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Megillah, Daf Zayin, Part 1

 

Today’s section offers some midrashic interpretations of the various letters that Mordecai and Esther send to the Jews asking them to commemorate Purim or to write the Megillah. What is most fascinating about these midrashim is that they express very well the anxieties of the Jews that composed them. Many of these anxieties are still felt by us today.

 

אמר רב שמואל בר יהודה: שלחה להם אסתר לחכמים: קבעוני לדורות! שלחו לה: קנאה את מעוררת עלינו לבין האומות. שלחה להם: כבר כתובה אני על דברי הימים למלכי מדי ופרס.

 

R. Shmuel b. Judah said: Esther sent to the sages saying: Establish me for future generations. They replied: You will incite the jealousy of the nations against us.

She sent back reply: I am already recorded in the chronicles of the kings of Medea and Persia.

 

The darshan imagines Esther sending her letter not just to any old "Jews" but to the sages, whom the darshan imagines run the show. The sages are hesitant to establish Purim for it might incite the non-Jews against them. After all, the Megillah contains some descriptions of Jews massacring the people of Shushan. Esther assures the sages that the non-Jews already know these events. They are already written in their history books, as is stated in Esther 10:2.

 

רב ורב חנינא ורבי יוחנן ורב חביבא מתנו. בכוליה סדר מועד כל כי האי זוגא חלופי רבי יוחנן ומעייל רבי יונתן: שלחה להם אסתר לחכמים: כתבוני לדורות. שלחו לה: +משלי כ"ב+ הלא כתבתי לך שלישים, שלישים ולא רבעים. עד שמצאו לו מקרא כתוב בתורה +שמות י"ז+ כתב זאת זכרון בספר, כתב זאתמה שכתוב כאן ובמשנה תורה, זכרוןמה שכתוב בנביאים, בספרמה שכתוב במגילה.

 

Rav and R. Hanina and R. Yohanan and R. Haviva teach [the above statement in this form]: (in the whole of the Order Mo’ed, wherever this set of Rabbis is mentioned, R. Yohanan is replaced by R. Jonathan): Esther sent to the sages saying, "Write an account of me for the ages."

They sent back: "Have I not written for you three times" (Proverbs 22:20) three times and not four? [And they refused] until they found a verse written in the Torah, "Write this a memorial in a book" (Exodus 17:14) [which they expounded as follows]: "Write this," what is written here and in Deuteronomy; "For a memorial," what is written in the Prophets; "In a book," what is written in the Megillah.

 

In this midrash, the rabbis don’t want to write down the book of Esther and preserve it for posterity. The rabbis cite a verse in Proverbs which they understand to mean that the battle between Israel should be written in the Bible three times and not four times. Besides Esther, this perpetual battle is already referred to three times: Exodus 17, Deuteronomy 25 and Samuel I 15. So how can Esther ask for it to be put again into the Bible, making a fourth mention.

The rabbis resolve their own difficulty with a verse from Exodus 17. Each word in the verse alludes to a different section of the Bible. "This" refers to what is written in the Torah (Exodus and Deuteronomy). "For a memorial" refers to Samuel. And "in a book" refers to the Book of Esther. Thus already the Torah alludes to the legitimacy of adding Esther to the biblical canon.

The anxiety expressed and allayed in this midrash seems to be the anxiety of adding books to the Jewish canon. The rabbis may have been hesitant to add books to the Bible in the face of Christians and other competing groups who were continuing to write Holy Scripture.

כתנאי: כתב זאתמה שכתוב כאן, זכרוןמה שכתוב במשנה תורה, בספרמה שכתוב בנביאים, דברי רבי יהושע. רבי אלעזר המודעי אומר: כתב זאתמה שכתוב כאן ובמשנה תורה, זכרוןמה שכתוב בנביאים, בספרמה שכתוב במגילה.

 

This is like the following tannaim. "Write this" what is written here. "For a memorial" what is written in Deuteronomy. "In a book," what is written in the Prophet, the words of R. Joshua.

R. Elazar HaModai says: "Write this," what is written here and in Deuteronomy; for a memorial," what is written in the Prophets; "In a book," what is written in the Megillah.

 

R. Elazar HaModai (perhaps from Modiin, where I’m from!) agrees with the opinion of the sages from above the Torah already alludes to writing the book of Esther. But R. Joshua reads the three words in Exodus as relating only to two of the mentions in the Torah and a mention in Samuel. It seems that he holds that the book of Esther should not be included in the Bible. We will continue with this discussion tomorrow, where we will see other opinions that also exclude the book of Esther from the biblical canon.