"And By Night I Have No Rest" Reading the Megilla at Night

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

“And By Night, I Have No Rest”

Reading the Megilla at Night

 

By Harav Baruch Gigi

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

“TO READ IT AT NIGHT AND AGAIN DURING THE DAY”

 

            As is well known, the mitzva to read the megilla applies on both Purim night and Purim day. In this shiur we shall discuss the sources for these two readings and the differences between them.

 

The Gemara in Megilla (4a) discusses the source of the obligation to read the megilla at night:

 

And R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: A person is obligated to read the megilla at night and repeat it (le-shanotah) during the day. As it is stated: “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you hear not; by night and I have no rest” (Tehillim 22:3).

[The disciples] understood from this: To read [the megilla] at night, and to learn its Mishna during the day. R. Yirmiya said to them: It has been explained to me personally by R. Chiyya bar Abba: [“Le-shanotah” means] as people say: I will finish this section and repeat it.

It was also stated: R. Chelbo said in the name of Ulla from Biri: A person is obligated to read the megilla at night and repeat it during the day. As it is stated: “So that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent; O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever” (Tehillim 30:13).

 

A similar passage is found in Yerushalmi Megilla (2, 4):

 

Ulla of Biri said in the name of R. Elazar who said in the name of R. Chanina ragil[1]: One must read it at night and repeat it during the day. We first thought that he meant: To learn its Mishna. R. Abba Mari of Babylonia said: To read it again.

 

            In both Talmuds, the Amoraim themselves had difficulty understanding the words of R. Yehoshua ben Levi and R. Chanina, and they were therefore inclined to interpret them not in their plain sense. Their initial understanding was that there is an obligation to read the megilla itself at night and to study the Mishna of tractate Megilla during the day. This is very difficult to comprehend. How could it possibly have been suggested that one should study the relevant mishnayot during the day, and read the megilla at night and not during the day, when this clearly contradicts the plain sense of the Biblical and Mishnaic texts, as will be explained below?

 

            We read in tractate Megilla:

 

Mishna: We do not read the megilla, or circumcise, or undergo immersion, or sprinkle, and similarly, a woman who watches a day corresponding to a day may not immerse herself until the sun has risen. And in all these [cases], if they performed [the mitzva] after the first ray of dawn appeared, it is valid.

Gemara: From where do we know this? For the verse states: “And these days should be remembered and kept” (Esther 9:28) – in the day, but not at night. Shall we say this is a refutation of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, for R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: A person is obligated to read the megilla at night and repeat it during the day? [No,] this Mishna teaches only about the daytime [reading]. (Megilla 20a)

 

The next Mishna states:

 

Mishna: The entire day is valid for reading the megilla and for reciting Hallel, and for blowing the shofar, and for taking the lulav… The entire night is valid for the reaping of the omer, and for the burning of [sacrificial] fats and organs. This is the general rule: Any mitzva that must be performed by day, may be performed throughout the day; any mitzva that must be performed at night, may be performed throughout the night.

Gemara: From where do we know this? For the verse states: “And these days should be remembered and kept” (Esther 9:28). [And how do we know this] for reciting Hallel? For the verse states: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the Lord’s name is to be praised” (Tehillim 113:3). (Megilla 20b)

 

            The two Mishnayot seem to assume that the megilla is not read at night. The second Mishna has a list of mitzvot that are observed during the day and a list of mitzvot that are observed at night. The mitzva of megilla reading is found in the list of day-mitzvot, but not in the list of night-mitzvot. The Gemara on the first Mishna points out that the Mishna seems to contradict the position of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, and answers that the Mishna relates exclusively to the daytime reading, and not to megilla reading at night. One might, however, have expected the second Mishna to mention the nighttime reading in its list of mitzvot that are observed at night, but it fails to do so, and what is more amazing is that the Gemara makes no mention of this omission. Surely, this needs further study. See, however, the Or Zaru’a (Hilkhot Megilla 369), who appears to have had a different reading of the Gemara:

 

When the Mishna states “by day” it is referring to circumcision. This means that we circumcise only during the day, but megilla reading takes place also at night.[2]

 

            According to the Or Zaru’a, the first Mishna comes only to exclude the possibility of performing circumcision at night, but not nighttime megilla reading. In the continuation, he relates also to the second Mishna which lists megilla reading as a day-mitzva, and not a night-mitzva:

 

Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishna teaches [the law regarding megilla reading] among those mitzvot that are observed only during the day implies that the primary mitzva of megilla [reading] is during the day, even though it is also observed at night.

