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21a: Standing While Reading the Megilla

Rav Ezra Bick


A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a

red pause box
 It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions. I am working on a way to have your computer melt if you don't, but as of yet, the technical details are still beyond me.


We are beginning the third perek of Masechet Megilla, on daf 21a. The perek begins with a mishna, which is what we will be reading today. As I stated last week, we will jump right in.

Take a look at the scan of the daf or your printed edition. The mishna is in the middle of the page. Normally, a new mishna would begin with the letters מתני, which simply indicate a "matnitin", a mishna, but because this is the beginning of a new chapter, the printers thought that unnecessary. We begin with the first two lines.

He who reads the megilla standing and sitting

If one read it, if two read it, they have fulfilled.

הקורא את המגילה עומד ויושב

קראה אחד קראוה שניים יצאו

I deliberately translated the mishna in a totally literal manner, and it is not readily clear what it means. I did so, because the Hebrew original is not any clearer. The Mishna is often written in a terse, nearly telegraphic style, and you have to not so much read it as to decipher it. In this case, I do not think that it is too difficult, so first take a few minutes and try and decide what is the meaning of the first two lines. I shall patiently wait until you have done so.


Pausing while you explain the mishna

In any event, Rashi is there to help us.

Look at the first Rashi on the Mishna.
Every comment in Rashi begins with a citation of the words from the Talmud on which he is commenting. In some newer editions, those citation words have been bolded, to make it easier to find the Rashi you are looking for. This is true for the edition of the Gemara that I am using right now, but is unfortunately not true for the scan. But in this case, being the first Rashi of the new chapter, it is not too difficult to find it.

He who reads. Standing and sitting - If he wants, he can stand; if he wants, he can sit.

הקורא. עומד ויושב. אם רצה עומד אם רצה יושב:

In other words, there is no need for the reader of the megilla to stand; he may sit if he wishes to.

Now for the second line of the mishna, we turn to the second Rashi (s.v. "karuhu").

If two read it. Together, they have fulfilled (the obligation), and we do not say that two voices together are not heard.

קראוה שנים. יחד יצאו ולא אמרינן אין שני קולות נשמעין כאחד

Now, you may ask how Rashi knows that "two read" means "two reading together," and not "two reading one after the other." When we see the gemara on this mishna, which won't be this week, the answer will be clear. One of the advantages of using Rashi is that he knew all of the Talmud before he wrote his commentary, so we benefit from his superior knowledge. In the meantime, we can simply trust him.

So, the mishna is stating two laws:


  • a.  One can read the megilla sitting, if one wishes, and does not need to stand;
    b.  Two people can read the megilla together, in a duet, if they wish.

The fact that it is necessary to state these two laws implies that there exists a prima facie reason why both of these possibilities should have been disqualified. More importantly, there may well be other readings where in fact one needs to stand, and where only a solo reading is permitted. This implication is the starting point of the gemara, to which we now move.

We are skipping, for the time being, the rest of the mishna. There is nothing unusual about this. The gemara is a running commentary and discussion on the mishna, and we are going to see the gemara to the section of the mishna which we have just read.

On the printed page of the Talmud, the beginning of the gemara after a mishna is marked with the bold letters גמ, which stands for, unsurprisingly, gemara. We are skipping some 11 lines of the mishna and beginning the gemara.

Tana: Which is not true concerning the Torah.

What is the source for this?

R. Abahu said: The verse states: "And you shall stand here with Me."

And R. Abahu said: Were it not for the explicit verse, we could not have said it - it is as though God also was standing.

תנא מה שאין כן בתורה.

מנהני מילי?

אמר רבי אבהו: דאמר קרא "ואתה פה עמד עמדי", ואמר רבי אבהו: אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאומרו. כביכול אף הקב"ה בעמידה.

Some words of explanation.

Tana: This word, literally meaning "it was taught," is the introductory word for a beraita. The mishna is a collection of material authored by Rav Yehuda Hanassi, based on a far wider range of material. Those tannaitic sources left out of the mishna are called beraita, literally "outside." We possess today a collection of the beraita, which is printed in the back of full editions of the Talmud, and is called the Tosefta, but the gemara quotes many beraitaot (pl. of beraita) that are not found in the Tosefta.

Our gemara quotes a beraita that is actually a continuation of the mishna. After the words of the mishna, "He who reads standing and sitting" (which we have seen actually means "one can read either standing or sitting"), the beraita adds, "which is not true concerning the Torah." This means that when reading the Torah, one does not have the option to either stand or sit.

Logically, this could mean either that one must sit, or that one must stand. Since there would not appear to be a reason why standing is disallowed, the correct interpretation is that when reading the Torah, one is required to stand. If you did not see this on your own, you could have learned it from Rashi, who states (s.v. "ma" - the first Rashi on the gemara):


Which is not true concerning the Torah. For we do not read the Torah in public sitting

מה שאין כן בתורה. שאין קורין בתורה בציבור מיושב:

The gemara has concluded that, although the megilla can be read sitting, the Torah must be read standing. The rest of the perek will, in fact, deal mainly with the laws of reading the Torah, and this is our first case. The Torah must be read standing.

