THE MITZVA OF MEGILLA: HEARING OR READING
Rabbi Chaim Binyomin Kaye
The nature of the mitzva of Megilla might easily be taken for granted
- that in essence, one's obligation is to hear the Megilla being read,
rather than personally read it. After all, the majority of us seem to
fulfil the mitzva by listening to the ba'al Korei reading, without
reading the Megilla ourselves. However, this issue is more complex
than it first appears. Many major halachic authorities are of the
opinion that the mitzva is to "read" the Megilla. How then, do we
fulfil our obligation every year by merely hearing it read, and not
reading it ourselves?
The simple answer draws on a classic halachic concept known as "shomea ke'oneh", which literally means, "the one who hears something is equal to the one who said it". This concept is used constantly in halacha and in our daily lives. For instance, there is an obligation to recite kiddush on Shabbos night and day. Yet we all know that only the head of the household recites it while the rest of the family listens(1). Afterwards, he says the bracha of hamotzi, on behalf of the family, even though each individual ordinarily has an obligation to recite it himself. In both cases, for kiddush and hamotzi, this practice suffices because of the halacha, shomea ke'oneh. By listening to the one who is saying the bracha, we take part in his recitation, and it is halachically considered as if we ourselves have said the bracha. The same applies to the mitzva of Megilla. Although the mitzva is to read the Megilla, by hearing it read, it is as if we have read it ourselves(2).
This distinction between hearing and reading is borne out in a closer examination of the wording of the bracha recited for the mitzva of Megilla as well as the different obligations for men and women.
THE WORDING OF THE BRACHA
Typically, before performing a mitzva, we make a blessing over that mitzva. The Rosh has a long and fascinating discussion concerning the syntax of the blessing for a mitzva. Sometimes brachos contains the letter lamed preceding an infinitive verb, ("to do"). e.g., le'haniach tefillin - "Blessed are You. [Who] commanded us to put on tefillin"; le'hisateif batzitzis, "Blessed are You. [Who] commanded us to wrap oneself in tzitzis." At other times, it contains the word "al" ( "regarding the action of"). e.g., al hamila and not lamul - "Blessed are You. [Who] commanded us regarding circumcision", not "commanded us to circumcise,"; al bedikas chametz and not livdok chametz - "Blessed are You. [Who] commanded us regarding the checking for chametz", not "commanded us to check for chametz".
He cites the opinion of the Riva who says that the matter depends on whether the mitzva must be fulfilled by the person himself, or can be discharged through a shaliach (agent). If it has to be done himself, the bracha is phrased in the infinitive (i.e., with a lamed), which connotes that the obligation is to do this oneself. On the other hand, if it can be fulfilled through someone else, the bracha uses the word "al", meaning that the obligation is to make sure the mitzva gets done, even through a second party. He does not necessarily have to perform the mitzva himself.
Therefore, on the mitzvos of tefillin, tzitzis, lulav etc, we say "le..." as these mitzvos cannot be done through a shaliach. But on the mitzva of bris mila or bedikas chametz, we say "al", as they can be fulfilled through a shaliach (e.g., a mohel)(3).
Amongst various questions that the Rosh raises, he points out that the bracha on the Megilla is "al mikra Megilla" (regarding the reading of the Megilla), whereas the bracha on shofar, which is "lishmo'a kol shofar" (to hear the sound of the shofar). An obvious problem presents itself. Both mitzvos are fulfilled by an identical act on the part of the congregation, namely listening (to reading or blowing). Yet we say "al" in one case and "le" in the other.
The Rosh explains that the mitzva of shofar is to hear the shofar. This cannot be done through a shaliach, and therefore the blessing is phrased with "le". However, the mitzva of Megilla is to read it, not merely to hear it. We saw earlier that the principle of shomea ke'oneh states that when the mitzva is to read something, this can be achieved through a shaliach. Hence the bracha employs the preposition "al".
Elsewhere(4), the Rosh brings a proof that the mitzva of shofar is to hear the sound of the shofar, and not to actually blow it. He infers this from the fact that if someone blows a shofar when in a cave, he has not fulfilled his obligation, since the sound is distorted by the echo. Had the mitzva been to blow the shofar, he would have fulfilled his obligation, notwithstanding the sound distortion. The fact that he has not, indicates that the essence of the mitzva is hear the sound itself.
Similarly, a deaf person cannot fulfil his obligation to hear the shofar, even by blowing the shofar himself. If later on that day he somehow regained his hearing, he would be obliged to hear the shofar blown again. This halacha is in contrast to the reading of the Megilla. Since the mitzva is to read it, a deaf person can fulfil his obligation by reading the Megilla himself. (If the mitzva was to hear the Megilla, he would not have been able to fulfil it.) Our sages alluded to all of this in the careful way they formulated our brachos: al mikra Megilla and lishmo'a kol shofar.