 

            The Or Zaru’a argues that there is a mitzva to read the megilla also at night, but since the primary mitzva is performed during the day, only this obligation is mentioned. This explanation is not fully satisfying.[3] It seems, therefore, that we must explain the Gemara’s initial understanding that one reads the megilla at night and studies the Mishna of tractate Megilla during the day, and so too the Mishna’s omission of the obligation to read the megilla at night, in light of the distinction between the nighttime and daytime readings of the megilla.

 

WHAT IS THE PRIMARY MITZVA?

 

            Even though there is a mitzva to read the megilla already on Purim night, many Rishonim write that the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited a second time over the daytime reading, because the primary mitzva is by day. Thus write the Tosafot (4a, s.v. chayyav):

 

The Ri says: Even though one recites the Shehecheyanu blessing at night, one must recite it again during the day. For the primary publicizing of the miracle is through the reading of the day. The verse implies the same, as it is written: “And by night, and I have no rest” (Tehillim 22:3). That is to say, even though one reads during the day, one is obligated to read at night, but the primary obligation is during the day, since it is mentioned first in the verse. So too the primary meal is during the day, as it is stated below (7b), that if one eats it at night, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation. This is also implied by the verse which states: “Remembered and kept” (Esther 9:28). Remembering is compared to keeping. Just as the primary keeping is during the day, so too regarding remembering.

 

            The Tosafot bring many proofs to their claim that the primary mitzva of megilla reading is during the day. The most important proof is based on the verse in Esther (9:28): “And these days should be remembered and kept.” This verse mentions remembering only in relation to the day, and an analogy is drawn between remembering (megilla reading) and keeping (the Purim meal). Just as a Purim meal celebrated at night does not satisfy a person’s obligation, so too the primary megilla reading is not at night.

 

The words of Tosafot are difficult. It would have made more sense to draw a full analogy between remembering and keeping: Just as keeping is by day and not at night, so too remembering is by day and not at night. The Tosafot are barred from saying this in light of the fact that R. Yehoshua ben Levi requires megilla reading at night. The Rashba does not hesitate to raise this objection against the Tosafot:

 

The main point, however, astonishes me. For surely it is written: “Remembered and kept,” so that remembering is compared to keeping. And keeping is only during the day, as we say that if one eats his Purim meal at night, he has not fulfilled his obligation, for the verse states: “Days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22). It may be suggested that Scripture added a remembering, as the verse states: “And by night, and I have no rest.” (Rashba, Megilla 4a, s.v. chayyav).

 

            It seems that we must adopt the position of the Turei Even who maintains that there is an essential difference between the obligation to read the megilla during the day, which was the original enactment of the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedola, and the enactment to read the megilla at night, which is merely by rabbinic decree:

 

It seems to me that this nighttime reading is only by rabbinic decree and it is not the primary obligation imposed [in the megilla] by divine inspiration. Surely the verse states: “And these days should be remembered and kept.” Remembering is compared to keeping… Just as keeping is not at night – as we say below (7b): If one ate one’s Purim meal at night, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation. What is the reason? The verse states: “Days of feasting and joy” – so too remembering is not at night. And the verses brought in the passage for nighttime megilla reading are merely a support. (Turei Even, Megilla 4a, s.v. kegon)

 

            Many Rishonim write that this is the reason that the village dwellers who advance their megilla reading to the yom ha-kenisa, the Monday or Thursday before Purim, read only during the day and not at night (see Ran, beginning of Megilla). There are, however, a number of Rishonim who write that even village dwellers read the megilla at night in their own villages and on the fourteenth, because the nighttime megilla reading does not require a quorum of ten. Thus writes the Ritva:

 

