The Berakhot Recited Before and After Megilla Reading
The Megilla reading is preceded by three berakhot: the birkat ha-mitzva (“al mikra megilla”), the birkat ha-nissim (“she-asa nissim”), and the birkat ha-zman (“she-hechiyanu”).
The authorities note that the Megilla scroll should preferably not be read in the same manner as the Torah, which one rolls as he goes along. R. Hai Gaon, as cited by numerous Rishonim, records the custom to fold the Megilla like a letter, reminiscent of the Purim story, which featured the sending of letters throughout the Persian Empire. Some (Tosafot, Megilla 4a s.v. pasak; Maharil 56) explain this to mean that one should first open the entire Megilla in front of him, like a letter, and then read it. Others (Rif, Megilla 3a; Rosh 1:7; Rambam, Hilkhot Megilla 2:12), however, record the custom to unfold the Megilla as one reads it, and then to refold it before reciting the berakha after the reading; this is the practice codified in the Shulchan Arukh (690:17). The Mishna Berura (56) concludes that before reciting the berakhot one should unroll the entire Megilla, and then fold it over, page over page, ensuring that it does not hang over the bima and touch the floor. He also cites (in se’if katan 55) those who maintain that only the reader, and not the listeners, fold the Megilla like a letter, although in his Shaar Ha-tziyun (50) he notes that the Peri Megadim observed the custom that even the listeners fold the Megilla.
The Gemara (Megilla 21a) relates that the recitation of the final berakha of ha-rav et riveinu after the reading of the Megilla is dependent upon communal custom.
What is the nature of this berakha?
Some assert that ha-rav et riveinu was instituted not for the Megilla reading, but rather as a birkat ha-shevach – a berakha of praise – for the Purim miracle. The Ran (12a in Rif) explains that for this reason, the berakha begins with "barukh," despite its being a "berakha ha-semukha le-chaverata" – a berakha adjacent to another, i.e. to the blessings which precede the Megilla reading, which generally does not open with "barukh." Fundamentally, the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu stands on its own and was not instituted to be recited specifically after the Megilla reading, and it therefore requires its own introductory “barukh.”
The Ritva (Megilla 21b) cites this view, but subsequently rejects it. The Avudraham (Hilkhot Birkat Ha-mitzvot) similarly dismisses the Ran’s theory, and advances the following theory:
The reason why they established a berakha after all mitzvot fulfilled through reading – both readings which are required by Torah law, such as the shema reading, and readings ordained by the Sages, such as reading the Megilla, reading hallel, the haftara and pesukei de-zimra – more so than other mitzvot, is because we learned that the public reading of the Torah must be followed by a berakha through a kal ve-chomer (a fortiori deduction) from birkat ha-mazon, and they therefore established that ALL mitzvot fulfilled through reading should be followed by a berakha, like the public Torah reading.
According to the Avudraham, ha-rav et riveinu indeed relates to the Megilla reading, as the Sages specifically instituted that this berakha be recited at the conclusion of the reading.
The Arukh Ha-shulchan (5) explains that this berakha is not inherently related to the reading of the Megilla per se, but rather is a berakha of pirsumei nisa, which should therefore be recited publicly.
We have thus identified two approaches to the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu. Some view it as an independent berakha commemorating the miraculous events of Purim, while others explain that it was instituted to conclude the reading of the Megilla, just as we conclude hallel, haftarot, and pesukei de-zimra with a berakha.
These two approaches might yield some interesting practical ramifications.
1. The Shulchan Arukh (690:17) writes that upon completing the Megilla reading, one should roll the Megilla and then recite the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu.
The Maharil (56) explains that it is disrespectful to leave the Megilla open unnecessarily, and he even criticized a reader who began reciting the berakha before rolling the Megilla. Conversely, the Magen Avraham (690:19) distinguishes between this berakha and the berakhot recited after the haftara reading, which one should specifically recite while the haftara scroll is still open (Shulchan Arukh 284:6). He explains that since the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu was not instituted upon the reading of the Megilla, one may, or even should, roll up the Megilla before reciting it. He even concludes (20) that one may, if he wishes, recite the berakha first and then afterwards roll the Megilla.
