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Wednesday, Adar2 13, 5779 / March 20, 2019,


Today (Wednesday), the thirteenth of Adar, is a fast day, called, "Taanit Esther" - "Fast of Esther."


There are various opinions as to the origin of this fast.  In the Megilah we read that before approaching the King on behalf of her people, Esther tells Mordechai to proclaim a three day fast for all Jews in the capital city, Shushan.  That fast took place during the holiday of Pesach (Passover) in the month of Nissan.  Being that we refrain from fasting during Nissan, we commemorate Esther's fast before Purim.


Another opinion is that the Megilah tells us that on the 13th of Adar the Jewish people battled their enemies.  Traditionally, when Jews had to fight a war they would fast and pray to G-d for His help.  Taanit Esther, recalls the fast and prayers of the Jewish people at the time of Mordechai and Esther.


Today (Wednesday), before the Mincha prayer, we observe the mitzvah of, "Machtzit HaShekel," giving the "half Shekel."  We give three half-dollar coins (or whichever coin is half of the local currency). The money is then distributed to charity.


Purim begins tonight (Wednesday night). The following mitzvot are performed on Purim:


1) Reading of Megilat Esther.  Purim night (Wednesday night) and again during the day (Thursday) we read the Megilat Esther - Scroll of Esther -  which presents the complete story of the miracle of Purim.  Men, women and children should hear the Megilah reading.  One must not miss even one word of the Megilah.


2) Reciting the Al HaNisim. A prayer in which we thank G-d for the great miracle of Purim.  We recite it during the Amidah prayers of Purim and in the Grace-after-meals.


3) Mishloach Manot - sending gifts.  On Purim day (Thursday), we send gifts of ready-to-eat foods to a friend. We send at least two kinds of food (which require two different blessings) to at least one person. 


Sending Mishloach Manot-gifts on Purim, is an expression of friendship and unity.  We thank G-d for the great miracle of Purim in which our lives were saved, by showing that we are united and care for each other. There is no greater pleasure to our Father-in-Heaven than to see His children united.


4) Matanot LaEvyonim - gifts to the poor and needy. On Purim (Thursday), we must give charity to at least two poor people.  It is customary that on Purim we distribute more charity than usual.


5) Seudat Purim - Purim meal.  During the day of Purim (Thursday) we eat a sumptuous and festive meal as befitting the celebration of this great miracle.