1. It is a Jewish custom to speak “words of admonishment” on a fast; and because a fast is an “auspicious time” — for both G-d above and man below — these “words of admonishment” can only do good. Thus, although the “words of admonishment” spoken may seem, externally, to be about undesirable matters (i.e. admonishing Jews for improper conduct), the fact that they are spoken at an “auspicious time” ensures that the element of undesirability remains but words, and in regard to deed, only the good is drawn down.
Indeed, the very fact that Torah instructs to speak “words of admonishment” is a sign that it comes from a very lofty source. Chassidus explains that blessings which are said using terminology which is the opposite of a blessing, really comes from a most lofty source, from concealed kindness. Because the source is so high, the only way to draw blessings from it is to use terminology that externally appears to be the opposite of a blessing. In our case, “words of admonishment” emphasize that it is of a high level; and since it is an “auspicious day,” this high level is drawn down for actual good.
The drawing down of the highest levels into “words of admonishment” is especially emphasized on the fast of Esther, which takes place in the month of Adar close to Purim. The theme of Purim is that “It was changed” (Megillah 9:1) — i.e. potential tragedy was transformed into joy; and indeed, the whole month of Adar shares this theme, as the Megillah says (9:22), “the month which was changed.” A prime example of such a transformation is that in “words of admonishment,” which externally talk of undesirable things, the loftiest good (“hidden kindness”) is drawn down.
Last year we discussed the theme of the fast of Esther, and also its special significance when it is observed earlier than usual [i.e. the fast of Esther is usually observed on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. But when Purim is Sunday, the 13th is Shabbos, when fasting is not permitted. The fast is therefore observed on Thursday, the 11th of Adar. Both this year and last year, Purim was on Sunday, and therefore the fast of Esther on the preceding Thursday.] Our words said then were reprinted yesterday, enabling everyone to learn them, and thus making it unnecessary to repeat everything we said last year. We therefore need only summarize these concepts, and concentrate mainly on the special aspects pertaining to the fast of Esther of this year (compared even to last year, although the fast of Esther falls on the same day both years).
The common theme of all fasts is that each is "a day desirable to G-d” — and therefore an “auspicious day” for man also. In actual deed, this translates into increasing one’s regular service to G-d, an increase in the three things upon which the world the world at large, and also man, the microcosm stands: Torah, prayer and deeds of loving kindness. In each of these three things, the fast of Esther has particular significance.
The increase in Torah on a fast is the special reading in the Torah, and the recital of the Haftorah. In the Haftorah it is written (Yeshayah 58:13): “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress (v’rosh); instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle (hadas).” The Talmud says that “v’rosh” refers to Mordechai and “hadas” refers to Esther.
The additional prayer on a fast is “Aneinu,” in which we say “It shall be that before they call, I will answer.” This has particular association with teshuvah, repentance, as the Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:7): “How great is the loftiness of teshuvah ... one cries out and is immediately answered, as it is said, ‘And it shall be that before they call, I will answer.”‘ True repentance is when one transforms his sins into merits — and changing, or transformation, we have previously noted, is the theme of Purim.
Further, in addition to Purim and the whole month of Adar, the concept of change is emphasized in the fast of Esther itself. This fast commemorates the fast Esther made to annul Haman’s decree, as written (Megillah 4:16), “Fast for me ... three days ... Also I and my maidens will likewise fast.” Esther’s fast took place prior to her entrance to King Achashverosh to find favor in his eyes to fulfill her request. The normal way to gain favor in the king’s eyes would be to enhance her beauty as much as possible. We find, for example, that when the king held a contest to select a queen, each girl was given perfumes for a whole year. Fasting — especially for three days is the most drastic change possible from such preparations. Yet Esther fasted, and was sure that it was the right way to win the king’s favor. Thus the theme of a fast day — change, when through teshuvah one’s sins are changed into merits — is emphasized on the fast of Esther.
One is obligated to give tzedakah every day before prayer. When there is an increase in prayer (as on a fast), there is therefore an increase in the giving of tzedakah. On the fast of Esther, there is a special increase in giving tzedakah, for it is customary then to give three half-coins before the minchah prayer.
