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Introduction to Masechet Megillah

For a Refua Shelaima for Chava Naami bat Daba Chana, Evie Haar, בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

The primary focus of this masechta is the laws of Purim.  It also deals with some general laws relating to the bet haknesset and Torah reading.

Purim is different from other scripturally-mandated chagim, because it is not mentioned in the Torah, as are Pesach, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, but rather is ordained in Megillat Esther, commemorating events that occurred centuries after the Torah was given.  As such, and because part of the commemoration relates to the biblical mitzva of remembering and defeating Amalek, Purim has a unique status, somewhere between Torah law and Rabbinic law.

A little background:

The events of the Purim take place during the period between the destruction of the first Temple and the completion of the second, and in a foreign land – the Persian empire.  The existential threat to the Jewish people is a result of their exile under the rule of a tyrannical absolute monarch, who rules over almost the entire known world.  Even when the nation experiences salvation, nothing really changes except that they escaped with their lives.  Everything else proceeds as before.  There are no “lightning bolt” miracles.  Events appear random, progressing naturally, with no overt Divine intervention.  This is described as a period of hester panim, when God’s face is (as it were) “hidden” from all. God’s name is not explicitly mentioned in the Megilla at all[1]! Therefore, one of the goals of celebrating Purim is to publicize the miracle. The timing of Purim also is impacted by this exile narrative. Most places experienced relief on the 14th of Adar and celebrate/commemorate then; the city of Shushan fought for an additional day and therefore celebrates on the 15th of Adar. To emphasize the importance of Eretz Yisrael, the rabbis ordained that the special Shushan Purim be celebrated in any city that was walled in the time of Joshua. This links the galut holiday of Purim with the Land of Israel.

The main means of publicizing the Purim miracle is through the reading of the Megilla.  This masecheta deals with many details of this reading:

  • mandating two readings, one at night and one in the morning
  • establishing additional days when the Megilla can be read
  • how the Megilla is read (in public or by an individual person)
  • the languages in which the Megilla may be read
  • who is obligated to hear the Megilla
  • who may read the Megilla for someone else

Additionally, the masechta deals with the other mitzvot of Purim, which were enacted to enhance the joy of the day, based on Esther 9:22-23:

כַּיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר־נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים

the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.

 

Let’s break that down:

 

מִשְׁתֶּה The Purim feast (seuda)
וְשִׂמְחָה Prohibition of eulogies and fasting
וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ Sending gifts of food
וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים Charity

 

Having dealt with the public reading of the Megilla, the Gemara turns its attention to the public reading of the Torah, as well as the sanctity of the synagogue and the holy items in it. The discussion of the Torah reading (which is not a biblical mitzva) concerns:

  • when (Shabbat, holidays, Rosh Chodesh, public fast days and every Monday and Thursday)
  • How many pesukim are read
  • How many people are called to the Torah
  • How the pesukim are divided among the honorees
  • The haftara[2]

The discussion the synagogue’s status is based on the concept that it is a micro-Bet HaMikdash. Therefore, it is to be treated respectfully even when no longer functional.[3]

 

Structure of the Masechta:

Chapter 1:

מְגִילָּה נִקְרֵאת

2a-17a The days one may read the Megilla

Aggadic explanation of the Megilla[4]

A series of laws introduced by the formula אין בין  (There is no difference between..)

Chapter 2:

הַקּוֹרֵא לְמַפְרֵעַ

17a-21a How to read the Megilla

How the scroll itself is written

The order of the berachot of the amida

Who may read for the public

When (time of day) the Megilla is read

Mitzvot which are fulfilled during a specific time of day

Chapter 3:

הַקּוֹרֵא עוֹמֵד

21a- 25b Laws of Megilla reading

Laws of public Torah reading

Laws of public tefilla

The haftara

The Aramaic translation

Eligibility for birkat Kohanim

Chapter 4:

בְּנֵי הָעִיר

25b – 32a The sanctity of the synagogue

The sanctity of the Torah scroll

The special Torah readings

 

[1] Although there are allusions, such as when the word hamelech (the King) appears without Achashverosh’s name, or the initial letters of יבוא המלך והמן היום (Esther 5:4)

[2] An additional reading from Navi which is read after the Torah reading on certain days

[3] Although there are mechanisms for transferring that sanctity

[4][4] Pages 10b -17a!

 

Gitta Jaroslawicz-Neufeld

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