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Flipping the Switch: Holding Ta'anit Esther through Purim

Yesterday, we observed Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther that immediately precedes Purim and commemorates Esther’s request to the Jewish people as she was about to embark on the daunting and dangerous task of pleading with Acheshverosh. She says, “Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast on my behalf.”  This year, Purim begins after Shabbat on Saturday night. Since we do not fast on Shabbat (except for Yom Kippur), we observe the fast on the Thursday before Purim. This year’s Ta'anit Esther was unusual for another reason-it was observed far more widely than our average minor fasts. People of all Jewish denominations observed Jews who identify as secular, along with those who identify as religious. Jews around the world fasted yesterday on behalf of the Israeli women who are still held hostage in Gaza. Some added names to Ta’anit Esther to include these hostages:

Ta'anit Liri. Ta'anit Karina. Ta'anit Agam. Ta'anit Daniela. Ta'anit Romi. Ta'anit Naama. Ta'anit Eden. Ta'anit Noa. Ta'anit Emily. Ta'anit Arbel. Ta'anit Amit Esther. Ta'anit Doron. Ta'anit Shiri. Ta'anit Karmel.

Generally, Ta’anit Esther is not an emotionally intense fast for even those who observe. But it was this year for so many, including our community here at Beit Rabban. I spoke with the middle school after shacharit (morning prayers) about this added layer to Ta’Anit Esther this year. The students already knew; they had discussed this in their classes, and many had discussed this at home with their families. 

While preparing what to say to the students, I kept thinking that the juxtaposition of Ta’anit Esther to Purim this year feels eerily familiar. It is reminiscent of the juxtaposition of Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). In my lifetime, Yom HaZikaron has always felt heavy and sad, and the abrupt shift at the end of the day straight to the over-the-top merriment of Yom HaAtzmaut is clunky at best. For those who have experienced personal loss in war and terrorist attacks, that transition can be unbearably painful. No doubt, it seems that Esther felt existential fear for herself and her people when she asked the Jews to fast on her behalf. But, I doubt many Jews connect to that fear each year on Ta'anit Esther. The truth is, most Jews don’t notice the day.

This year is different. Fear and sadness loom large, even as Jewish communities around the world move forward with the merriment of Purim. This year, we will enter Purim with the sort of heaviness that we carry between Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. At best, it is clunky. For many of our people, it will be unbearable. 

I am grateful for the twist of the calendar fate that gives us a day between Ta’anit Esther and Purim this year as if to recognize that flipping that switch will be particularly hard right now.

May the Jewish people and all those who are suffering from extreme fear and sadness experience the miracle of “ve’nahafochu,” when the worst possible decree is completely overturned.

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