My question is a bit long-winded so I'll summarize first:

TL;DR How did Mordechai rouse the will of all the Jews of Shushan to agree to fast for three days? And further, why did Esther limit her request that only the Jews of Shushan fast?

I look forward to the interesting answers. Thanks and happy Purim!

Part 1

It says in the Megilla, 4:15-16:

"Esther instructed a reply to Mordechai: "Go and assemble all the Jews found in Shushan and fast for me. Don't eat nor drink for three days, night and day..."

We can reasonably understand that not all the Jews were necessarily observant. (We know that the reason we were in the predicament that we were in was due to our overall behavior including some specific incidents such as attending Achashverosh's party.)

So, the notion that all of the Jews (even just those Jews living in Shushan) would decide to all agree to listen to Mordechai is hard to imagine. Maybe 50% or maybe even 80%, but not all the Jews in Shushan.

The simple answer might be that it was a miracle whereby everybody just wanted to do the right thing and agreed to listen to Mordechai and not eat for 3 days straight. Essentially suggesting that we lost our own willpower. If that's the case however, then how would the fast actually bring about the redemption like it seemed to do in the story of Purim? It wouldn't be on our own merit if Hashem suspended our free will.

Therefore, it seems that it must have been due to the people's own will to collectively take on this fast. The question is how could every Jew in the city of Shushan agree to do this? Not one Jew disagreed with Mordechai?!

I think this is very important because it seems the they key to forging Jewish unity is found in whatever approach Mordechai must have used to instantly rouse the Jewish people to fast. The Megilla doesn't really tell us what Mordechai did to rouse the collective will of all the Jews. It just says that "Mordechai went and did everything that Esther had instructed him".

Keep in mind, Mordechai only heard about the decree the night before (or the previous day) and Esther didn't even yet know about the decree until he told her through a messenger, so the people of Shushan may not have even realized the immediate threat (unless the news spread quickly, but even if it did it wouldn't necessarily be deemed "credible" by everybody).

Part 2

The second part of the question is why did Esther only requested that the Jews of Shushan fast? Sure, it was practical since it must have been hard to spread information over long distances in those days. However, the fast itself (for three whole days and nights) was impractical and yet the dire circumstances called for it. So, why limit it only to the Jews of Shushan?

That is my question. I have already read something which I think might be an answer, but I'm curious what everybody here has to say. Thanks for reading my long-winded question and happy Purim!

  • I'm going to guess here - fear.
    – Seth J
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:57
  • I want to point out a few "anachronisms" in your assumptions and questions. 1. We don't know that the fast was all day and all night. The fast could have been just during the day, and most likely was the case. Such fasts are common. 2. Many "Mesorti" Jews, might watch TV on shabbat, or drive to the beach, but they are also very careful about Taharat HaMishpacha, or Putting on Tefilin every morning. Just because they went to the feast, doesn't mean they wouldn't fast for the nation.
    – avi
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:57
  • 1
    @avi: "לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶת-כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן, וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל-תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל-תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם" . The verse (Esther 4:16) does say fast night and day. - mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt3304.htm#16
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:11
  • 1
    @Chaim my main point is, that fasting was a completely different thing back in those days than it is today. Most of mesechet Taanit doesn't make sense to us today. Everybody fasted and fasted often for various reasons. Persian and Roman soldiers would fast before battle, for example. Your question is clearly being asked from the point of view of people today, and how people today act and speak.
    – avi
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:29
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    @Menachem, while indeed that's the obvious meaning, Yalkut Shimoni (to 5:1) indeed says that they'd break their fast towards evening (מבעוד יום).
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


About the second part of the question: Yalkut Shimoni (to Esther 4:16) says that he limited the fast to those "found in Shushan" because they were the ones who had eaten at Achashverosh's feast. The Jews in the rest of the empire weren't guilty of that.

[That they too were in danger is attributed by R. Shimon bar Yochai (Megillah 12a) to their having bowed to Nevuchadnetzar's statue. Presumably, then, since that wasn't a sin that had anything to do with eating, the corresponding penitential act (teshuvas hamishkal) needn't have involved fasting.]


The simple answer is two-fold:

  1. The Jews already knew that the decree had occurred, and they were quite upset about ("v'hair shushan navocha"). You can imagine they were paying attention to the local news.

  2. Mordechai was the head of the Sanhedrin, in addition to being a figure in the king's court, both very visible positions. Given (1), people were probably waiting for him to make a statement about the situation.

There may be a more complex answer, but that just follows from the simple reading of the megilla.

  • Re the fact that Mord'chay's being on the Sanhedrin "follows from the simple reading of the megilla", see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/14206. That said, this does seem a good answer as to how he got the whole city to fast. +1.
    – msh210
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:20
  • Interesting point. I had taken it as gospel that he was Rosh Sanhedrin, but the post is correct that it's not stated that he had any stature at all until the very end of the story. Thanks for bringing that up.
    – eykanal
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:24
  • Thank you for pointed that out. Chapter 3, verse 14 points out that the Jews of Shushan did know about this decree. I think I was confused by the next verse which says "Mordechai knew everything that had happened" where Rashi suggests that he was told in a dream. I think that means that Mordechai just knew more inside aspects of the decree, but it does seem that everybody was already aware of the decree itself from the previous verse.
    – chaimp
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:09
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    @Chaim: That rashi also confused me. Rashi is saying that Mordechai was made aware that the reason for the decree. here's the Rashi translated "And Mordecai knew all that had transpired: The Master of Dreams told him that the celestial beings had concurred about it, because they had prostrated themselves to an image in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and because they had enjoyed Ahasuerus’s feast." --The heavens agreed with the earthly decree, since the Jews sinned. Therefore Mordechai's response was to arouse the Jews to Teshuva: chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16477/showrashi/true
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:27

Since the fast started right away, Mordechai didn't have time to send messengers to the other provinces to tell them to fast. The Jews in Shushan were right there.

  • That sounds practical, but also arbitrary. All the Jews were in danger, so why should just the Jews in Shushan fast? If he needed more time to get the message out then why not wait a couple days so that everybody could fast together?
    – chaimp
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:04
  • To explain: I understand if just Shushan was in danger, then just Shushan should fast, but technically everybody was in danger so why not include everybody in the fast? Why not at least try to spread the message? Esther was explicit that only the Jews in Shushan should fast.
    – chaimp
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:05
  • And to say that "Mordechai didn't have time...". Technically, Mordechai didn't have time for a three-day fast either. He went to tell Esther to approach the king (chapter 4, verse 8). It seems that it was Esther who proposed that they should first do this three-day-long fast. She was already suggesting something that's not obvious and which was based on faith of our redemption. If that's the case, why not make it 10 days? Why not get everybody involved? Why settle for just the Jews of Shushan?
    – chaimp
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:11
  • Mordechai wanted her to go directly to the king. She said it's suicide, I'll go if everyone fasts for 3 days first, starting right away.
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:13
  • Why is that any less suicidal? The only reason is because it would avert the divine decree. So, as long as we're doing something to avert the divine decree, why were only the Jews of Shushan necessary?
    – chaimp
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 21:26

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