In addition to this distinction of the fast of Esther compared to the other fasts, there is special distinction accruing to the fast of Esther when it is held earlier than usual (as this year and last year). Most years, the fast of Esther is on erev Purim (the 13th of Adar). When it is early (on the 11th), the preparations to Purim extend throughout three days — the 11th, 12th and 13th of Adar (similar to the preparations to Purim achieved through the three day fast of Esther and the Jews).
2. As we noted earlier, the above points were all made last year, and since they were printed, people can study them. There is another matter associated with the fast of Esther held earlier than usual, which was not discussed last year.
When the fast of Esther is held earlier than usual, it is always on the 11th of Adar. This emphasizes its connection to Purim, for, the Mishnah says, “the Megillah may be read [under the appropriate conditions] on the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth [of Adar].” Thus the first opportunity to read the Megillah is on the eleventh, when the early fast of Esther is held.
The Shaloh writes that the fact that the beginning of reading the Megillah is on the eleventh and the conclusion is on the fifteenth, alludes to G-d’s Name. G-d’s Name is comprised of four letters, Yud, Hay, Vov and Hay, which can be divided into two parts: Yud Hay and Vov Hay. In Hebrew numerology, Yud equals 10, Hay equals 5, and Vov equals 6. The Yud Hay of G-d’s Name thus equals fifteen (10 & 5)(100) and the Vov Hay of G-d’s Name equals eleven (6 & 5).(60).
Although the Yud Hay of G-d’s Name (15) precedes the Vov Hay (11), the order in the reading of the Megillah is that “The Megillah may be read on the eleventh ... and fifteenth” — i.e. 11 precedes 15. This is because in man’s service to G-d, one starts from the lighter aspects and proceeds to the more weighty ones.
Order of service is alluded to in the verse (Devorim 29:28), “The hidden things (Hanistoros) belong to the L-rd our G-d; and the revealed things (V’haniglos) belong to us and to our children.” Beginning of service is in the manner of “v’haniglos” — v’ha niglos, vov hay niglos; then follows the service of “Hanistoros belong to the L-rd our G-d” — the level of Yud Hay of G-d’s Name. It is explained in Tanya (p. 189) that in terms of man’s divine service, the letters Vov Hay refer to “Torah study and mitzvah observance with voice and speech or with deed.” The letters “Yud Hay” refer to “understanding and conceiving of His true being and His greatness ... each person according to his measure.”
In every Jew there exists the level of G-d’s Name (Likkutei Torah, parshas Re’ey, p. 35). The Yud is the level of Chochmah (wisdom), the Hay is Binah (understanding); and these two levels must be combined together — Yud Hay. The Vov is the middos (emotions) of the heart, and the latter Hay is thought, speech and deed. A person’s service is to draw down the level of Yud Hay in his soul into the level of Vov Hay: That is, the “nistoros” should be in a revealed manner (“niglos”).
On Purim, the Talmud instructs us to drink “until one does not know.” In spiritual terms, “Until one does not know” corresponds to a level loftier even than G-d’s Name. This level is extant on Purim, and therefore, we do not find G-d’s Name mentioned even once in the Megillah.
On Purim, this lofty level is also drawn down into G-d’s Name, Yud Hay Vov Hay; and that is why G-d’s Name is alluded to in the fact that “The Megillah is read on the eleventh ... and on the fifteenth.”
Through the above we merit the idea of “bringing one redemption close to another” — the redemption of Purim to the true and complete redemption.
3. The above applies to whenever the fast of Esther is observed earlier than usual. In addition, there are special aspects to this year, associated with the weekly parshah and the fact that it is a leap year.
A leap year reconciles the lunar and solar years. Although the Jewish calendar is primarily lunar, the solar calendar is still taken into account, so that the festivals will be in their proper seasons. Thus Jews count according to both the solar and lunar calendars. The nations of the world, in contrast, do not reckon with both. Those who have a solar calendar do not take the lunar year into account; those who have a lunar calendar do not count according to the solar year. The distinction of Jews, who use both a solar and lunar calendar, is expressed forcefully in a leap year, when the two are reconciled.
