The Talmud now begins a long calculation of Jacob’s life to show that he was not punished for the years he spent in the Bet Midrash of Ever. To do so, it goes all the way back to Ishmael. The years of Ishmael’s life were needed to calculate Jacob’s life. Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac, as can be seen by Abraham’s age at their births.
Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau when Isaac was sixty years old. Ishmael was thus 74. He had 63 more years to live. And during the last year of Ishmael’s life, Jacob stole the blessing from Esau. Jacob was 63 at the time.
According to this midrash, when Jacob received the blessing, Esau went and married Ishmael’s daughter. From the repetitiveness of the verse, the rabbis learn that Esau betrothed Mahalat while her father was still alive, but he married her only once Ishmael had already died.
In total we see that the mention of the age of Ishmael helps in reckoning how old Jacob was when he received Isaac’s blessing. Tomorrow’s section continues the calculation.
In yesterday’s section we learned that Jacob was sixty-three when he received the blessing from Isaac. Shortly thereafter he fled to Lavan. The calculations pick up at this point.
How could Jacob have told Pharaoh that he was 130 years old when according to the calculations, he was only 116?
The Talmud adds in fourteen years between Jacob’s leaving Canaan and his arrival at the well in Aram Naharaim where he met Rachel. These fourteen years were spent studying in the Bet Midrash (the House) of Ever. The baraita also notes that Ever died two years after Jacob had left his Bet Midrash.
The point of all of these calculations was to demonstrate that Jacob was not punished for not having honored his parents during the years he was studying in the House of Ever. This is learned from a deduction—Jacob was punished for the twenty-two years in which he was absent from his father, while working for Lavan. The punishment was “measure for measure.” Just as he was absent from his father for 22 years, so too did he lose his son for 22 years. But he was not punished for the fourteen years he spent in Aram Naharaim.
Jacob only spent twenty years in Aram Naharaim, seven working for each wife, and six extra earning some flocks of sheep and goats. So why was he punished for twenty-two years?
The answer is that he spent two years going there, one and a half years in Sukkot and another half a year in Bethel.
That’s it folks—this extraordinary chapter is over. There were some long pages in this chapter including long discussions of when the Megillah is read, some strange mishnahs that went way off topic and finally, about 7 long pages of midrashim on the book of Esther. I hope you found these pages as interesting as I did, and I hope that you come back to them when celebrating the holiday of Purim!
Today we begin a new chapter! Most of this chapter has to deal with the laws of reading the Megillah.
Section one: The Megillah must be read in order. One cannot skip around and then go back.
Section two: The Megillah must be read from a scroll. Despite its brevity, it, like other Torah readings, may not be read by memory.
It also may not be read using a translation or in any other language, even if it is written in that language. This section refers to a person who understands Hebrew. Such a person who hears in another language has not fulfilled his obligation.
Section three: In contrast, somebody who doesn’t understand Hebrew may fulfill his obligation by hearing the Megillah in a language other than Hebrew. Nevertheless, if a person hears it in Hebrew he has fulfilled his obligation even if he doesn’t understand it. In this aspect Hebrew is greater than the other languages—other languages need to be understood while Hebrew does not.
Hebrew is referred to as “Assyrian” because it is written using the Assyrian alphabet.
Section four: Above we learned that one must read the Megillah in its proper order. Here the mishnah teaches that it need not be read without breaks. One may read some of the Megillah, stop for a while, and then continue on and thereby fulfill one’s obligation. Similarly, one may read, take a nap and then continue where one has left off [no, this is not permission to sleep in shul].
Section five: When one reads the Megillah, or hears it being read, he must have in mind that he is fulfilling the religious obligation to hear the Megillah on Purim. The mishnah describes other activities in which a person might be engaged that count as reading the Megillah only if he has the proper intent. A person who was copying a scroll, explaining it or correcting it and did not remember that it was Purim has not fulfilled his obligation. While doing any of these activities he must have the intention of fulfilling his obligation. Assumedly, he must also read it out loud.
Section six: One cannot write a Megillah with these types of dyes or on these types of paper because it is not permanent. In order for the Megillah to be valid for a religious occasion, it must be written in Hebrew, on parchment (made from animal skins) and with permanent ink.
The Talmud begins its commentary on the mishnah by searching for a source for the rule that the Megillah must be read in order.
The first answer is from the words “according to their writing and according to their appointed time.” Just as the time must be kept in order (it would be impossible to do otherwise) so too the writing must be done in order.
The same rule that applies to reading the Megillah applies to the recitation of the Hallel, the reading of Shema and the Amidah. There are four prooftexts for this.
Rabbah says that just as the sun cannot reverse its course, so too Hallel cannot be read out of order.
Joseph says that just as the order of the hours of the day cannot be reversed, so too with Hallel.
Avia’s midrash is on the word ויהי—”Let.” This implies that the Hallel must be recited as it is written—in the proper order.
Nahman b. Yitzchak says that just as the days of the world cannot have their order reversed, so too the Hallel must be recited in order.
Today’s section shows that the Shema must be read in order. But first, the Talmud discusses whether the Shema can be recited in any language but Hebrew.
From the word “shall be” Rabbi derives that the Shema must be recited as it is written—in Hebrew. In contrast, the Sages use the word “Hear” or “Listen” as the basis for their rule that the Shema may be recited in any language that a person understands.