This week’s daf goes back to explain the mishnah from 17a. The last clause of the mishnah said: If it was written with arsenic, with red chalk, with gum or with sulfate of copper, or on paper or on scratch paper, he has not fulfilled his obligation, unless it is written in Assyrian on parchment and in ink.
The Talmud defines the terms used in the Mishnah. None of these are valid as the ink or the surface.
The Talmud provides a midrash explaining how we know that the Megillah must be written in Hebrew letters, which is elsewhere called “Assyrian” script. These are the script used to write Hebrew to this day.
The Megillah must be written in ink on parchment. This is derived from Jeremiah 36:18 which uses the word “writing” in connection with a book (parchment) written in ink. Since “writing” is also used in the Megillah, we can derive the law that it too must be written on parchment with ink.
The mishnah which opens today’s section first discusses a person who travels from a walled city which reads the Megillah on the 15th of Adar to a town which reads it on the 14th or vice versa.
The mishnah states simply that if a person travels from one type of town to another he retains the custom of the town of his origin if his intention is not to move to his new town. If his intention is not to return to his previous town, then he reads with the new place.
This is the second section of the mishnah. Today we read the entire book of Esther, but whether this is necessary is debated by the sages. Rabbi Meir says that one has to read the whole thing. Rabbi Judah says that he only has to read from 2:5, where Mordecai is first mentioned. Rabbi Yose says he only has to read from 3:1, where the actual plot by Haman (make a lot of noise when you say this) begins.
We have proved this for a villager. How do we know that it applies also to inhabitants of walled towns? It is reasonable: If a villager of one day is called a villager, a walled-city-dweller of one day is called a walled-city-dweller.
According to Rava, a person from a walled city (reads on 15th) who goes to a village (14th) and spends the night there, reads with the people of the village. This is derived from a superfluity in the verse. Villages are by definition unwalled. So why would the Megillah need to say “Jews of the villages who dwell in the unwalled towns”? This teaches that if one spends the night in the village, he is called a villager and reads on the 14th.
Logically, the same holds true for one who spends the day in the walled-city. Although he is a village dweller generally, he reads with the walled city.
Earlier in the tractate we learned that villagers can move up the day of reading to the market days so that they could come to the city to provide food and drink to their brothers. Rava says that if a villager goes to a town that reads on the normal day, he reads with them, even if he doesn’t even spend the night. This is true even if he already read the Megillah with his village on the earlier date. Allowing villagers to read earlier is only a leniency instituted by the rabbis. The leniency applies only when he is with the villagers. If he is with the people of the town, he must read with them, even if he ends up reading twice.
Abaye raises a difficulty on Rava from a baraita. The baraita seems to say that if a resident of a walled city who would normally read on the 15th goes to an unwalled town, he reads according to the custom of his own place, on the 15th. But above, Rava said that it depends on whether he intends to return. If he does not intend to return, then he reads on the 14th.
This causes Abaye to change the language of the baraita to read, “A villager who went to a town.” The baraita now reads that a villager who goes to a town reads like the people of his village, and not as Rava said, like the people of the town.
Rava responds by saying that if Abaye is going to emend a baraita, he too can emend it. According to Rava the baraita says that a villager who goes to a town reads with the rest, which accords precisely with what he had said above.
Today’s section deals with the second section of the Mishnah where there was a dispute as to where one must begin the Megillah reading.
There were three opinions in the Mishnah as to where we start reading the Megillah: 1) From the very beginning. 2) 2:5, “There was a Jew… 3) 3:1, “It happened after these events…” Here we read of a fourth opinion, that we start even later in the book, from 6:1 (Ahashverosh’s dream).
Yohanan says that all four opinions can be derived from a dispute over what “acts of power” Esther and Mordecai wrote of in 9:29. Chapter one begins with the acts of Ahashverosh. In 2:5 we begin to learn about Mordecai. In 3:1 Haman enters the picture. And the miracle only begins to unfold in 6:1. So we see that the dispute over where to begin reading is a dispute over whose story we are telling: Ahashverosh, Mordecai, Haman or God.
Huna says that they all derived their opinions from a different verse, this time 9:29. The one who says all of it must be read interprets that verse in connection with Ahashverosh. Ahashverosh saw that the time had come for the Jews to be redeemed from exile and they had not yet been redeemed. This led him to throw a sumptuous feast, and ultimately led him to kill Vashti. Were it not for that act, Esther would not have been queen and the Jews would not have been saved from Haman.
The one who says that the reading begins with the first mention of Mordecai sees the incident where Mordecai provoked Haman by not bowing down to him as the catalyst for all the future events, including the miracle that the Jews were saved.
According to this opinion, the events really begin with Haman deciding to kill all of the Jews.
Finally, the one who says we begin to read from “On that night” says that the verse refers to Ahashverosh’s ordering of the book of Chronicles to be read. It was from this point that the miracle that saved the Jews began to unfold.
This section opens with a halakhic ruling related to the dispute over where one begins to read the Megillah.
The halakhah is that we read the entire Megillah from beginning to end. It’s really not that long. Furthermore, even the position that holds that it is okay to start from later in the Megillah, the scroll from which he reads must contain the entire book.
The pages of a book are stitched together with sinews from animals. The pages of a letter are stitched with flax, a cheaper material. The Megillah is called both a book and a letter, so with regard to the stitching, the halakhah falls somewhere in between. One cannot use flax for all of the stitching. At least three threads must be of sinew. And they must be evenly spaced.
Judah says that the Megillah scroll used for the ritual reading of the Megillah cannot be part of a larger scroll containing the rest of the Writings. It needs to be a separate scroll so that it is recognizable.
Rava said that if the Megillah is on parchment that is slightly larger or smaller than the remainder of the Writings, then it can be used. This will make it recognizable that it he is reading not just from the Writings, but from Megillat Esther.
Interesting that Shmuel’s own son did not know that one cannot fulfill one’s obligation with a Megillah written among the rest of the Writings.
Also interesting to me whether it was common to have larger scrolls with multiple books in them or whether it was more standard to have scrolls with only one book in them. Perhaps several of the “Megillot” were written in one scroll. These are not so long, so it may have been more possible to write them all together.