Today’s daf (Megillah 3a-b) records how those serving in the Beit HaMikdash must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah, and similarly, how those studying Torah must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah.
For some, these are just technical rules which speak to the hierarchy of mitzvah obligations on Purim. However, a closer look at the Purim story comes to teach that each is a validation of Mordechai’s actions.
In terms of the Beit HaMikdash, we are taught that Mordechai ‘Bilshan’ (which is understood to be an abridged form of the word בעל לשון – a master of languages) was among the first group of Jews who, in response to the permission granted by King Cyrus, returned from exile to start building the Second Beit HaMikdash (see Ezra 2:2). However, soon after, permission for its building was revoked. As Rav Schwab explains (in his commentary on Ezra 2:2): ‘[Mordechai] must have returned to Persia, because we find him living in Shushan in the Purim story. It is to be presumed that he left Eretz Yisrael when the construction of the Beis HaMikdash was halted, not long after it began, by a group of influential Jew-haters. He most probably went to the Persian capital, Shushan, to help the Jewish cause there.’
What this means is that Mordechai’s return to Shushan which in light of his ability to speak many languages ‘stood him – and the Jewish people – in good stead when he overheard two people plotting to kill the king (see Esther 2:22)’, was part of a diplomatic mission to complete the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.
Consequently, the rule we learn in today’s daf is that those serving in the Beit HaMikdash must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah because without the events described in Megillat Esther, and the return of many of the sacred vessels of the Beit HaMikdash which had previously made their way to Shushan, there wouldn’t have been a second Beit HaMikdash.
Yet it was while Mordechai was in Shushan that his actions particularly annoyed many of his rabbinical colleagues. As a leading Torah scholar, they expected Mordechai to spend his time studying and teaching Torah in the Beit Midrash. However, Mordechai (who, in contrast to many of his rabbinical colleagues had taken the risk and made the arduous journey back to Israel to start rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash) understood how urgent the situation was in Israel and the needs of the hour, and therefore, instead of spending his time in the Beit Midrash he spent his time near the palace of Achshverosh to look for diplomatic opportunities to further the cause. But it was while he was near the palace where Mordechai encountered Haman and refused to bow down to him, and as we know, as a result, Haman then plotted to kill the Jews. And what was the response of Mordechai’s rabbinical colleagues? That this would not have occurred had Mordechai simply stayed within the ‘four walls’ of the Beit HaMidrash.
Yet as we see from the Purim story, it was only because Mordechai was outside of the Beit Midrash and nearby the palace that he was able to hear about the plot to kill the king, and only through his presence near the palace was he able to provide encouragement and advice to Esther. Consequently, the rule we learn in today’s daf is that those studying Torah must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah because without Mordechai doing just that, the story of the salvation of the Jewish people as records in the Megillah would not have happened, and the subsequent completion of the Beit HaMikdash would not have occurred.
When Mordechai left Eretz Yisrael, and especially when he absented himself from the Beit Midrash, there were those who considered his actions improper. They claimed that he, at least temporarily, got his priorities wrong and misunderstood the hierarchy of the needs of the hour. But it was Mordechai who understood the needs of the hour and recognised that different actions were necessary for the sake of helping and defending the Jewish people. And this is why those serving in the Beit HaMikdash must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah, and those studying Torah must temporarily cease doing so in order to hear the Megillah, to show that sometimes the needs of the hour must take us away from the things we love to do in order to do the things that need to be done.