The breaking of the neck of the heifer is an act of atonement for murder. Since we learned above that acts of atonement must be performed during the day, so too must this ritual.
The mishnah listed two mitzvoth that are performed at night: the harvesting of the omer and the burning of the fat and limbs of the sacrifices on the altar.
Today is the last section of chapter two. It relates to the last clause of the mishnah.
The Talmud assumes that when the Mishnah mentions a general principle it includes cases that were not already cited in the mishnah’s list of examples. Here the Talmud answers the question—what specific example is the mishnah including?
On the table in the Temple were two rows of the showbread and two cups of frankincense. When they were removed, the bread would be eaten by the priests and the frankincense would be turned into smoke. Our mishnah teaches that this removal can be done all day. And it accords with R. Yose who holds that the old showbread and with it the frankincense can be removed in the morning and only replaced in the evening, which here means after midday. This shows that the removal of the cups of frankincense can occur any time during the day.
According to the talmudic reading of the mishnah, the Pesah offering can be eaten all night. This disagrees with R. Elazar b. Azariah who says that one must eat the Pesah before midnight. Just as God passed over Egypt before midnight, so too the Pesah must be eaten before midnight.
Congratulations on finishing another chapter. Short chapter, but a good one !
Today we begin a new section. Most of the last chapter of Megillah is about the public reading of the Torah. The one main difference between how we read today and how they read in their time is that today the person who receives the aliyah and recites the blessing is usually not the same person who actually reads the Torah. This allows people who don’t know how to read from the Torah to receive aliyot. In mishnaic and talmudic times, the person who read the Torah was the same person who received the aliyah. There are other differences which we will discuss throughout the chapter.
My commentary is taken from Mishnah Yomit.
Section one: One may read the Megillah while either standing or sitting. Today the custom is to stand but this is not mandatory. In contrast, when reading the Torah one has to stand.
Section two: Two people may read the Megillah together when reading in front of the community. However, when it comes to reading Torah only one person at a time can read. The idea behind this is that it is harder for people to hear two people chanting together than one chanting alone. Since hearing the Megillah is halakhically less significant than hearing the Torah, they allow to people to read simultaneously.
Section three: According to the simple reading of the Mishnah, there were various customs with regard to reciting a blessing over reading the Megillah. Some did and some did not. The Talmud however explains that this only refers to the blessing after the Megillah. In all places they would recite the blessing before reading. Today our custom is to recite a blessing before and after.
Section four: The mishnah now begins to discuss regular Torah reading. On Mondays, Thursdays and on Shabbat at minhah only three people receive aliyot (go up to the Torah). This number may not be increased nor may it be decreased. There is no haftarah (portion from the Prophets section of the Bible) on these occasions.
Section five: In the time of the Mishnah the first person to read would recite the first blessing and the last person to read would recite the concluding blessing. Those reading in between would not recite any blessing at all. Today, each person receiving an aliyah recites a blessing before and after.
Section six: Rosh Hodesh and the intermediate days of the festival both have a musaf service (and when the Temple still stood there was a musaf sacrifice). However, they are not festivals, meaning that work is permitted on these days. These are sort of “in-between days.” Therefore they have four aliyot—more than a normal day but less than a festival. The mishnah reiterates the rule that the first person who receives an aliyah recites the blessing before and the last person recites the blessing after.
Section seven: On the first and last day of Pesah, on the first day of Sukkot, on Shmini Atzeret (the last day of Sukkot), on Shavuot and on Rosh Hashanah there are five aliyot.
Section eight: On Yom Kippur there are six aliyot. Note that this makes Yom Kippur unlike all other holidays.
Section nine: Shabbat differs from other occasions in several key ways. First of all, there are more aliyot on Shabbat than at any other time of the year. On other occasions there are a maximum of six aliyot and the mishnah states explicitly that they may not add to this number. Indeed, the mishnah may emphasize this to make sure that people do not try to turn other holidays into Shabbat by adding more aliyot. In contrast, on Shabbat they may add aliyot. Finally, there is a haftarah on Shabbat. Today we read a haftarah on festivals and on Yom Kippur as well. Finally, the same rule about the blessings still applies.
Today’s section discusses the mishnah which says that one may sit or stand while reading the Megillah.
The Talmud limits the mishnah’s rule that one can read while sitting to the Megillah. When reading Torah one must stand.
Abbahu derives this from the verse where God tells Moses to stand with him. Moses, who is learning Torah directly from God, must be standing. Rabbi Abbahu goes on to say that the verse may even imply that God is also standing, for it uses the word “with me.” However, he admits that such an anthropomorphism is a bit heretical.
Finally, R. Abbahu learns another halakhah from this verse. A teacher should not sit on a couch and teach his students. Rather both should be on the couch or both on the ground. There should not be a hierarchical distinction between the two.
The sugya now continues to discuss the issue of standing or sitting while learning Torah. I should note that there are discussions among Greek philosophers as well as to whether one should sit or stand while studying philosophy.
This baraita imagines that Torah used to be studied while standing, but now people are weaker or sicker and have to sit while studying Torah. The full honor of Torah was achieved when it was studied while standing, and not as it is now, while sitting.
Two verses are cited here that seem to contradict each other. One verse seems to say that Moses sat on the mountain, whereas the other verse seems to say that he stood on the mountain. So which was it?
Rav says that he learned Torah for the first time while standing, but that when he wanted to repeat things over to learn them better, he sat down. Interesting that Moses is pictured repeating his lessons already on Sinai.
Hanina says that Moses was stooping—neither sitting or standing. Must not have been an easy forty days!
Yohanan interprets the verse according to its simple meaning—Moses doesn’t mean to say that he “sat” on the mountain. He simply means to say that he stayed there for forty days.
Finally Rava says that he stood while learning the easier material, but when he got to the harder material, he sat down.
I should also note that we should remember that all of this studying was done without books. Therefore, walking around while talking about Torah is not being compared to sitting and studying from a book. In both cases people are just talking. Personally, I find that my best conversations are when easy running or walking.