikra 2024

Shalom WJC Family,

I am writing this message on Thursday. It is the Fast of Esther, which is usually observed the day before Purim. However, when Purim is on a Sunday, the fast is pushed to Thursday. We do not fast on Shabbat (Yom Kippur is an exception) and we do not fast on Friday when we are getting ready for Shabbat. The Geonim, leaders of the Babylonian Jewish community in the early Middle Ages, said, “Shabbat is worth 1000 fasts.”

The question is why do we observe this fast at all. It could be in commemoration of the three days Esther fasted before confronting the king about Haman’s terrible decree:

Esther 4:15-16

(15) Then Esther sent back this answer to Mordecai: (16) “Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!”

Of course, this begs a question – if this is the reason for the fast, why do we only fast one day while Esther fasts three days? Perhaps Esther’s fast isn’t the reason for fasting at all. So why else would we fast the day before Purim? Purim is observed on the 14th of Adar. The Megillah does report something happening on the 13th of Adar when the Fast of Esther is observed:

Esther 9:1-3

(1) And so, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is, the month of Adar—when the king’s command and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, the opposite happened, and the Jews got their enemies in their power. (2) Throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the Jews mustered in their cities to attack those who sought their hurt; and no one could withstand them, for the fear of them had fallen upon all the peoples. (3) Indeed, all the officials of the provinces—the satraps, the governors, and the king’s stewards—showed deference to the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them.

Perhaps the Fast of Esther isn’t to commemorate the fasting of Esther earlier in the story. Perhaps it is to commemorate the war that took place in order to ensure the safety of the Jews of Persia. The holiday on the 14th, Purim, celebrates the victory. The fast on the 13th, like Shabbat Zachor which we commemorate the Shabbat before Purim reminds us how close it came to being a catastrophic pogrom and the terrible war that needed to be fought for our protection. (See my video about Shabbat Zachor and join us for Simple & Soulful Saturday morning where I’ll be leading a discussion about it as well.)

This meaning of the Fast of Esther speaks to me particularly this year as we turn to Purim in a time of war for Israel and the tide of Antisemitism rises once again. Perhaps the fast is a day to remember that war, even when perceived as necessary, is a horrible reality and that the cost being paid in Israel and Gaza cannot and should not be forgotten. Tomorrow, God willing, we can celebrate victory. Today, we fast for all the terrible things that war brings.

Because of the conflicting emotions of this Purim, we are leading into the megillah Saturday night with a special end of Shabbat dinner. At the dinner, I will be leading a talk. Please join us on Saturday evening, March 24th – starting at 6:45pm, for a traditional  Seudah Shelishit (light dinner) and Shiur (study session) I will lead called “We Survived, Let’s Eat:” Resilience and Celebration on Purim (Activity Center). At 8:00pm we will head into the sanctuary for services and Megillah reading (costumes welcome.) Patty’s amazing hamantaschen will follow. We hope that any kids who aren’t on vacation (it’s Public School Spring Break) will join us (in costumes!) at the 8pm Megillah reading.

Then we will eat again at 5pm on Sunday – a delicious Purim Seudah (it’s a mitzvah to have a celebratory meal on Purim) catered with one of Patty’s delicious Mexican feasts (just like Mordechai and Esther ate) – followed by the premier of the brand new Purim Shpiel “Schmaltz!” You won’t want to miss it – let’s just say that (for better or worse) there’ll be plenty of chatter about the Rabbi when all is said and done and it’s a good thing I’ve already signed a long term contract!

Yes – I mentioned most of that last week, but I didn’t want anyone to miss it – I’m glad you’re paying attention!

See you in shul,


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