WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7: Jewish families, especially the children, are eagerly anticipating the joys of Purim, but today, they prepare with the traditional Fast of Esther. From sunrise to sunset, Jews remember the ancient tradition of fasting before war; Judaism teaches that humanity doesn’t achieve victory through physical strength, but by the grace of God. Today’s fast, in particular, commemorates an ancient queen named Esther, a triumph thought impossible, and a series of events that would lead up to the festival of Purim. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)
As the story of Purim often is retold: The ancient King Ahashuerus was in the midst of a long feast when, drunken, he ordered his queen to come before him and for his guests to regard her beauty; when Queen Vashti refused, the king was advised to find another wife. All beautiful virgins of the kingdom were called upon, and of these, King Xerxes found one named Esther to his liking. A relative named Mordecai had raised Esther and Mordecai, too, earned the king’s favor—when he unveiled an assassination plot.
Some time later, a nobleman named Haman commanded all bow to him; when Mordecai (a Jew) refused, saying he would only bow to his God, Haman plotted to kill all the Jews of the Persian Empire. Esther was a Jew herself, and upon hearing Haman’s plot, she asked Mordecai and the Jews of Shushan to fast for three days so that she might have God’s blessing when she approached King Xerxes. Esther approached her husband, though uninvited, and revealed her true Jewish identity; the Jews of the kingdom were given the right to defend themselves against the enemy, and Haman was hanged. Jews today only fast for one day—not three—but they fast nonetheless, and “half coins” are distributed to both the poor and to household members. (Chabad.org has details.)
Want more of the story of this holiday? Continue by reading our 2012 Purim story.