A leap year is connected to parshas Tzav, the parshah of the week in which the fast of Esther falls. “Tzav” in Hebrew numerology equals the sum of G-d’s Names, “Kel,” and “Ad-nai.” “Kel” corresponds to “sun” and “Adnai” to “moon.” The combination of the two in the one word “Tzav” is similar to the idea of a leap year which combines the lunar and solar years.
There is a further lesson to be derived from parshas Tzav. Rashi, on the word “Tzav,” writes (Vayikra 6:2) “‘Tzav’ denotes only ‘urgency’ — in the present and for (future) generations.” The Alter Rebbe taught that we must live with the times, meaning according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah. Thus, the above discussed concepts regarding the fast of Esther must be carried out with urgency and enthusiasm.
This has special significance for Purim. The Megillah stresses the idea of “urgency,” as written (6:10), “Hurry, take the robe and the horse.” Purim also contains the element of “for (future) generations” — eternality, as the Rambam rules (Hilchos Megillah 2:18): “All the books of the Prophets and the Writings are destined to be abolished in the days of Moshiach except for Megillas Esther ... The days of Purim will not be abolished, as it is written, ‘These days of Purim shall not pass from the Jews and their remembrance shall not perish from their descendants.”‘
The element of “in the present and for (future) generations” is also present in Purim, for the miracle of Purim came about through young children — and the idea of “in the present and for (future) generations” is most emphasized in the education of children.
The lesson from the fast of Esther falling in the week in which parshas Tzav is learned, then, is that the idea of urgency is vitally important in all the preparations to Purim.
4. In addition to the lesson derived from parshas Tzav in general, there is a lesson to be taken from today’s particular section of the parshah: the fifth.
At yesterday’s farbrengen, we spoke of the fourth section of parshas Tzav, which relates the beginning of the dedication of the Mishkan. After the Mishkan and its vessels were finished, they brought everything to Moshe so that he should set up the Mishkan and offer sacrifices.
The Mishkan was permanently set up on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the eighth day of dedication. During the previous seven days of preparation, Moshe also set up the Mishkan (and dismantled it each day); he offered sacrifices during these seven day; and anointed Aharon, the Mishkan and its vessels. The anointing gave the Mishkan its element of eternality.
The eternality effected by the anointing was in addition to the eternality that was vested in the Mishkan due to it being one of the works of Moshe; and this came into being as soon as Moshe set up the Mishkan on the first day of dedication (even though he dismantled it on that same day).
However, all these things related in the fourth section of parshas Tzav were done by Moshe, in his capacity as G-d’s emissary. In other words, their inspiration came from above, not from below, from the Jews. And, says the Talmud, “A person prefers one kav of his own to nine kavs of another.” Thus, what was missing in the dedication was some action, some inspiration, on the part of the Jews.
That action is related in the fifth section of parshas Tzav, which states (8:14): “Aharon and his sons pressed their hands upon the head of the bullock of the sin-offering.” It was the first action performed by Aharon and his sons, in their capacity as the emissaries of all Israel. Further, the action of pressing their hands with all their might is the idea of offering one’s entire self to G-d — for that is the idea of a sacrifice, to bring near one’s powers and abilities to G-d. Thus today’s section relates the inspiration and service which comes from below — “one kav of his own.”
This too is associated with Purim. The Megillah states (3:13) that Haman wished to destroy all the Jews “young and old, children and women, in one day.” Chassidus explains that this verse may be interpreted in a positive fashion — that all Jews, “young and old, children and women,” were openly and equally one. That is, the interpretation of “in one day” is that “day” corresponds to light and illumination, and therefore “in one day” means the Jews were openly one. And this unity permeated all Jews equally, for the Jews then were all in the same position.
For Jews to be so united, they themselves had to feel it and work at it. And this is the connection with today’s section of parshas Tzav, which talks of Aharon’s actions as the emissary of all Jews.
May it be G-d’s will that these matters be translated into deed, and from the redemption of Purim may we proceed to the true and final redemption.
“Deed is paramount,” and therefore it behooves us to conclude with deed. First and foremost, there should be an increase in the three things upon which the world stands, in addition to the increase that has already been effected in prayer, Torah and tzedakah.
Through increasing in these things, especially tzedakah, we hasten the redemption, as our Sages say: “Great is tzedakah for it brings near the redemption.”