1. The central theme of all public fasts is, as the Rambam writes, that they are “of the ways of teshuvah (repentance).” In regard to Ta’anis Esther (the fast of Esther), this idea of teshuvah is of the loftiest level. Our Sages state that “A Jew who has litigation with a non-Jew ... should make himself available in Adar when his ‘mazal’ (luck) is good (or strong).” Not only should he not try to avoid litigation in Adar (as is in the case of the month of Av when his luck is bad), but he should try (“make himself available”) to have the court case then — when his “mazal” is good and strong. The reason for this is that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews is “one people shall be stronger than the other people,” and “when this one rises the other falls.” Thus, since in Adar the mazal of Jews is strong, it follows that the position of non-Jews is on the down-swing.
The concept of “litigation with a non-Jew” can be interpreted to refer to the struggle with “the strange god which is within you” — the Yetzer Horah (Evil Inclination). In the month of Adar extra strength is provided to conquer the Yetzer, and therefore a Jew is told “to make himself available in Adar” — for then his mazal is strong, and he can be victorious in the battle with the Yetzer (“when this one rises the other falls”) until it is completely annihilated.
Victory over the Yetzer and its annihilation is the concept of teshuvah, and teshuvah is thus the general service of the month of Adar. On Ta’anis Esther (and a fast is “of the ways of teshuvah”), an even loftier standard of teshuvah is demanded, consonant with the dictum that “one should always rise in matters of holiness.”
The greatness of teshuvah on Ta’anis Esther compared to that of other fasts is that it follows the general service of teshuvah of the month of Adar. The Alter Rebbe explains that the idea of teshuvah is “the spirit shall return to the G-d Who gave it.” Hence, even when one has returned in teshuvah on the preceding day, the next day demands yet a further return, a higher level of teshuvah than yesterday’s. This refers to “teshuvah me’ahavah,” teshuvah done out of love (as opposed to teshuvah done out of fear), the highest level of teshuvah when 11sins are converted into merits.” The teshuvah on Ta’anis Esther is teshuvah me’ahavah, for “when the month of Adar approaches we increase in joy.” True joy is only when the service of teshuvah is perfect — the level of teshuvah me’ahavah.
This concept of teshuvah me’ahavah, through which sins are converted into merits, is emphasized in today’s portion of Tehillim, the 13th of the month. The beginning of Ch. 69 (verse 2) talks of a very low situation: “Save me G-d, for the waters have come to my soul.” Conversely, the end of the chapter is (verses 36-37): “G-d will save Tzion and will build the cities of Yehudah, and they will dwell there and possess it. The seed of His servant shall inherit it, and they that love His name shall dwell there.” We see in this chapter the idea of a drastic change, similar to the idea of one’s sins being converted to merits through teshuvah me’ahavah. In addition, the phrase “they that love His name” is an allusion to teshuvah done out of love (teshuvah me’ahavah).
This is also stressed in the story of Purim, to which Ta’anis Esther is a preparation. The general concept of Purim is that “it was turned about” or “converted” — “from sorrow to joy and from mourning to holiday.” This applies to the entire month of Adar, as stated: “And the month which was converted them from sorrow to joy.”
Moreover, as explained above, today’s portion of Tehillim states “Those that love His name,” which is the idea of love of G-d. The Alter Rebbe explains that the command “You shall love the L-rd your G-d” is one and the same with the command “You shall love your fellow as yourself” — Ahavas Yisrael. Ahavas Yisrael is emphasized on Purim, to the extent that the preparations for Purim are expressed in the idea of “Go, gather together all the Jews” — through which is effected the idea of “Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance. “
2. In addition to the greatness that Ta’anis Esther possesses in regard to teshuvah, it also possesses distinction in the service of tzedakah. On every fast one must increase in the three areas of Torah, prayer and deeds of loving kindness. Torah: the Torah reading on a fast day; prayer: the special prayers for a fast day; deeds of loving kindness: an increase in the giving of tzedakah. It is a universal custom to give, before Minchah on Ta’anis Esther, “half of the coin of the realm [as a remembrance] of the half-shekel they used to give in Adar ... And since the word ‘offering’ is written three times in the parshah [which talks of the donations given for the building of the Mishkan], one should give three half-coins of the realm.” Thus we see the special distinction of tzedakah on Ta’anis Esther.
The giving of the half-shekel is associated with Purim. The half-shekel is connected with the building of the Mishkan, in which, as mentioned above, there were three offerings. The offering for the adonim, the silver sockets which were the base and foundation of the entire Mishkan; a general offering for the Mishkan, from which the Mishkan and its vessels were made; and a half-shekel with which the congregational sacrifices were bought — sacrifices being the general service of the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash.
Every Jew has a Mishkan and Mikdash (sanctuary) in his inner heart, as our Sages have explained on the verse “Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them” (“them” not “it”) — “within each and every one of Israel.” This inner sanctuary exists within all Jews, “from young to old, infants and women,” and hence the giving of the half-shekel for the physical Sanctuary is also associated with the spiritual sanctuary within the heart of every Jew.