It seems to me that there is no insistence on ten for the nighttime reading, even when reading not at the proper time of the general population. For the villagers who advanced [their megilla reading] to the yom ha-kenisa, would read in their own villages at night. For they are not exempted from this reading, it being obligatory. And in their villages they did not have [a quorum of] ten. Even at night they would not get together for this purpose. It seems to me that the villages and towns would advance their daytime reading to yom ha-kenisa in order to read [the megilla] in public. But as for the nighttime reading, each individual would read [the megilla] at the proper time in his village if he knows [how to read it] or he would go to a friend. (Ritva, 4a, s.v. mistaber)

 

            The matter, however, still requires further examination, for even if we say that the primary mitzva is during the day, how can a person who read the megilla at night and already recited the Shehecheyanu blessing recite that blessing a second time during the day? Surely he is no worse than one who recited the Shehecheyanu when he erected his sukka and therefore does not recite it again the first time he dwells in it, even though dwelling in the sukka constitutes the primary mitzva, and erecting the sukka is merely preparation for the mitzva. Indeed, this is the way that the Vilna Gaon understands the Rambam and the Shulchan Arukh, who rule that the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited only over the nighttime reading.

 

THE POSITION OF THE SEFAT EMET – TWO FESTIVALS

 

            Those Rishonim who maintain that the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited twice seem to be of the opinion that the mitzva at night and the mitzva during the day are two separate mitzvot, and since the daytime mitzva is more important,[4] one does not fulfill one’s obligation with the Shehecheyanu blessing recited over the nighttime reading, and so a second blessing must be recited over the new mitzva of daytime reading. The Sefat Emet explains the matter as follows:

 

On a Yom Tov, if there is a mitzva that is observed also at night, the Shehecheyanu blessing is not recited during the day. For example, on Sukkot, the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited only at night. Nevertheless, the Tosafot brought a valid proof that [on Purim] the night is distinct from the day from the fact that there is no obligation of feasting and joy at night. Thus it appears that they are like two festivals, for at night there is only the mitzva of megilla reading, and the festival is only during the day, as we say: The verse states: “Days of feasting and joy.” (Sefat Emet, s.v. chayyav)

 

            The essence of what he is saying is that the night and day of Purim are like two different days. The main “yom tov” is during the day; the night is not a “yom tov” and there is only a mitzva to read the megilla. Thus, the two readings are considered like two mitzvot observed on two different days that are essentially different from one another, and a separate Shehecheyanu blessing must be recited over each of the mitzvot observed on each of the days – that is, at night and during the day.[5]

 

            It seems to me, however, that the matter is by no means clear and simple, for the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited over the act of reading the megilla. Thus, it stands to reason that since it was already recited over the nighttime reading, it should not be recited again a second time over the daytime reading. The matter requires further examination.

 

TWO OBLIGATIONS OF MEGILLA READING

 

            It appears, then, that the daytime reading is essentially different from the nighttime reading. The daytime reading is a reading of the megilla, whereas the nighttime reading is not a reading of the megilla, but something else. Let me explain.

 

            The essence of the mitzva of megilla reading is publicizing the miracle. And like every mitzva intended for thanksgiving and publicizing a miracle, the main mitzva is during the day in the midst of a great assembly of people. For example, the mitzva of Hallel is recited during the day, based on the verse, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the Lord’s name is to be praised” (Tehillim 113:3), or on the verse, “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Tehillim 118:24). Likewise, the mitzva of thanksgiving through the recitation of the Ha-Gomel blessing is recited in the presence of a large congregation. So too the megilla must be read and the words of thanksgiving must be recited during the day and in a public forum, as it is stated: “And these days should be remembered and kept” (Esther 9:28). Tehillim 22 – the psalm of Ayelet ha-Shachar, i.e. Esther – states: “I will declare Your name to my brothers: in the midst of the congregation I will praise You” (v. 23). It would seem to follow then that there is no place for reading the megilla at night, just as there is no place for reciting Hallel at night.[6]

 

            R. Yehoshua ben Levi, who initiated megilla reading at night, focuses on a different aspect of the reading. Rashi (ad loc.) emphasizes: “[This reading is] in commemoration of the miracle, for during the period of their distress they cried out day and night.” Rashi seems to be saying that the nighttime reading of the megilla is primarily intended to recall Israel’s hour of adversity when they cried out to God day and night.[7] This is necessary in order to prepare our hearts for the thanksgiving and publicizing of the miracle during the day. Thanksgiving is only evident when it comes in response to the feeling of great danger from which one is rescued. Just as Chazal have said that anyone who mourns over Jerusalem will merit seeing it in its joy, so too one who does not feel the loss and the distress will not be able to feel the salvation. This is what R. Yehoshua ben Levi meant when he said that a person is obligated to read the megilla at night and then again during the day. When he reads it during the day after having read it at night, the latter being a reading out of a sense of trouble, his feeling of thanksgiving will be greatly intensified. This, indeed, is the gist of the psalm which is the primary source for the position of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, which describes the great trouble and the salvation therefrom.

