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Megillah, Daf Zayin, Part 2

 

Introduction

Today’s section discusses whether the book of Esther belongs in the biblical canon, but it does so in two different ways.

First of all, does Esther "defile the hands?" Only Holy Scripture causes the hands to be defiled. This is a concept we learned about in Tractate Yadayim, especially towards the end of chapter three and chapter four. Saying that a certain book does not defile the hands implies that it is not part of the Bible.

The second issue is whether a book was "said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." This does not mean that "God" wrote the book. Most of the books under discussion were clearly not written by God. What it seems to mean is that the book has a certain amount of inspired holiness in it and should certainly be included in the canon.

 

אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: אסתר אינה מטמאה את הידים.

למימרא דסבר שמואל אסתר לאו ברוח הקודש נאמרה? והאמר שמואל: אסתר ברוח הקודש נאמרה! – נאמרה לקרות ולא נאמרה ליכתוב.

 

R. Judah said in the name of Shmuel; [The scroll] of Esther does not defile the hands.

Is that to say that Shmuel was holds that Esther was not said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? But did not Shmuel say that Esther was said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

It was composed to be recited [by heart], but not to be written.

 

Shmuel, the amora, makes two contradictory statements. First he says that Esther does not defile the hands. This implies that it is not holy. But then he says it was inspired by God. So which is it?

The Talmud resolves this by saying it was inspired by God, but God did not mean for it to be written. It was intended to be read, but not written.

We should note that this is not an easy resolution. After all, the Book of Esther clearly was written, and Esther and Mordecai clearly intended for their story to be written history.

 

מיתיבי: רבי מאיר אומר: קהלת אינו מטמא את הידים, ומחלוקת בשיר השירים. רבי יוסי אומר: שיר השירים מטמא את הידים, ומחלוקת בקהלת. רבי שמעון אומר: קהלת מקולי בית שמאי ומחומרי בית הלל, אבל רות ושיר השירים ואסתרמטמאין את הידים! הוא דאמר כרבי יהושע.

 

They objected: R. Meir says that Kohelet does not defile the hands, and that about the Song of Songs there is a dispute. R. Yose says that the Song of Songs defiles the hands, and about Koheleth there is a difference of opinion. R. Shimon says that Koheleth is one of those matters in regard to which Beth Shammai were lenient and Beth Hillel stringent, but Ruth and the Song of Songs and Esther [certainly] make the hands unclean.

Shmuel concurred with R. Joshua.

 

The Talmud now cites an objection taken from Mishnah Yadayim 3:5. In this mishnah there are some disputes as to whether Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim) belong in the canon. But there is no disagreement that Esther does belong in the canon. So how could Shmuel even have any doubt about Esther?!

The answer is that Shmuel agrees with R. Joshua from yesterday’s section who said that the book of Esther should not have been written because there were meant to be only three portions about Amalek in the Bible, not four.

 

תניא, רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר: קהלת אינו מטמא את הידים, מפני שחכמתו של שלמה היא. אמרו לו: וכי זו בלבד אמר? והלא כבר נאמר +מלכים אד‘ /ה‘/+ וידבר שלשת אלפים משל, ואומר +משלי ל‘+ אל תוסף על דבריו. מאי ואומר? וכי תימא: מימרטובא אמר, דאי בעיאיכתיב, ודאי בעי לא איכתיב. תא שמע אל תוסף על דבריו.

 

It has been taught: R. Shimon b. Menasia said: Koheleth does not defile the hands because it is Solomon’s wisdom.

They said to him: Was this then all that he composed? Is it not stated elsewhere, "And he spoke three thousand proverbs," (I Kings 5:12) and it further says, "Add not unto his words? (Proverbs 30:6). Why this further quotation? In case you might object that he composed very much, and what it pleased him to write he wrote and what it did not please him he did not write. Therefore it says, Add not to his words.

 

In this baraita there is a dispute as to whether Kohelet is holy. According to R. Shimon b. Menasia, since it was written by King Solomon, it is not holy. The other sages object. Solomon spoke thousands of proverbs, but he only wrote down a few (Proverbs, Kohelet and Song of Songs). Therefore, those that he wrote down were said with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We can also see from the fact that he prohibits adding to those proverbs he wrote, that what he did write down was holy.

 

תניא, רבי אליעזר אומר: אסתר ברוח הקודש נאמרה, שנאמר +אסתר ו‘+ ויאמר המן בלבו. רבי עקיבא אומר: אסתר ברוח הקודש נאמרה, שנאמר +אסתר ב‘+ ותהי אסתר נשאת חן בעיני כל ראיה. רבי מאיר אומר: אסתר ברוח הקודש נאמרה, שנאמר +אסתר ב‘+ ויודע הדבר למרדכי. רבי יוסי בן דורמסקית אומר: אסתר ברוח הקודש נאמרה, שנאמר +אסתר ט‘+ ובבזה לא שלחו את ידם.

 

It has been taught: R. Elazar said: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, "And Haman said in his heart" (Esther 6:6).

R. Akiva says: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, "And Esther obtained favor in the eyes of all that looked upon her" (2:15).

