January 5, 2022

Megillah 4

Today’s daf (Megillah 4a) records a fascinating rule taught by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi which, though codified by many of the Rishonim, is not widely practiced. Specifically, the rule states that if Purim falls on a Shabbat (which, nowadays, would only occur to Shushan Purim – the 15th of Adar – and would only apply to the residents of a walled city like Jerusalem), ‘we ask and expound (שואלין ודורשין) concerning matters of the day (בענינו של יום)’.
Significantly, as the Gemara immediately points out, we are taught in a Beraita that the practice of asking and expounding (שואלין ודורשין) concerning matters of the day (בענינו של יום) is not unique to Purim. As the Beraita explains, we are expected to discuss and attend lectures on הלכות פסח בפסח – the laws of Pesach on Pesach; הלכות עצרת בעצרת – the laws of Shavuot on Shavuot, והלכות חג בחג – and the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot.
Yet where this rule of Purim differs from the above is that it refers to a situation of asking and expounding about Purim when Purim technically falls but is not being celebrated given that it is Shabbat, and as the Rambam writes, this is done כדי להזכיר שהוא פורים – ‘to remember that it (i.e. today) is Purim’.
But beyond this, unlike the examples mentioned in the Beraita which refer to the need to expound the laws of the festival on a festival, this rule for Purim does not make specific reference to the laws of Purim. In fact, Rashi understands this requirement of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi to require that: ‘we place a translator (תורגמן) next to the Sage to assist in expounding Megillat Esther in public (לדרוש אגרת פורים ברבים)’. Given all this, it seems that this particular rule is unique to Purim. The question is, what is its purpose?
I would like to suggest that a major message of Purim is about noticing what is hidden and concealed. The story of Purim tells us about how Esther hid her Jewishness. It teaches us that sometimes God’s miracles are concealed. And of course, there is the custom of dressing up on Purim. Yet while all those practices emphasise the hidden, the message of Purim is to discover that which is hidden – such as the fact that the word המלך (the king) in the Megillah can be understood as referring to God, and by reflecting on this, we discover a whole new perspective to the Megillah.
So on a day when Purim falls but is not celebrated – meaning on a day when Purim is practically hidden – we are urged to maintain our awareness that it is still Purim (כדי להזכיר שהוא פורים) which is done by expounding Megillat Esther in public (לדרוש אגרת פורים ברבים), and this is to teach us that even if the mitzvot of Purim are not being fulfilled on that day, we are nevertheless required to fulfil the broader message of Purim – which is to notice and reveal what is hidden and concealed.
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