On college campuses this week, we’re all gearing up for two very important holidays: St Patrick’s Day — with lots of green beer — and Purim — with lots of wine and other substances. Sadly, however, there is the little known Fast of Esther that coincides with St. Patty’s Day this year, which leads to the inevitable decision some of us must make on Thursday: do we drink or do we fast?
The Megillah certainly has its own answer: They have assumed for themselves and their descendants the obligation of fasts with their lamentations. Just as with so many other things in our tradition, we are bound by the words, deeds, and precedents of our forefathers and foremothers. But if we are really going to fast there must be a modern significance for us.
First, however, we must understand the ancient meaning. Esther instructs Mordecai: Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” We were instructed to fast in order to help Esther be received warmly by the king and successfully save the Jewish people from destruction.
Today, I don’t think we are far from this same scenario. We live in a world where many Arab and Islamic terrorist organizations and nations, led by Iran at the forefront, preach for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere. We live in a world where Neo-Nazism is not hard to find in the former Soviet Union and South America. We live in a world where just last week a Jewish couple and their children were stabbed to death to applause from Hamas and other Palestinians.
And while all those things are going on around the world, they can often seem very distant to us on our comfortable college campuses. Just like the Jews in King Ahasuerus’ kingdom were on the sidelines as Esther and Mordecai fought for their people’s right to exist, we may feel as if we are doing the same. But this Thursday we can do our small part to help, just as the Jews of Shushan did. We can fast to recognize the threats facing Jews today. We can fast to remember the threats of the past. We can fast to show our solemn support for those Jews who are in situations not conducive to being a Jew. And we can fast to lend our strength to the modern day Esthers who put their lives on the line for the freedom to be a Jew. It is a small act, but small acts by many can be the most powerful.
And remember, we can always start drinking when the sun goes down!