Fasting for the courage of those in power.

This piece was written for the Shalom Center’s Purim to Pesach blog feature “a daily comment on the meaning of Pesach” by a different author each day. 

The book of Esther is famously one of only two books in the Jewish Bible within which God’s name is not mentioned.  God’s absence is felt from the beginning of the book as we are introduced to King Ahasuerus, who rules over the vast territory from India to Ethiopia, and whose leadership style includes holding a banquet for his nobles and governors for more than one hundred and eighty days, in order to display the vast riches of the empire and to elevate his own glory.  Royal wine flows into golden beakers with abandon.

This image makes me think of our globalized world today, as we consume fossil fuels with abandon. The “royalty” of our times aggregate the world’s wealth.  It can feel like God is absent.  We know that humanity and other life on earth is in peril due to the fossil-fuel induced warming of our planet, and yet many of us continue with “business as usual.”

How do we respond to this crisis?   Where do we find God?  I find God in the places where we allow ourselves to feel the pain of what is unfolding, where people of many faiths gather to pray and strategize together, and where we speak out, even when it demands great courage.

Queen Esther has become my inspiration for spiritual activism around climate disruption.  She finds herself in a position, as wife to the King, where she has access to power, yet she is frightened to speak up when the Jews are in peril, lest she lose her life.  Mordechai encourages her to take the risk, saying, “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace.” (Esther 4:13).  The parallel message to all of us is, “do not imagine that you, of all humanity, will escape with your life, even though you do not live in one of the more vulnerable places right now.”  Esther decides to approach the King.  Before she does so, she asks that the Jews of Shushan fast on her behalf for three days and nights.  She and her maidens observe this same fast.

I invite you to join me this year in observing Ta’anit Esther, the traditional fast of Esther, on Purim eve.  This year, the fast (no eating or drinking) is from dawn to dusk on Wednesday, March 4. This fast is a time to pray for Divine Mercy and for the courage to act and speak out on behalf of our common future.   It is time to embrace the spirit of Queen Esther.  We have no other choice.

photo credit: Rev. Jesse Brown ImagesByJesseBrown

photo credit: Rev. Jesse Brown ImagesByJesseBrown

Author bio:  Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein is a spiritual director, chant leader, and writer living in Philadelphia.  She is an active member of the Philadelphia chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL).