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Purim in Nisan? (Purim)

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

 

 One Purim, I had the zechus of spending time in the house of my rebbe, Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita. My young son accompanied me. Upon seeing my son, Rav Shapiro asked, “What is your name? My son answered, “Mordechai”. Rav Moshe replied in the spirit of Purim humor, “Mordechai the son of  Pesach, Pesach holid es Purim (Pesach gave birth to Purim)”.

 

On the thirteenth of Adar we commemorate Taanis Esther, the fast of Esther. Among the fasts, it is the only fast credited to a person (Excluding Tzom Gedalia – for an obvious reason. He was murdered). Esther decreed that all should fast for three days prior to her entry into the King’s courtyard. She instituted the fast. Do we find any mention in Chazal of the name of the institutor of Tisha B’Av?

 

She wasn’t the only one who fasted. The entire Klal Yisroel did. The fast, seemingly, belongs to Esther. Why so?

 

Upon reflection, a curious fact emerges. Esther fasted on the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of Nisan. The day designated for Taanis Esther is the Thirteenth of Adar. The poskim explain, fasting would be improper during Nisan. Nisan is the month of redemption. It is the month the Mishkan was built. (One is actually encouraged to serve a special dish at the seuda on the second day of Pesach in honor of the hanging of Haman).The thirteenth of Adar was chosen instead. Why? It was the day of the war against Amalek. Moshe Rabeinu fasted on the day he waged war against Amalek. So too, the Bnei Yisroel, in the time of Purim, fasted on the day of their campaign.

 

Then, why refer to it as Taanis Esther? What relationship exists between Esther’s fast of Nisan and that of the Bnei Yisroel’s in Adar? Our sages tell us that the name Taanis Esther was decided upon to serve as a constant reminder of Hashem’s benevolent gaze on all of creation. He sees and hearkens to the distress of one who deprives himself of physical nourishment by fasting, one who returns to Hashem with all his heart.

 

The matter is far from clear. Could we not learn this lesson without calling the fast on the name of Esther? Which fast are we learning from – the fast of Esther or the fast of the warriors? The juxtaposition of these two events bears further clarification.

 

There are those who have the custom to fast three days during the month of Adar, a replica of Esther’s fast. This certainly was not in commemoration of the fast during the day of the war, which lasted only one day. For some reason we are transplanting Esther’s fast into the month of Adar.

 

The poskim also raise the issue that it is improper for one to institute a fast immediately prior to or following a Yom Tov. It is incongruous to the spirit of the Yom Tov. Why is the fast of Esther an exception to this rule?

 

Let us attempt to resolve these issues and thereby gain a deeper insight into the day. We may have to digress a bit.

 

From its very inception, the monarchy of Klal Yisroel has been split along two separate and distinct lines – the offspring of Rachel and the descendants of Leah. Yosef versus Yehuda, Dovid and Shaul, Rachavam and Yeravam ben Nevat, Mashiach ben Dovid and Mashiach ben Yosef. Primarily, the malchus (monarchy) emanated from Leah’s offspring. They occupied the more public role. Hence, Yosef’s position as king of the sons of Yaakov was tragically unrecognized by his brothers, while being clear to Yaakov. His melucha (kingdom) was behind the scenes. Even while being held in captivity as a slave, he rules the house of his slave master. He ruled the prison, and finally he ruled the entire world by virtue of occupying the power behind the throne in Egypt. A hidden and private form of majesty. In the same vein, Shaul, upon being anointed king by the prophet Shmuel, told no one, until it was the opportune moment to reveal himself. And ultimately, the kingdom under the leadership of Yosef’s issue has totally disappeared. A hidden form of majesty.

 

The question is, why? Why the need for two monarchies?

 

The Rambam states, “The heart of the monarch is the heart of each and every member of his nation”. He represents his entire nation in the form of a microcosm. He descends to the depths of all their needs and is the conduit of their life and sustenance.

 

There are times that Klal Yisroel lives in relative tranquility. They enjoy a fruitful and open relationship with the Creator. They are a sovereign nation with freedom of worship.

Then they are ruled by a member of the Davidic dynasty, who is uniquely qualified to rule Klal Yisroel in all her glory.

 

There are other times as well. When we are persecuted and downtrodden, enslaved without freedom of choice or action, it seems as if we have been cast adrift. Our relationship with our Father in Heaven is no longer evident. Does He still care for us? Are we still His first born son or are we an unfaithful spouse who has been driven away in disgrace, never to return to her former glory. It takes a totally different type of monarch to invigorate and bring life into his nation under such circumstances.

 

The days of Purim were the days of “moda’ah raba li’dioraisa” (a time when one may find cause to annul his commitment made at Har Sinai). Our Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. We were driven out of the Holy Land. Our connection to Hashem is tenuous, chas veshalom.

 

And then Hashem sent Esther…

 

Esther HaMalkah. Chazal tell us that in return for ceasing the work being done on the second Beis haMikdash it was decreed that Achashveirosh should lose his entire kingdom. He retained a small portion of his former empire, 127 provinces. Why? Because he was destined to unite with Esther, the granddaughter of Sarah, who ruled over herself perfectly for 127 years. Who was the real monarch of Persia? Esther. The retention of Achashveirosh’s kingdom was due only to his marriage to Esther.

