The mishnah taught that people can simultaneously read the Megillah. This section again limits the mishnah’s rule to the Megillah.
It is more difficult to hear two people speaking at the same time. Therefore, the Torah, which seems to be the most difficult and most important text, must be read and translated by only one person at a time.
The Prophets, from where the Haftorah is drawn, can be translated simultaneously by two people, but it must be read by only one person at a time.
Finally, Hallel and the Megillah may even be read by ten people at a time. People love those texts so much that they will strain to hear them even from many simultaneous voices.
The translation the Talmud refers to here is not reading Onkelos or any other translation. In the time of the Talmud the translation into Aramaic was not yet composed, even if there were normal translations. This would seem to make it quite difficult for two people to translate at the same time.
Today’s section discusses the clause in the Mishnah about blessing before or after the Megillah.
The mishnah says that the recitation of a blessing over the Megillah is dependent on custom. Abaye limits this to the blessing after the reading. One must bless before reading the Megillah, as was stated by R. Judah, that one must bless before performing any mitzvah.
Judah uses a slightly unusual phrase to mean “before their performance”—”over le’asiyatan.” The Talmud now asks how we know what this phrase means.
The Talmud now cites three verses in which the root “over (עבר)” is used to mean in front of.
Before the Megillah three blessings are recited: M=mikra megillah, for reading the Megillah. N=nissim, over the miracle of Purim. H=shehehiyanu. These are basically the same three recited over Hannukah candles.
The Talmud now turns to the blessing after the Megillah. As we can see it focuses on vengeance, which is certainly a prominent theme in the Megillah. It also is something that must have resonated with the rabbis, living under a foreign regime. They dream of a time when they can take vengeance on their foes, when they have the upper hand. That is what Purim means to them. An opposite time, when Jews are on top and their constant oppressors are being paid back.
There is a dispute about the concluding formula. Rava focuses on God’s saving power, whereas the earlier version focused on vengeance. R. Papa, as he often does, harmonizes the two, claiming that both should be said.
Today’s section begins to discuss the three readers on weekday Torah readings, as well as how many verses each is to read. We should remember that in mishnaic times readings had not yet been fixed. Some flexibility seems to have still remained as far as how many verses each reader would read.
The three who read on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat at minhah are representative of either the Tanakh (the three parts) or the division of Israel into three groups, Priests, Levites and Israelites.
Shimi says that every Monday, Thursday, Shabbat minhah Torah reading must have at least ten verses, and that the opening verse, “And God spoke to Moses” counts. What are these ten representative of?
The first version is that the men of leisure who are in the synagogue. Elsewhere we learn that in order for a place to be called a city, it must have ten men of leisure, people who have no other work to do. Where else to go but the synagogue?!
Joseph says they represent the ten commandments.
Levi’s statement holds that they are representative of the ten times the word Halleluyah appears in the last five psalms of the book of Psalms.
Yohanan says it refers to the ten statements with which the world was created.
The Talmud now explains R. Yohanan’s statement, that the ten verses are representative of the ten statements with which God created the world. These refer to the nine time that the Torah says “And God said,” plus the phrase “In the beginning” which created the original heavens and earth. This last line seems to be stating something that is not so clearly stated in the Torah itself—God’s word created the heavens and earth. It is possible to read the Torah as if the sky and earth were there before God began creating. This was a point of some contention among ancient interpreters.
In the time of the Talmud, as I said above, the number of verses each person was to read was not yet set. If there are three readers and ten verses must be read, then one of them must read four verses. Rava says that any of the three readers who reads four verses is praiseworthy. The Talmud now explains by analogy how first, second or third is the best position elsewhere.
The mishnah cited here is from Tractate Shekalim. They would gather the shekels collected from all of Israel into three baskets, labeled by the order in which they were collected. Why should we know the order? Because it is a mitzvah to use the shekels collected to first to buy the first sacrifices. This shows that being first is best.
The menorah was shaped so that the three branches on either side of the middle branch faced the middle one, and the middle one was drawn in to face the Holy of Holies, where the Shekhinah, God’s presence dwells. From here R. Yohanan learns that the middle one is praiseworthy, proving that sometimes the middle position is the preferred one.
The final position is praiseworthy because of the principle that we always increase holiness, never decrease. Thus in conclusion any of the positions may be considered praiseworthy.
Nevertheless, R. Papa praised the person who read four verses during the first Aliyah.
Originally, the first Torah reader would say the blessing before he reads and the last Torah reader would bless after the reading. If there were three aliyot, then the first and last would say a blessing and the middle person would not recite any blessing.
This custom had changed already before the end of the Talmudic period. The custom had become for each person receiving an Aliyah to recite a blessing before and a blessing after, as we do it today. This was because of people who come in and out of synagogue. If they missed the opening blessing, they might think that one does not bless before reading Torah. And if they missed the closing blessing, they might think that one does not bless after reading Torah. To prevent that error, the rabbis decreed that everyone should bless both before and after.
Today’s section deals with the Rosh Hodesh Torah reading. On Rosh Hodesh four people read, but as we shall see, splitting the reading into four parts is challenging, because the reading consists of three paragraphs: the first has eight verses, the second two verses and the third five verses.
The first paragraph of the Rosh Hodesh reading has eight verses. If the first two readers each read three verses, then only two verses will be left in the paragraph. There is a rule that we don’t leave two verses left over at the end of a paragraph. This is just too little to be left over.
If the first two readers each read four verses from the first paragraph, then that paragraph is finished. We are now left with seven verses, two in one paragraph and five in the next paragraph. The first person cannot read three because once someone starts to read a paragraph, he must read at least three verses. If the first reader reads two verses in the first paragraph and three in the next, then only two are left, and all readers must read at least three verses.