R. Meir says: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, "And the thing became known to Mordecai" (2:22).

R. Yose b. Durmaskit said: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, "But on the spoil they laid not their hands" (9:10).

 

Four sages cite proof from the book of Esther itself that it must have been written under divine inspiration.

R. Elazar proves this from the fact that the author knows what Haman was thinking (when he told Ahashverosh that the one who saved him should be dressed in the king’s clothes and ride the king’s horse).

Similarly, R. Akiva cites proof from the fact that the author knows what everyone thinks of Esther.

R. Meir cites proof from the fact that the plot to kill Ahashverosh became known to Mordecai. How? Through the Holy Spirit!

R. Yose b. Durmaskit proves the book’s sanctity because the author knows that no Jews took spoil from those they had killed in Shushan and elsewhere. He could only have known this about people who lived far from him if he was told through the Holy Spirit.

 

אמר שמואל: אי הואי התם הוה אמינא מלתא דעדיפא מכולהו, שנאמר קימו וקבלוקימו למעלה מה שקיבלו למטה.

 

Shmuel said: Had I been there, I would have given a proof superior to all, as it says, "They confirmed and they accepted" (9:26), they confirmed above what they accepted upon themselves below.

 

Shmuel lived well after the sages above, who were all tannaim. He did not have the opportunity to be there to give his own proof. But he believes that he has a superior prooftext. The Megillah says, "They confirmed and they accepted." These two words seem to be superfluous. Therefore, Shmuel says that the first verb refers to Heaven, which confirmed what they, the Jews, had accepted upon themselves below.

We should note that this is an entirely different type of proof. All of the tannaim basically pointed out that the narrator or characters know something that they could not have known on their own. In other words an omniscient narrator is proof that the book is holy. Shmuel, on the other hand, offers a more typical midrash, focusing on a superfluous word.

 

אמר רבא: לכולהו אית להו פירכא, לבר מדשמואל דלית ליה פירכא. דרבי אליעזרסברא הוא, דלא הוה איניש דחשיב למלכא כוותיה, והאי כי קא מפיש טובא ואמראדעתיה דנפשיה קאמר. דרבי עקיבאדלמא כרבי אלעזר, דאמר: מלמד שכל אחד ואחד נדמתה לו כאומתו. והא דרבי מאירדלמא כרבי חייא בר אבא, דאמר: בגתן ותרש שני טרשיים היו. והא דרבי יוסי בן דורמסקיתדלמא פריסתקי שדור. דשמואל ודאי לית ליה פירכא.

 

Rava said: They can all be refuted except that of Shmuel, which cannot be refuted.

Against the proof of R. Elazar it may be objected that it is reasonable [to suppose that Haman would think so] because there was no one who was so high in the esteem of the king as he was, and that when he spoke at length [to Ahashverosh], he was only speaking concerning himself.

Against the proof of R. Akiva it may be objected that [verse should be interpreted like] R. Elazar, who said that these words show that to every man she appeared to belong to his own nation.

Against the proof of R. Meir it may be objected that perhaps that [verse should be interpreted like] R. Hiyya b. Abba who said that Bigtan and Teresh were two men from Tarsis.

Against the proof of R. Jose b. Durmaskith it may be objected that perhaps they sent messengers.

Against the proof of Shmuel there is no refutation.

 

Rava, an amora who lived several generations after Shmuel, refutes all of the tannaim, confirming that Shmuel’s explanation is superior, as Shmuel himself thought.

1)     The author could have known without divine inspiration that Haman assumed that Ahashverosh was thinking of honoring him.

2)     That Esther found favor in everyone’s eyes may have been known to the author because everyone was saying "she’s one of us" for she appeared to everyone as if she was from their nation.

3)     Mordecai could have overheard Bigtan and Teresh plotting against the king speaking the Tarsis language, which Mordecai also understood. They would not have known that he understood this language.

4)     Perhaps the author learned that no Jews had taken from the spoil from messengers who were sent from afar.

5)     But Shmuel’s midrashic interpretation, not based on logic, cannot be refuted, at least not based on logic.

 

אמר רבינא: היינו דאמרי אינשי: טבא חדא פלפלתא חריפתא ממלי צני קרי.

 

Ravina said: This is what people say, Better is one grain of sharp pepper than a basket full of pumpkins.

 

One grain of sharp pepper Shmuel is better than all of the pumpkins the tannaim whose proofs were all refuted.

רב יוסף אמר, מהכא: +אסתר ט‘+ וימי הפורים האלה לא יעברו מתוך היהודים, רב נחמן בר יצחק אומר, מהכא: וזכרם לא יסוף מזרעם.

 

R. Joseph said: It can be proved from here: "And these days of Purim shall not fail from among the Jews" (Esther 9:28).

R. Nahman b. Isaac said: From here: "Nor the memorial of them cease from their descendants" (ibid).

 

Two more amoraim chime in with proof that Esther was written under divine inspiration. Both of these proofs are from the same verse and they both say the same thing. Only God can know that Purim will never cease to be observed.