 

REMEMBERING THE DISTRESS AND THE REDEMPTION

 

            It seems to me, however, that the novelty of R. Yehoshua ben Levi’s position is in a different direction. Rashi emphasizes recalling the cries of the past when Israel called out to God in the days of Haman. It seems, however, that R. Yehoshua ben Levi wishes to emphasize a different cry; amidst the various cries of the generations across history, he wants us to hear the secret of the redemption of Purim, and apply it to our current situation, in the spirit of “in those days in this time.”

 

            Esther commanded: “Write me for all generations, establish me for all generations.” The Jewish people are commanded to mark the rescue and offer thanksgiving every year across all the generations. This despite the fact that already at that time it was said: “At first we were slaves of Achashverosh, and now too we are slaves of Achashverosh.”[8] Over the course of the generations, the distress only intensified. In the meantime, we became slaves to Titus and Vespasian, we became slaves to Hadrian, we were oppressed by various nations, and there seemed to be no clear justification for days of feasting and joy. R. Yehoshua ben Levi’s novel idea was to shed light on the essence of that rescue and the essence of the days of Purim whose “memorial will not perish from their seed.” The two verses cited by the Gemara as the source of the law of reading the megilla at night are taken from two chapters that describe the terrible crisis passing over the people:

 

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me, from the words of My loud complaint? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You hear not; and by night, and I have no rest. (Tehillim 22:2-3)

 

You did hide Your face, and I was affrighted. I cried to You, O Lord; and to the Lord I made supplication[9]… Shall dust praise You? Shall it declare Your truth? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; Lord, be You may helper… To the end that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent.[10] O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Tehillim 30)

 

            The crisis the Jewish people experienced during the time of Mordekhai and Esther was exceedingly difficult. The Jewish people were in great trouble, their enemies closed in on them, and wished to destroy, to slay, and to annihilate. In the midst of the great cry, the voice of Mordekhai was heard saying: “For if you remain silent at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from elsewhere.” Mordekhai’s confidence was like that of the Psalmist, that “the Eternal One will not lie nor change His mind; for He is not a man, that he should change His mind” (Tehillim 15:29).[11] He trusted in God, who is now concealed, but out of Whose concealment salvation will come. This trust is what has sustained us across the generations and all our troubles. Reading the megilla at night comes to emphasize that even during the trying times of darkness and concealment, we are promised that rescue and salvation will come, for “My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed” (Yeshaya 56:1). Nighttime megilla reading is like the reading of Tehillim by one who is going through a crisis, but trusts in the salvation that is bursting forth through the cracks, like the dawn whose light breaks out little by little. Following the nighttime reading there is the daytime reading, the reading of thanksgiving and praise.[12] These are two different mitzvot: first a reading of prayer, trust, and hope, and then a reading of thanksgiving and salvation.

 

The closing words of the Rambam also suggest that the remembrance of the days of Purim relates not only to the rescue, but also to the troubles:[13]

 

In messianic times all the Prophetic Books and the Writings will cease to be used – except the Book of Esther. For this will continue to endure, just as the five books of the Law and the rules of the Oral Law will never be rescinded. And so, although all memory of ancient troubles will disappear, in accordance with the verse, “Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from mine eyes” (Yeshaya 65:16), the days of Purim will not cease to be observed, as it is said: “And that these says of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed” (Esther 9:28). (Hilkhot Megilla 2:18)

 

            We see, then, that an essential part of the remembrance of these days that will not perish from their seed is the memory of the troubles. Remembering those troubles and understanding the essence of the rescue reflects the hope of redemption from the troubles befalling the Jewish people throughout history.

