Today we begin Massechet Megillah whose opening Mishna informs us that while residents of walled cities (כרכין המוקפין) read Megillat Esther on the 15th of Adar, and while residents of villages and large towns (כפרים ועיירות) read it on the 14th of Adar, residents of villages (כפרים) – who may not have someone who knows how to read the Megillah but who would frequent towns on a Monday and Thursday – are granted permission to hear the Megillah up to a few days earlier (i.e. anytime from the 11th of Adar) on the day when they are in town. What this suggests is that our Sages were flexible on account of the residents of villages.
However, this is just half the story. As our Gemara (Megillah 2a) continues to explain, much of the produce and water available in towns was provided by the farmers of nearby villages, and in order for residents of towns to have a special meal on Purim – as required by our Sages – on the 14th of Adar, those farmers needed to be available to bring their produce to towns on the 14th of Adar. Given this, ‘the Sages were lenient with the [residents of] villages to enable them to bring forward [hearing the Megillah] to a day of assembly (i.e. Monday or Thursday)’ and this is כדי שיספקו מים ומזון לאחיהם שבכרכים – ‘so that they are available to provide water and food to their brethren in the towns.’ What this suggests is that our Sages were flexible on account of both the residents of villages as well as those of towns.
It should be noted that, on first glance, such flexibility is seemingly limited to Purim. But as Rav Yosef Engel points out in his Gilyonei HaShass (on Megillah 2a), the same phrase used here (כדי שיספקו מים ומזון לאחיהם) is also used towards the end of Massechet Ta’anit (27a) where we are taught that members of the mishmarot (priestly division) were located in Jericho כדי שיספקו מים ומזון לאחיהם שבירושלים – ‘so that they were available to provide water and food to their brethren in Jerusalem’. What this suggests is that while halachic flexibility was shown by our Sages for residents of villages so that they hear the Megillah when visiting towns, the notion of being flexible to ensure that our brethren in towns and cities have the physical provisions that they need is not limited to Purim but is, instead, an overarching concern in Jewish law – so much so that this was a factor in locating members of the mishmarot in Jericho.
But now that we have distinguished between the flexibility shown for villages to hear the Megillah, and the sensitivity shown for townspeople so that they receive supplies, we should be struck by the flow of our Gemara, because it asks מנלן – ‘how do we know that we should be flexible to enable villagers to hear the Megillah even from the 11th of Adar?’, to which the Gemara responds: ‘the Sages were lenient with the [residents of] villages to enable them to bring forward [hearing the Megillah] to a day of assembly so that they are available to provide water and food to their brethren in the towns.’ As should now be clear, the Gemara asks just about villagers, but its answer touches on the needs of both villagers and town-dwellers, and what I believe we learn from here is that each of us needs to be sensitive and flexible towards the needs of others – not only because it is a nice thing to do, but also because we all have needs for which, at times, we need others to be sensitive and flexible.
And this brings us back to the beginning of the Mishna, because though it distinguishes between walled cities, villages and large towns, the lesson we learn both from Ta’anit 27a, and from our Mishna and Gemara in Megillah 2a, is that no Jewish community is an island, and while some have certain resources, others have different resources, and we all need each other. As I explained in my commentary to Brachot 44 while discussing the Borei Nefashot bracha (which states how God ‘creates many people with their deficiencies’): ‘the Chafetz Chaim explains that we should be aware that there are things we can do which others cannot, and things others can do that we cannot. But rather than our deficiencies being a source of frustration, this awareness is a source of blessing, because it drives us to consider how we can assist others in the things they cannot do, how we should accept help from others, and how we can create a society that is underpinned by acts of kindness.’
Overall, we see from here that Massechet Megillah begins with a lesson about the interdependence of the Jewish people and how we each need to help and support each other – which ultimately is a core message in the Megillah and a major concept which we celebrate on Purim.