Purim is less than two weeks away! This coming Thursday is a fast day established about 2500 years ago decreed by Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. Why did she mandate a day of fasting? In order to answer this we need to analyze a few verses from the Megillah.
And the King said to her, “What is it for you, Queen Esther; what is your petition? Even if it be half the kingdom, it shall be granted you!” Esther said, “If it pleases the King, let the King and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” (Megillat Esther 5:3-4)
Why did Esther invite Haman, a rabid anti-Semite to a banquet? The Talmud suggests a number of answers to this question. 1) Esther wanted to know where Haman was at all times. 2) She tried to disarm him from being suspicious. 3) She aimed to arouse the jealousy of the King. 4) She hoped Haman would become overconfident. These were all effective strategies and were successful but the Talmud gives one more reason: “So that the Jewish people should not say, ‘We have a sister in the house of the King.’ And then they would divert their minds from prayer.” This last reason is difficult to understand being as most of the world’s Jewish population lived in the Persian empire (where Esther was Queen) at the time and were about to be annihilated. Esther was their last chance to avoid decimation and she used her trump card for a strategy that was focused on insuring that the people would continue to pray. Wasn’t that an irresponsible move on her part? The following story took place about 150 years ago and will aid us in understanding the strategy of Esther’s maneuver.
A poor man who had to make a wedding for his daughter came to the Chassidic Rebbi of Kotzk for help. The Rebbe gave him a letter of introduction to Rabbi of means, Moshe Chaim Rothenberg of Chentshin. The letter was a request for Reb Moshe Chaim to financially help this poor man as much as he could. The man traveled for many days until he reached the city of Chentshin and found his way to the home of Reb Moshe Chaim. He presented Reb Moshe Chaim with the letter from the Rebbi of Kotzk and was confident that he would receive everything he requested. After reading the letter carefully, Moshe Chaim took out a single ruble and handed it to him. The poor man was shocked and dejected; his travel expenses weren’t even covered.
A short while later the poor man was walking on the road and noticed a horse drawn wagon loaded up with all the needs for his daughter’s wedding-and Reb Moshe Chaim, the man who had given him a mere ruble-was driving the wagon. The poor man asked, “If you intended to give me all these goods then why did you let me leave with a single ruble and a sack full of worries?” Reb Moshe Chaim answered, “Let me explain my thinking. When you came to me with a letter from the Holy Rebbi of Kotzk, I’ll bet you thought that that all your financial woes were solved. It could even be that you forgot entirely about G-d! He is truly the one Who provides for your needs. When you left my house feeling dejected I presumed that you once again turned your heart to Heaven. I wanted you to know where all these things really come from. I am only an agent of the Almighty; I’m not G-d!”
Let’s return to Esther. She had entered to speak with the King to beg for mercy for the Jewish People after she had fasted. Not only was Esther fasting but she had requested that all the Jews fast and pray for three days so that she might find grace in the eyes of the King once again. When the King set his eyes upon her, miraculously he was enchanted despite her having fasted so long. Esther understood that she had only made it this far because of the feverish prayers of the entire Jewish People. She knew that she would continue to need their help to finish her mission. Her next concern was that when the people would hear that she had gained the full attention of the King they would mistakenly desist from relying on G-d and rely on her instead. Therefore she invited the wicked Haman to give a false impression to the People of Israel that she was going to use this magic moment