Megillah 2 - 8
The Megillah and Talmud Torah
“The Yeshiva of Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi) would interrupt (“mevatlin,” which literally means nullify) their Torah study in order to come to read the Megillah of Esther on Purim.”
Our sugya explains the textual basis for their course of action (Esther 9:28). However, the commantaries seem puzzled by the words “mevatlin Talmud Torah.” Although the yeshiva students paused their own normal Torah study to read the Megillah, as per the mitzvah, their reading the Megillah was also a manner of Torah study and not a “nullification of Torah study”! After all, the Megillah of Esther is one of the twenty-four books of the Tanach! (Rashash and many others)
Numerous fascinating answers are offered by the commentaries and here is a brief presentation of a few approaches. The gemara in Mesechet Megillah 18a references some enigmatic words that appear in the Megillah. The identity of the “achashtranim bnei haramachim” (Esther 8:10) is vague, although from the context it is clear that it refers to couriers. Our Sages admit that we read about these achashtranim without a full grasp of their identity. However, we nevertheless fulfill the mitzvah of reading of the Megillah without complete understanding the exact translation of the text. But despite fulfilling the mitzvah of reading the Megillah, it can be said that there is an aspect of bitul Torah when reading these words — a failure to fulfill the mitzvah to learn Torah while reading those words — due to a lack of reading comprehension. (Magen Avraham, Maharil Diskin and others offer a glimpse into further understanding the need to understand words of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah)
Some suggest that the bitul Torah of hearing the Megillah is not related to the actual reading or hearing the Megillah being read. Rather, it refers to the time and effort required for the students to go out from the yeshiva to join with the rest of the people of the community, presumably in the central shul of their locale. This answer is alluded to in the words of the gemara, which says that the yeshiva students interrupted their Torah study “to come to read the Megillah.” They did not read the Megillah as individuals or even as a separate yeshiva. Rather, they interrupted their studies in order to publicize the miracle of Purim together with all of the people in their community. Fulfilling the mitzvah in this way is preferable since “in the multitude of the people, the King is glorified.” (Mishlei 14:28) Although travel from their yeshiva to the preferred destination where the Megillah would be read resulted in diminished time and ability for Torah study, it was the correct way to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah. In this manner they would express the greatness of Hashem and their gratitude for the miracle of Purim in the best possible way. (Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 687:8)
A third approach is that the concern for bitul Torah was not with regards to the amount or quantity of their Torah study but rather concerned the quality of their Torah study. Torah is the Divine wisdom that Hashem chose to share with us, to teach us how to follow His ways and grow as close to our Creator as possible. To do this, Hashem’s will is that we should study the moral teachings of the Torah to the maximum, each person according to his own personal ability. We are taught, for example, that one who is capable of mishna study should not confine his Torah study to the Tanach. And this is true for all of the various ways, levels and areas of Torah study: each person is instructed to pursue the study of the Torah in the most elevated and lofty way possible for him as an individual. A person who is capable of delving into the depths of the “Sea of the Talmud” should emphasize gemara study more than the study of mishna and Tanach. Many or most of the students of the Rebbe’s yeshiva were pursuing relatively advanced levels of the Torah’s Oral Law, as is the case with the typical yeshiva in our own day. For them — and for many other Torah students like them — it would be considered to be bitul Torah to diminish the quality of their Torah study. Regarding the mitzvah of Talmud Torah it would not be appropriate to halt the yeshiva’s gemara shiur and their individual efforts to pursue the depths of Shas in order to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah of Esther on the night and day of Purim. But halt their own study they must — in order to read the Megillah and fulfill this special mitzvah instituted by Chazal.
- Megillah 3a