 

According to this approach and according to the above understanding of Rashi, it is clear why there is room to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing twice: over the daytime reading of the megilla, which is the primary megilla reading, the reading of praise, enacted by the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedola; and over the nighttime reading, which is the reading of prayer and hope established by rabbinic enactment. The Ritva’s view that the nighttime reading does not require a quorum of ten even when it does not take place on the fourteenth is also very understandable according to this approach. Ten people are required for a reading of praise and thanksgiving – “in the midst of the congregation I will praise You.” But even an individual can perform a reading of prayer and hope.

 

“It is a time of trouble to Ya’akov, but he shall be saved out of it” (Yirmiya 30:7). It is our prayer, our trust and our hope that the cry of “by night, and I have no rest” will not return emptyhanded; that our cries will be heard and answered, “for He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hid face from him; but when he cried to Him, He heard. My praises shall be of You in the great congregation; I will pay my vows before those who fear Him” (Tehillim 22:25); and that out of it will burst forth a song of thanksgiving over our redemption and the rescue of our souls: “How can I repay the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will raise the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of he Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people” (Tehillim 116:12-13).

 


[1] The word ragil is difficult. See Korban Ha-Eda and Chiddushei Ha-Ramash.

[2] See also Chiddushei Ha-Rashba, ad loc., who has a similar reading.

[3] See Turei Even who suggests why megilla reading is not included among the nighttime mitzvot: “Certainly all the mitzvot that may be performed all day or all night and are listed in the Mishna are not by rabbinic decree, but rather all are by Torah law. Even though it teaches there that the entire day is fit for megilla reading and for reciting Hallel, since the megilla was written with divine inspiration, it is like a Torah law, and not a rabbinic decree. As for Hallel, since the prophets ordained that it be recited over every trouble after [Israel] is redeemed, it is like a Torah law.” We shall discuss the Turei Even more fully below.

[4] If the two mitzvot – that of the day and that of the night – were on the same level, there would be no need to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing over the daytime reading, just as we find regarding Chanuka candles that there is a separate mitzva each day, but the Shehecheyanu blessing is only recited on the first day. See Shabbat 23a, and Be’ur Ha-Gra, end of sec. 676. See also Ittur on Megilla regarding the Shehecheyanu blessing, letter 2.

[5] See also what he writes regarding a Shehecheyanu blessing recited over the day of Purim itself. This is why we emphasized that the blessing is over the mitzvot that are performed on each of the days. See also Meiri (Megilla 4a) on this point.

[6] An objection may not be raised from the Hallel recited twice on the first night of Pesach, once in the synagogue and again at the seder, for both these readings of Hallel are different than the ordinary Hallel, and that night is different from an ordinary night, it being a night of watching. This, however, is not the forum to discuss the issue.

[7] This inclination of Rashi to emphasize the remembrance of the troubles alongside the joy of the rescue also finds expression in the Tur’s explanation of the need for the fast of Ta’anit Esther on the day before Purim. This fast recalls what our forefathers did in Shushan, for they fasted on the thirteenth of Adar on the day that they assembled to defend their lives. The thanksgiving and joy of Purim must fully relate to all the events, from the troubles and prayers to the redemption and salvation. It should be noted that this idea is even more pronounced according to the view that Ta’anit Esther does not mark the fast on the day that the Jews assembled to defend themselves, but rather the fast during the previous Nisan, which accompanied the great cry during the time of crisis when Haman’s decree was first announced (both of these possibilities appear in the Tur).

[8] See Arakhin 10b.

[9] Psalm 30 describes the salvation which the Psalmist merited – “I will extol you, O Lord, for You have lifted me up”; the illusion – “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved”; and the changes resulting from the psalmist’s prayers and cries – “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing… to the end that my glory may sing praise to You.” A person can witness changes if he maintains his hope and continues to cry out until he is answered.

[10] The Hebrew is “ve-lo yidom,” similar to “dumiya” in the verse, “and by night, and I have no rest (dumiya),” the source for reading the megilla at night.

[11] “If not for the Lord who was with us, when the man rose up against us” (Tehillim 124:2) – [the man] is Haman.

[12] “Its reading is its praise” – see Arakhin 10b.

[13] I heard this point from R. Shlomo Brin.