Interestingly, the Eshel Avraham (Buczacz) writes that only the reader should roll the Megilla before reciting ha-rav et riveinu, while the listeners may recite the berakha and then roll their scrolls. Of course, this assumes that even the listeners recited ha-rav et riveinu individually (as opposed to the common practice that only the reader recites this berakha). In any event, the Eshel Avraham comments that it may be preferable for the listeners to recite the berakha before rolling their scrolls so that the berakha immediately follows the reading.
Seemingly, these Acharonim may disagree as to whether the berakha relates to the Megilla reading, or if it functions as an independent berakha praising God for the miracles of Purim (Magen Avraham).
2. Similarly, the authorities debate the question of whether one may speak between the reading of the Megilla and the recitation of ha-rav et riveinu.
The Tur cites the Ba'al Ha-ittur’s comment that "since the final berakha is dependent upon local custom, one should not criticize one who talks between the reading [and the berakha]…" The Beit Yosef and Bach explain that since the berakha was instituted over the miracle of Purim, and not the reading of the Megilla, interruptions are allowed in between the reading and the berakha.
The Tur (692), however, disagrees, arguing that if one indeed recites ha-rav et riveinu, then he should not interrupt between the reading and the berakha. The Bach explains that Tur viewed ha-rav et riveinu as a berakha which concludes the reading of the Megilla, similar to the berakha of yishtabach which concludes pesukei de-zimra. Therefore, one should not interrupt between the Megilla reading and the berakha.
3. May one recite the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu without a quorum? The Beit Yosef (692) cites the Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Megilla 7), who asserts that according to the Talmud Yerushalmi (4:1), one should recite this berakha only "be-tzibbur” – in the presence of a quorum. The Rema (692:1) cites this view, as well.
One might suggest that it the berakha merely concludes the reading of the Megilla, than just as the Megilla may be read without a quorum (when it is read in the proper time), ha-rav et riveinu may similarly be recited privately. Conversely, if the berakha was instituted in order to publicize the miracle, then we should likely limit its recitation to public forums, where the miracle is properly publicized. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (692:5) indeed explains the Rema in this manner.
In truth, however, one might dispute this reasoning. On the one hand, one might suggest that the berakha was instituted specifically as the conclusion of a public Megilla reading, which may differ qualitatively from a private reading. On the other hand, even if the berakha was instituted to publicize the miracle and to offer thanksgiving, one may still be able to recite it privately.
The Eliya Rabba (692:8) cites numerous authorities who disagree with the Orchot Chayim’s position, and he rules that even an individual may recite ha-rav et riveinu. The Bi’ur Ha-gra also implies that the berakha may be recited without a quorum. The Bi’ur Halakha, however, concludes that since reciting the berakha is in any event only a custom, and generally we follow the rule of safek berakhot le-hakel (we refrain from reciting berakhot in situations of doubt), an individual should not recite this berakha. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (ibid.), by contrast, allows reciting the berakha even privately. For one thing, he writes, he was unable to locate the passage in the Yerushalmi that was cited as the source for this halakha (possibly because the Yerushalmi may not have referred to ha-rav et riveinu at all, as noted by the Vilna Gaon). Additionally, the requirement of a quorum for the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu does not appear in the writings of any other Rishonim, and, thirdly, the custom was to recite the berakha even without a quorum.
Regarding this “quorum” which may be preferable or even required in certain circumstances, one may question whether Halakha here refers to a “minyan,” which generally consists of ten males, or even to ten women, who may comprise a “community” (see http://etzion.org.il/en/laws-purim-taanit-esther-and-women%D3%B3-obligation-keriat-megilla). This question would impact upon the issue of whether ha-rav et riveinu should be recited at a reading for women (regardless of whether the Megilla is read by a man or a woman).
The Shulchan Arukh (692:1) records that nowadays it is customary for all communities to recite this berakha.