 

Mordechai decreed a fast day on Pesach. He violated the Yom Tov by doing so. What gave him the right to do that? The posuk says, “tzivsa alav Esther”, by the command of Esther. She was a true queen, a queen who held sway even over Mordechai.

 

Rav Yaakov Loeberbaum, in his commentary Megilas Starim, comments on the lack of plunder by the hands of the Jews. They were permitted by royal edict to do so, yet there was not one single instance of plunder on their part. Why not? When one is occupied in the greatest of mitzvos, one does not take time out to do something mundane such as plunder. The Jews were commanded to appoint a monarch, destroy Amalek and then build the Beis HaMikdash. They have a monarch; they are actively involved with wiping out Amalek. No time for booty or plunder. They are preparing the world for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. Who is the monarch at this time? Esther.

 

Her empire was the whole world. Multiple instances are mentioned in the Megilah where angels performed her bidding. Her rule extended to the heavenly hosts.

 

Who was Esther? No one knew. She was as hidden as one can be. Her parents? Departed. Her royal origins - unrevealed. A hidden monarch, behind the scenes. (It was the custom of the Maharil not to deliver his regular Torah discourse on Purim, for it states in the Megilah, “ein Esther magedes” – Esther wouldn’t reveal. If Esther wouldn’t reveal, then neither will he!!)

 

Attaining the level of majesty is a process. Esther prepared herself for her fateful meeting with the king by fasting. After three days of denying herself of sustenance, she stood in the interior of the king’s courtyard. The gemorah tells us that when it says the word “hamelech”  in the Megilah, it is meant to be understood on two levels. On the physical level, meaning Achashveirosh, and on the metaphysical level, meaning Hakodesh Baruch Hu. She stood in the inner courtyard of the King. Her physical being faced Achashveirosh, but in a higher sense, in reality, she was standing before Hashem in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash. Her words were addressed to the Melech Malchei Ha’mlochim (King of kings). The posuk states, “Vatilbash Esther malchus” – Esther was garbed with a spirit of majesty, a spirit of prophecy. She was no longer on this world. This is evident from a passage in the gemorah. When challenged by Achashveirosh to name the perpetrator of the grievous harm intended against her people, she exclaimed, “ish tzar ve’oyaiv” – the oppressor, the enemy – and intended to point her finger at Achashveirosh!!! The very one she was speaking to. Miraculously, an angel was sent to avert her finger and pointed it towards Haman. The Gaon of Vilna explains that had she been cognizant of being involved in conversation with Achashveirosh, such a faux pas would not have been possible. The Gaon asserts that she attained this state by virtue of her fasting. The spirit of prophecy rests upon someone who removes himself from his worldly trappings, leaving the body behind while embracing the spirit. True malchus is to rise above. Mordechai’s words to Esther take on a new meaning, “Umi yodaya im li’es kazos higa’at lamalchus” – Who knows, if it is for this very moment that you have arrived at the level of majesty.

 

Esther’s fast was to last for three days and three nights. Chazal question how one can survive without nourishment for such a long duration. Esther brought herself and all of the Klal Yisroel to the threshold of death.

 

Matan Torah. At the foot of Har Sinai the Jewish people heard the words “Anochi Hashem Elokecha” directly from the mouth of Hakodesh Baruch Hu. They were thrown back twelve mil and their souls departed from their bodies. Hashem resuscitated them, Because in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah the Jewish nation had to be reduced to nothingness and then reformulated.

 

There are two types of monarchies in Klal Yisroel and two Batei Mikdash. One for times of geulah and one for times of galus when the Shechina is hidden. There are also two times of Kabalas HaTorah – when the Yidden accepted the Torah upon themselves. On Purim the Yidden had to be brought to the awareness that our bond with the Torah is just as close if not closer during times when Hashem’s countenance is not evident.

 

Esther did not just decree a fast. She restored royalty to the Jewish nation. She brought them to a higher level. She showed them the depth contained within fasting. In their present state there was no life. They were a dead nation. A monarch infuses life into all of his subjects, no exceptions. Esther’s fast facilitated the “Kabalas Hatorah” which resulted. Through her fast, the Jewish nation was recreated. A form of techiyas hameisim took place.

 

The existence of a nation that so totally nullifies and negates itself to the Creator is a threat to the very existence of the nation of Amalek. Esther embodied the trait of malchus – Hashem’s majesty. Amalek stands diametrically opposed to the revelation of Hashem’s royal throne in this world.

 

The true victory over Amalek took place on those three days in Nisan. In the physical world the victory was revealed on the thirteenth of Adar. The two days are linked; in reality they are one day. The fasting of the warriors was an extension of the fast which took place in Nisan. Their fast only had meaning due to the level that Esther attained.

 

The gemorah in Meseches Taanis states, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha”. Rashi comments on this passage, “What time period is meant by Mishenichnas Adar? The days of Purim and Pesach”.  The days are joined together as one. Pesach gave birth to Purim, so to speak.

 

It is now clear why the fast of Esther differs from other fasts. Other fasts are an expression of mourning for the loss of our lifeline, the Beis HaMikdash. Taanis Esther is the process that returns the Beis haMikdash to us. It is highly appropriate that it is placed prior to a Yom Tov.

 

Taanis Esther’s rightful place is on the thirteenth of Adar. It instructs us to make the connection between the victory on that day and the point of origin of the true victory.

 

And of course, that is the reason it is given the name….Taanis Esther!

 

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