TAANIT ESTHER: Why do we fast today?

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When Queen Esther was informed of Haman’s decree to eliminate the Jewish people, she decided to approach King Ahashverosh and persuade him to reverse the Royal edict. But the execution of this  plan was not so simple. According to rabbi Moshe Almosnino (Yede Moshe) Esther did not know if Ahashverosh and Haman were on the same page, and both were happy about carrying out this genocide, or if Ahashverosh was tricked by Haman, and he had really no idea about the nature of that terrible edict. She planned to invite the King, together with Haman, to a private meal (5:4) for intelligence gathering.  If she would find out that Ahashverosh was in complicity with Haman, she would try to dissuade Haman. If she would find out, however, that Ahashverosh was tricked by Haman, as it happened at the end, then she would expose Haman in front of Ahashverosh, hoping to gain the King’s favor (7:4).
As risky as this mission looks, there was one more dangerous step Esther had to take before embarking on this mission. Esther had “to talk” to the King, to invite him to the private dinner. We would probably think that talking to the King was the easiest part, especially for Queen Esther, who lived in the palace. But Esther knew that in the Kingdom of Ahashverosh things were different. By law, it was the King’s exclusive prerogative to summon one of his subjects, and Esther was not called by the King already for a month (4:11). No one, even the Queen, had the right to ask for an audience with the King.   The only way to get access to the King without being called was to trespass into the “King’s high security area” (החצר הפנימית), uninvited and at your own risk. Let me explain. The Persian Kings had guards to the sides of the throne, armed with long axes, and ready to execute on the spot any trespasser. Persian Emperors were obsessed with their personal security, and rightly so.  Ahashverosh himself was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards, Artabanus, in 465 BCE. Persian law established that anyone entering Ahashverosh’s restricted security zone should be immediately executed (4:11), unless the King himself would stop the executioners and decides to pardon the trespasser, extending his scepter as a sign of Royal forgiveness.  Esther feared for her life but she had no choice. There was nothing anyone else was able to do to gain access to the King and do something to stop Haman’s decree. Esther then decided to risk her life (4:16) and embark in her suicidal mission.
But before she approached the King she requested to gather all the Jews and asked them to fast with her and for her (צומו עלי 4:16). Fasting, together with prayer, is what our Tora and our Rabbis instructed us to do in challenging circumstances. At the request of Esther, every Jew fasted for three consecutive days and prayed for Esther’s success.
As we all know, with the help of HaShem, Esther’s “Mission Impossible” succeeded. But we still remember those days of fast, when the Jews prayed to HaShem and begged for His miraculous intervention.  In remembrance of that fast (זכר לתענית שנתענו בימי המן) we observe today Ta’anit Esther.
 
Who is exempted from fasting today? 
Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are exempted from fasting.
Nursing women and pregnant women, are exempted from fasting today.
A person who feels sick-for example, flu or fever- or one who has a chronic disease-for example diabetes- should not fast.
Elders should consult with their physicians, if the fast might affect their health. If it will, they are exempted from fasting.