There is an obvious contradiction in the two baraitot between the two versions of the opinion of R. Ishmael. The first resolution is to simply say that they do indeed contradict and that different “tannaim” had a different impression about what R. Ishmael said. Note that in this source “tannaim” means “reciters.” These are the professional memorizers who recorded and transmitted the talmudic tradition.
The second resolution is to ascribe the second baraita to a different sage—R. Elazar son of R. Yose. This sage holds that the original sanctity given to the land is forever. Thus even if the city no longer has a wall, it is forever treated as a walled city.
According to this tradition, every time the Torah says the word “vayehi” it is a portent of trouble. The Talmud will now go through case by case, first listing the times when the paradigm works, and then dealing with the times the paradigm does not work.
These cases do not require any real explanation. They can easily be understood by looking at the appropriate biblical verses.
The Talmud now begins with a series of cases that seem exceptional. The word “vayehi” is used in the story about the day that the Tabernacle was first set up in the wilderness. There is a tradition based on the very word “vayehi” that says that that day was as joyous as the creation of heaven and earth. So how can we say that “vayehi” is a portent of bad things to come?
The answer is that on the same day that the Tabernacle was established, Nadav and Avihu died.
The Talmud now cites many other verses that use the word “vayehi” but do not have any portents of evil!
Ashi resolves the difficulty by distinguishing between appearances of the word “vayehi” alone and as part of the phrase “Vayehi in the days of.” The former has no determined significance but the latter is always a portent of bad things to come. There are only five such cases in the entire Bible and indeed in each case evil things are to come.
Today’s section deals with other statements made by R. Levi that open with the words “The following is a tradition that we have from our ancestors.”
Amoz was the prophet Isaiah’s father and Amatzyah was king of Judea from 798-769. R. Levi relates a tradition not found in the Tanakh itself that they were brothers.
The Talmud asks why we should care that Amoz and Amaziah were brothers. The answer comes from a midrash about Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah who seemingly dressed as a harlot to entice him into sleeping with her. The midrash is bothered by the verse—just because she covered her face, Judah should think that she is a harlot? Therefore the verse is reinterpreted. Judah thought that she was a harlot for some other reason (perhaps based on where she was waiting for him). The verse tells us that she covered her face to let us know that she was so modest that she covered her face even in the house of her father-in-law, Judah. In other words, she was so modest that Judah had never seen her face! That’s why he didn’t recognize her.
As a reward for her modesty she became the mother not only to kings, but also to prophets. The book of Ruth itself says that David came from the union of Judah and Tamar. Here we learn that the prophet Isaiah was also from the Davidic line.
The final statement of R. Levi is that the Ark of the Covenant miraculously took up no room in the Holy of Holies. This is explained in the following baraita. The inside of the Holy of Holies, where the ark stood, was 20 cubits by 20 cubits. On top of the ark were two cherubs, the wing of one was 10 cubits and the wing of the other was also 10 cubits. Thus there was no space for the ark.
We should note that many commentators raise serious problems with this baraita. Specifically, the wings of the cherubs were above the ark, not to the sides of it. Therefore, there is no proof from these verses that the ark took up no room.
The Talmud now cites a series of “openings” to derashot that rabbis would deliver before they would offer their main derashot (sermons which expound upon verses) on the book or topic at hand. These “openings” relate in some way to Megillat Esther.
Yonatan starts from Isaiah 54:22, a prophecy against Babylon. He reads the downfall of Vashti into the verse, who according to the rabbis was Nebuchadnezzar’s granddaughter.
Shmuel b. Nahmani begins his derashah with a different verse from Isaiah. The thorn is Haman, who is a thorn because he demanded to be worshipped. [The connection with the verse quoted is not clear]. Mordecai is the cypress, a fragrant tree. This is because the spice “myrrh” is translated into Aramaic as “mare deki” which sounds like Mordecai.
The brier is Vashti, a bush used in burning. Vashti is the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar and is therefore associated with the burning of the Temple. There is a pun here that is lost in the English based on the word “brier (סרפד)” and “its top (רפידתו).”br>Esther is the willow due to the other name she is given in the Megillah itself, Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for willow, hadas.
Finally, the end of the verse is interpreted in the context of the reading of the Megillah and the celebration of Purim. There is also a connection here between this verse and Esther 9:28 which says that these days of Purim will never pass.
Today’s section continues with more “opening derashot” on the book of Esther.
Joshua b. Levi’s derashah is based on Deuteronomy 28:63. We should note that the connection made between this verse and the Megillah is not completely clear.
The verse seems to say that God takes joy in causing the children to suffer or perish. But we have many other traditions that God does not even rejoice when the enemies of Israel suffer—so how could it possibly be that God takes joy when the children of Israeli themselves suffer.
Elazar answers that God Himself does not rejoice—but He does cause others to rejoice. This is indicated by the verb to rejoice, “yasis”, which can be read as causative, instead of “yasus”, which would imply that God rejoices.
According to Rashi the rejoicing here alludes to Esther 3:9 or 5:9 where Haman rejoices either after the Jews were sentenced to death or after he was invited to Esther’s feast.
Abba b. Kahana interprets Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 2:26 in light of the main characters in the Megillah. God gives the property that Haman gathered and heaped up to Esther to give to Mordecai’s house.
As we learned above, Vashti descended from a king.