Taanis Esther 5777 – For If You Do Nothing…

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Taanis Esther is the fast day commemorated by the Jewish people in honor of Queen Esther standing up in an effort to save the Jewish people from the brink of destruction. After hearing of the impending order of Haman to eradicate the Jewish people from the 127 nations in the kingdom of Achashverosh, the Jews were thrust into mourning. Mordechai beseeches Esther to intervene, telling her, through her maidens and chamberlains, to speak to the King, and plead with him to annul this dastardly decree before it comes to fruition. Esther demurred. She explains that while this information is terrifying, one who seeks counsel with the king without an appointment need not wait until this decree was enacted: they are put to death.  Upon hearing this, Mordechai conveys to Esther the sheer gravity of her position. The Megillah states (4:13-14) “And Mordechai ordered to reply to Esther, ‘Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish; and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?’” Mordechai does not mince words here. “If you do nothing, my dear Esther, don’t think you’ll be spared.” After all, can you imagine if Esther’s entire ascent to the throne was orchestrated by the Almighty specifically for this purpose? To rise up, and stand up, for her people, to a king who most likely did not contemplate the magnitude of what his advisor Haman had requested of him. With this mussar shmooze now in her mind, Esther gives Mordechai instructions (4:16): “Go, assemble all the Jews who are present in Shushan and fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, day and night; also I and my maidens will fast in a like manner; then I will go to the king contrary to the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

There is an interplay of events surrounding the above episode mentioned in Esther Rabbah that fascinates me. Esther Rabbah (8:7) explains that the three days that Esther commands Mordechai and the Jews of Shushan to fast are the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nissan. Interestingly, the fast was to coincide with the first day of Passover. The Midrash continues, and after seeing Esther be initially hesitant, Mordechai now exhibits a sense of reservation about the fast. He communicates to her servants that one of these very fast days occurs on the first day of Pesach, a time when fasting is prohibited. Esther responds back to him, with the same charifus (sharpness) that he originally unleashed at her: “She said to him: ‘Sage of Israel! What is the point of having Pesach if there are no Jews in the world to celebrate it?!’” Mordechai’s actions here seem a bit peculiar. This was a shaas hadchak, a scenario of extraordinary circumstances. Esther was about to put her life on the line by approaching Achashverosh without first being summoned, and now Mordechai was the hesitant one? It seems as if his message had gone to Esther’s heart, but not to his own! Yet, after Esther relates to Mordechai some mussar of her own in relating just how serious this matter was, he ultimately heeds her word, as the Megillah says (4:17) “So Mordechai passed and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.”

There are times in our lives, just like in the lives of our biblical characters, when we must break out of our comfort zones in order to stand up for something that is right. It’s much harder to convince yourself to do something like this when you’re being attacked or outnumbered. There are times when the right thing to do is crystal clear, while at other times the correct line to tow is completely foreign to you. We see this our heroes in the Megillah. On this Taanis Esther, may we merit to have the courage to do something. Who knows? That may be the entire reason you were put in that situation at all.

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