February 27, 2003 – Number 3
The reading of the Megilla on Purim has many details and traditions that have grown up around the reading over the ages. The most well known tradition is to make noise whenever Haman’s name is mentioned. This is only the beginning however of many customs that are a part of the reading.
There was a great deal of controversy about including the Megilla in the Bible at all. The story is a bit on the “racy” side, there are some serious Halachic issues (assimilation and Kashrut for example) and it is the only book in the Bible where there is no mention or hint of G-d’s name. In spite of this, the Sages included the Scroll of Esther in the canon for two reasons. First, because there is a clear indication that while only human beings are mentioned in the text, there is clearly the hand of G-d at work behind the scenes ( why else would the king be unable to sleep while Haman is plotting to kill Mordecai and the Jews?) And second, because the story is so very popular among those who read the bible. It is a wonderful story with a beautiful heroine, a brave hero, a dastardly villain and a foolish king, the kind of stuff that can be found in any popular soap opera or telenovella.
There are four verses that are first read by the congregation and then repeated by the Megilla reader. These four verses are called the “verses of redemption” and they all refer to the salvation of our people. They are: 2:5 -“In the fortress Shushan, lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite”; 8:15 – “Mordecai left the king’s presence in royal roves of blue and white, with a magnificent crown of gold and an mantle of fine linen and purple wool.”; 8:16 – “the Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor.” (This verse is also a part of the Havdalah Service); and 10:3 – for Mordecai the Jew ranked next to the King Ahasuerus and was highly regarded by the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his kindred.”
There are also six other verses where the reader raises his voice. These are key points in the reading and we want to make sure that everyone hears them. These verses are 1:22, 2:4, 2:17, 4:14, 5:4 and of course 6:1 which is the turning point of the whole story.
Chapter 2, verse 6 recalls the exile of our people by Nebuchadnezzar and it is read not in the regular trop (music) of Esther, but in the trop used in Aicha (Lamentations) as a sign of our sadness over the destruction and exile.
Next week : More Purim: Customs and the Seudah