Megillah 30

Spoiler alert.

The mishnah on yesterday’s daf delineates what we have seen referred to throughout this tractate as the “Four Portions,” the special additional aliyot that are chanted in place of the regularly scheduled concluding Torah verses on each Shabbat during the month of Adar

Shekalim (“shekels”) highlights the obligation of the Jewish people to contribute a half shekel to the Temple upkeep. Zachor (“remember”), read on the Shabbat before Purim, tells us to remember the villainy of Amalek, the biblical nation that attacked the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. Parah (“cow”) describes the ritual of the Red Heifer, whose ashes are necessary for Temple purification rituals. And HaChodesh (“the month”), is read just prior to the beginning of the month of Nisan, when Passover occurs. 

On today’s daf, we learn about a dispute concerning the reading of Zachor:

The mishnah states: On the second (Shabbat of Adar, the Shabbat prior to Purim, they read the portion of) “Remember [Zachor] what Amalek did” (Deuteronomy 25:17–19). With regard to this, an amoraic dispute was stated: With regard to when Purim occurs on a Friday, Rav said: The congregation advances the reading of the portion of Zachor to the previous Shabbat. And Shmuel said: They defer it to the Shabbat following Purim.

To understand this disagreement, we need to remember that when the Gemara talks about Purim on a Friday, it has in mind Shushan Purim, the celebration of the holiday in walled cities that takes place a day later, on the 15th of Adar. If regular Purim falls on a Friday, Shushan Purim would then occur on Shabbat.

Why would that be an issue? To understand that, we need to look at the verses describing the observance of Purim toward the end of the book of Esther. There, we read this: “Consequently, these days are recalled and observed in every generation: by every family, every province, and every city. And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants.” (Esther 9:28

Rashi comments on this passage that “commemorate” means reading the Book of Esther while “observe” means doing the other mitzvot integral to the holiday: enjoying a festive meal, giving and receiving gifts of food and giving charity to the poor. But Rav seems to read “commemorate” to mean reading Zachor. After all, the Hebrew word for commemorate, nizkarim, comes from the same root as Zachor; according to Jewish tradition, Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was a descendant of Amalek, so the reading of Zachor is in a way a commemoration of the Purim story. Therefore Rav maintains that the reading of Zachor must take place prior to Purim because commemoration is mentioned prior to observance in the verse from Esther. 

Shmuel, though, hangs his position on the fact that when Shushan Purim falls on Shabbat, the reading of the megillah takes place on the evening before, on the 14th (satisfying the commemoration piece) and the festive meal and giving of gifts take place on the 15th (satisfying the observance piece). Since commemoration has already occurred with the reading of the megillah, Shmuel has no issue with reading the additional commemorative passage of Zachor on Shushan Purim, even though it will be concurrent with rather than preceding the holiday.

The contradiction seems to be resolved, finally, as follows: 

Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Abba said that Rav said: If Purim occurs on Shabbat, one advances and reads the portion of Zachor on the previous Shabbat, as Rav Nahman understood Rav’s opinion.

In other words, Rav’s argument wins the day.

Today, when Purim falls on Friday and Shushan Purim is on Shabbat, some parts of the holiday are deferred to Sunday in walled cities, prompting a three-day celebration in Jerusalem and other walled cities, with various aspects of the holiday marked on the 14th, 15th and 16th of Adar. But however the dates fall out, we read Zachor on the Shabbat preceding Purim everywhere, in both walled and unwalled cities, setting up our week just as Esther intended: first we remember, and then we celebrate.

Read all of Megillah 30 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 11th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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