Halacha for Wednesday 13 Adar 5778 February 28 2018

Megillat Esther

Everyone is obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah on the holiday of Purim. It must be read at night and then once again during the day, as the verse states, “My G-d, I call out to You during the day and You do not answer; at night I have no rest.” This verse can be found in Tehillim (Psalm 22) which begins with the words, “To the Chief Musician according to Ayelet HaShachar.” Our Sages (Yoma 29a) tell us that Esther was compared to an Ayelet Ha’Shachar (doe of the dawn), as we have already mentioned.

This Megillah is known as “Megillat Esther.” The commentaries ask: Why is this Megillah referred to as “Megillat Esther”; it would seem that it should be called “Megillat Mordechai Ve’Esther,” as they both equally merited bringing about the miracle of Purim? Although it certainly makes sense to mention Esther’s name first, both because she was the queen and because the beginning and conclusion of the redemption were brought about through her, nevertheless, to completely omit Mordechai’s name is quite incomprehensible, for he was the spirit behind the entire miracle, both in the beginning when he revealed the plot of Bigtan and Teresh to Esther and at the end when he spurred Esther forth to come before the king and plead for the Jewish nation. If so, it should certainly be called “Megillat Mordechai Ve’Esther.”

Indeed, this question can be strengthened based on the words of Rabbeinu Yosef Haim of Baghdad. He asks: Why in the Al Ha’Nissim text (inserted into the Amida prayers and Birkat Hamazon of Purim) do we say “In the days of Mordechai and Esther” and additionally, at the conclusion of the Megillah reading we recite “Blessed is Mordechai” followed by “Blessed is Esther”; would it not make sense to mention Esther before Mordechai, for the primary component of the miracle was brought about through Esther? He answers that there are two reasons why Mordechai is mentioned before Esther: Firstly, Mordechai was the one to motivate Esther to come before the king to plead for her nation. Secondly, Esther’s miracle was not as great as Mordechai’s miracle, for Esther’s miracle was closer to being natural, for it is natural for a man to respect his wife and Achashverosh thus respected Esther by heeding her request to annul the harsh decrees against the Jews. However, Mordechai’s miracle was more prominent, for naturally, Haman should have already hanged Mordechai, but every time he came to carry out his plot, he became filled with a tremendous fear; this was clearly from Heaven. (This means to say that although Esther’s miracle was indeed wondrous, it nevertheless came about through a sequence of natural events as opposed to Mordechai’s miracle which was more Heavenly and could not be considered as natural.) Based on these words of the saintly Ben Ish Hai that the miracle of Mordechai was greater than that of Esther, our original question becomes even stronger: Why is this Megillah called “Megillat Esther” and not “Megillat Mordechai Ve’Esther”?

Hagaon Harav Shimon Hirari zt”l (an elderly Tunisian scholar who resided in Tel Aviv until his passing not long ago) answers based on the verse that is first written in the Megillah, “Mordechai wrote down these matters,” meaning that he wrote the Megillah. However, the Megillah later states, “Esther, daughter of Avichail, and Mordechai the Jew wrote,” meaning that both of them wrote the Megillah. This means to say that originally, Mordechai wrote the Megillah himself and when he delivered the contents of the Megillah, i.e. for all Jews to celebrate these days of Purim, not everyone was willing to accept his words. Only afterwards, when Esther sent out the Megillah, did the entire nation accept upon themselves to fulfill the contents of the Megillah, as our Sages said, “Esther sent [a message] to the Sages requesting that they establish a law to celebrate the days of Purim for all generations. The Sages sent her back [a message]: ‘You are causing the nations of the world to spite us when they see that we are celebrating a holiday marking our victory over them.’ She sent back: ‘I have already been recorded in the record books of Media and Persia and the nations will be able to read about what happened to them there.’” Thus, there would be no additional strife created by instituting the days of Purim.

It is now clear why the Megillah is named solely after Esther, for through Queen Esther was the Megillah accepted by the entire Jewish nation at the behest of the Sages of Israel. Esther therefore merited having the Megillah named after her.

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