Rashi adds an important condition to this conclusion. We are speaking of the reading of the Torah in public. Learning Torah by yourself can be done seated (although we shall shortly see that this is not a totally simple matter). The subject of the mishna and the  beraita is the public reading of the Torah in the synagogue, which we know is done on Shabbat, Mondays and Thursdays, and festivals (as, coincidentally, is detailed in the continuation of our mishna).

Now the gemara asks, what is the source of this new law? Why does one need to stand when reading the Torah?

R. Abahu's answer is based on a verse in Devarim 5,28. To understand the derivation, we have to examine the context. Chapter 5 of Devarim describes the giving of the Ten Commandments. When it is all over, God tells Moshe:

(27) Go tell them, Go back to your tents.
(28) And you shall stand here with me, and I shall teach you all of the commandments, the ordinances, and the judgements which you shall teach them, and they will fulfill them in the land which I am giving them to inherit.

    God is keeping Moshe with Him on Mt. Sinai in order to teach him the entire Torah. God tells Moshe to stand with Him on the mountain, meaning, in the context of the previous verse, to remain on the mountain, rather than returning to his tent like the rest of the Jews. R. Abahu is taking the verb to mean to stand, as opposed to sit, and since it states that Moshe should "stand here with Me," it implies that God shall be standing as well.

    This answers the gemara's question, "מנהני מילי?" (what is the source for this?).

    How? Think about about the implications of this use of R. Abahu to answer the gemara's original question. For R. Abahu to be the source of the ruling that the reader of the Torah in the synagogue must stand, the case described by the verse in Devarim has to be parallel to the case under question. Clearly, the gemara thinks that the position of God vis a vis Moshe Rabeinu when He was teaching Moshe the Torah is analogous to that of the reader of the Torah in the synagogue. The gemara is not comparing the reading of the Torah to Moshe on Mt. Sinai but to God on Mt. Sinai; hence the necessity of citing R. Abahu's astonishing statement that God, as it were, was also standing.

    There is a simple question which arises immediately. As we saw before, Rashi explicitly limited the need to stand during the reading of the Torah to public reading, meaning in a congregation of Israel. But the source, the case of Moshe on Mt. Sinai, was not a public reading but rather one of private study, with God teaching the single individual Moshe. If so, the cases are not analogous. How can the gemara compare them?


    Pause, while you think about that question. There is no rush - I am waiting patiently for you to think of your own answer before I give mine.

     Here is my answer to this question. The solution is found in once again examining the context. God is not studying with Moshe simply in order to enlighten him. The verse explicitly and immediately adds that God is going to teach Moshe Torah so that he will teach the Jewish people all the laws of the Torah. Moshe on Mt. Sinai, although he is there alone, is actually receiving the Torah for all Israel. I think this is essential, as ideologically it is a principle of Jewish theology that the Torah was given to Israel, and not individuals. In that sense, we should remember that this verse is a continuation of the revelation of Sinai, which was to all Israel. Moshe does not ascend the mountain to receive the Torah, he remains on the mountain which he originally ascended as part of the public spectacle of Ten Commandments. Even though the other Jews return to their tents, he remains, continuing the original process by being a link in the chain that begins with God and will end when he transmits the revelation to the rest of Israel. Hence it is clear to the Sages that Moshe's learning Torah on Mt. Sinai is a case of public Torah study, and not private study, and the derivation proposed by the gemara is indeed based on the analogous nature of the two cases.

    A second point: If Moshe's study with God is the source for the requirement to stand when reading the Torah in the synagogue, then that would seem to imply that the nature of the Torah reading is one of study. God was not reading the Torah to Moshe as a kind of ceremony, but was teaching him Torah. The implication is that public teaching of Torah is what mandates standing. Since the gemara applies this to Torah reading, we can conclude an important point about the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. It is an exercise in study on a communal level. The special laws that apply to the reading of the Torah (at least, at this point, the one special law of standing - but I am suggesting a tool for explaining other laws as well) derive from the public nature of this Torah study, as opposed to the private nature of regular Torah study. We will have occasion to examine this point in the future, as we learn more about the laws of Torah reading.

    Let us learn two more lines of gemara.

    And R. Abahu said: From whence do we know that the teacher should not sit on a couch and teach his student who is sitting on the ground? "As it is written, And you shall stand here with Me."

    ואמר ר' אבהו: מנין לרב שלא ישב על גבי מטה וישנה לתלמידו על גבי קרקע, שנאמר ואתה פה עמד עמדי.

    Once again, elementary common sense is necessary to determine exactly what is objectionable about the state described, where the teacher sits on a couch and the student on the ground. It is clear, I think, that the problem is the inequality, rather than anything objectionable to either the couch for the teacher or the ground for the student. Hence the proof text - God told Moshe to stand with him. The proof is from the word "with" and not from the word "stand." This is, once again, explained explicitly by Rashi (s.v. "shelo")

    Should not sit on a couch. Rather, either both of them on the couch or both of them on the ground.

    שלא ישב על ההמטה. אלא או שניהם על גבי המטה או שניהם על גבי קרקע:

    That is it for today. I suggest that you try and now read the entire section we learned - the two lines of mishna and the 5 lines of gemara - directly from the printed gemara or the webscan. In that version, there is no punctuation, as well as once abbreviation, so the reading will be more difficult than the Hebrew version in the shiur. Try and read it through, with understanding, and, if possible, try reading the Rashi together with the Talmudic text

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