In Megillas Esther, Jews are called “Yehudim,” because of their firm stance in their Judaism. our Sages say that “whosoever denies idolatry is called a Yehudi,” and “one who denies idolatry it is as if he acknowledged the entire Torah.” Hence the Jews in the time of the Megillah were called Yehudim because of their firm uncompromising position in their Judaism. The Megillah is thereby emphasizing that the situation of the Jews then was such that the inner sanctuary in the heart was not in a concealed fashion, but open and revealed — Yehudim. As the Alter Rebbe writes “the Yehudim prepared themselves for death the entire year, and had no other thought [of denying their Judaism]” — and certainly not in speech or deed. This is the connection between the half-shekel and Purim: The half-shekel is associated with the Mishkan and Mikdash, including that within the heart of every Jew; and on Purim, this inner sanctuary was revealed within every Jew.
Besides all fasts having the common point of being “of the ways of teshuvah,” they are also equal in that “they are destined to be holidays and days of gladness.” Again, this is more strongly emphasized on Ta’anis Esther and Purim: the concept of Purim is that “it was turned about,” to the extent that “for the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor.” This applies even while still in exile and certainly when Mashiach comes, when all the fasts will be converted into “holidays and days of joy and gladness.” This is achieved through the service of Jews: increasing in the three areas of Torah, prayer and deeds of loving kindness; in tzedakah itself giving three “half-shekels;” and through which we merit the building of the third Bais HaMikdash.
3. The above is relevant to Ta’anis Esther every year. In addition, consonant with the Alter Rebbe’s dictum that we must “live with the times,” meaning to live according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah, there is a special lesson to be learned from the parshah of the week in which Ta’anis Esther falls — which this year is parshas Ki Sissa. It starts with the words “When you take the census of the children of Israel.” Literally, this verse reads “When you lift the head of the children of Israel,” teaching us that even the level of the “head” of the children of Israel must be elevated and raised to the highest level. Even when a Jew’s head is directed only to Jewish matters, and is a “Jewish head” — his service to G-d is proper — nevertheless, loftier service is required: “lift the head of the children of Israel,” a service that is beyond any and all limits.
This task of “lift the head” is not performed by a person’s own strength, but through Moshe Rabbeinu. The command “lift the head of the children of Israel” was said to Moshe, that he should elevate the level of the “head.” In man’s personal service to G-d, this refers to the level of Moshe which exists within each Jew, as explained in Tanya, that “every soul of the house of Israel contains within it from the level of Moshe Rabbeinu.”
When the service of a Jew is on such a level, beyond all limits (“lift the head”), meaning that a Jew’s inner sanctuary is perfect, the concept of the sanctuary is given an added elevation. We merit the building of the third Bais HaMikdash, which will be eternal, beyond all finite bounds.
4. Ta’anis Esther falls out on Monday of the week of parshas Ki Sissa, and this too provides a special lesson. The Torah portion for the second day states: “He gave to Moshe, when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of G-d.” Rashi comments that “the Torah was given over to him as a gift, like a bride to the groom, since he was not able to learn all of it in such a short time as this.” Likewise, the Talmud states: “At first Moshe was learning the Torah and forgetting it, until it was given to him as a gift, as it states: ‘He gave it to Moshe when He had finished speaking with him.’“ In other words, the giving of the Torah to Moshe, and Moshe’s retention of it (not forgetting it), was beyond all limits, in an eternal fashion — since G-d gave it to him.
The Torah was given in such a fashion to every Jew, as it states “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” G-d gave the Torah as a gift to all Jews equally, young and old, men and women, great and small alike. It is an eternal gift forever, given by G-d Himself — “written by the finger of G-d.” And although this verse speaks only of the tablets, our Sages have explained that “between each of the Ten Commandments, the particulars and letters of the Torah were written.” All the Torah was written on the tablets, and was given to Moshe and through him to all Jews.
The connection of all Jews to Torah as it is in writing (“written with the finger of G-d”), is emphasized when every Jew purchases a letter written in a Sefer Torah. Through a Jew purchasing a letter in a Sefer Torah, the concept of “He gave” is effected anew: The whole Torah is given to him as a gift, for through this Sefer Torah he has a share in all Sefer Torahs, including the first Sefer Torah written by Moshe Rabbeinu.
Since “deed is the essential thing,” every one should take upon himself good resolutions in all the matters discussed above, which in general is an increase in the three areas of Torah, prayer, and deeds of loving kindness. Likewise, to involve oneself in the Mitzvah Campaigns: Ahavas Yisrael (especially to influence others to purchase a letter in one of the Sefer Torahs being written on behalf of all Jews), education, Torah study, tefillin, mezuzah, tzedakah, house full of Jewish books. And the three campaigns of special association with Jewish women and girls: Shabbos lights, Kashrus, and family purity.
The greatness of Jewish women and girls is also emphasized in the daily portion of this week’s parshah. It relates that the Jewish women did not want to give their gold (jewelry etc.) for the building of the golden calf, knowing that the gold should be given for the building of the Mishkan. Likewise, the special distinction of women is emphasized on Purim: the Megillah read on Purim is not called Megillas Mordechai, or Megillas Mordechai and Esther, and not even Megillas Esther and Mordechai; it is only called Megillas Esther.
Now is also the appropriate time to remind and urge everyone of the Purim campaign. Everyone must throw himself into this campaign to ensure that all Jews fulfill the mitzvos of Purim — Mishloach Monos (sending food gifts to friends), Matanos L’evyonim (gifts to the poor — tzedakah), the recital of “Al Hanissim” — the special prayer on Purim, the reading of the Torah and Megillah, and the special Purim banquet.