MALE AND FEMALE OBLIGATIONS
An intriguing halacha is brought down by the Rosh in his commentary on Masseces Megilla. There, the Gemara states(5) that women are obligated in the mitzva of Megilla, even though they are usually exempt from time-bound positive mitzvos. The reason for this is that they were also involved in the miracle of Purim, both in the threat of destruction(6), and in the orchestration of the salvation through Esther(7).
The Rosh quotes the opinion of the Halochos Gedolos that while women are obligated in the mitzva of Megilla, and may fulfil their obligation by listening to a man read, men, on the other hand, cannot fulfil their obligation by listening to a woman read. Why? - because of a fundamental difference in the nature of their obligations. Men are obligated to read the Megilla, as stated above, but women are only obligated to hear the Megilla, not read it(8). Therefore, when a man reads for a woman, she fulfils her obligation as a matter of course - she hears the reading of the Megilla! However, a woman cannot exempt a man from his obligation by reading for him, because reading is not an obligation for her. If he is to rely on the concept of shomea ke'oneh, he must hear the Megilla read by someone who also has an obligation to read, namely another man.
Given the differing obligations for men and women, it seems that the blessing recited on this mitzva - al mikreh Megilla (on the reading of Megilla) - is inappropriate for women on two counts. Firstly, their mitzva is not reading but rather hearing the Megilla. Secondly, their mitzva, hearing, cannot be fulfilled through a shaliach as implied by the use of the word "al".
The Rema, in fact, resolves both these difficulties: "There are those who say that if a woman reads the Megilla to herself she should say the bracha lishmo'a Megilla - to hear the Megilla - as she is not obligated in its reading." Note that he states that a woman says a blessing on hearing the Megilla (instead of reading), and the blessing is phrased with le and not al(9).
We said earlier that a woman's obligation is to hear the Megilla, not to read it. According to the Emek Bracha, this only applies at night. For the day reading, even women have the obligation to read the Megilla. His reasoning is as follows. The Gemara says that the reason we do not say Hallel on Purim is because the reading of Megilla is itself a form of Hallel (namely praise) to Hashem(10). Thus, according to the Emek Bracha, the mitzva of reading the Megilla during the day is two-fold: Megilla and Hallel. The Emek Bracha concludes that, even though to fulfil the mitzva of Megilla, it suffices for women to hear the Megilla, this is not the case for the mitzva of Hallel, which must be said. Hence, during the day, women have the obligation to read the Megilla, which they may do personally, or by listening to the ba'al korei and applying the principle of shomea ke'oneh(11).
There are a number of pertinent halachos which emerge from the above discussions.
a) The Rema states that a woman who reads the Megilla herself makes the bracha lishmo'a Megilla, to hear the Megilla. There are some Poskim who say that the text should be lishmo'a mikreh Megilla, to hear the reading of the Megilla. Sefardic women, however, say the usual bracha, al mikreh Megilla, on the reading of the Megilla, since according to the Mechaber, (Author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Yosef Caro) the obligation of women is equal to that of men, to read not just to hear the Megilla. (Accordingly, a woman could read on a man's behalf to exempt him.) Even an Ashkenazic woman who said al mikreh Megilla fulfilled her obligation, and does not need to repeat the bracha (as many Poskim are of the opinion that their obligation is equal to that of men).
b) A person who reads the Megilla must take care to say the words loud enough to hear himself. According to those who say that the mitzva of Megilla is to hear it, as is the case for women, this halacha is obvious. However, this halacha also applies to men. Even though their mitzva is to read the Megilla, they too must hear what they read. The underlying principle is that a reading that cannot be heard by the reader is considered a deficient reading.
This applies not only to the reading of Megilla, but to all mitzvos to do with reading, such as the reading of Shema, bentching, davening and so on(12). However, according to the Beis Yosef, the mitzva of Megilla is more stringent in this respect. All other mitzvos should be said in an audible manner, but if they are said in an undertone, their performance is still valid. According to the Beis Yosef, the mitzva of Megilla is invalid if read inaudibly. The purpose of reading the Megilla is to publicise the miracle (pirsumei nisa) and a quiet reading does not accomplish this. Accordingly, a person who read the Megilla in an undertone must repeat the mitzva in an audible manner.
The Mishna Brura points out that although other Poskim disagree with the Beis Yosef and consider Megilla no different to the other mitzvos just mentioned (where the person's obligation has been fulfilled), nonetheless a person should be very careful to make sure to hear what he reads. This also applies to someone who reads from a copy of Megillas Esther those words he did not hear properly when the Megilla was read by the ba'al korei.
1 In some families every male over the age of thirteen recites it himself. 2 Succa 38b; Orach Chaim 213:2. However, some Poskim are of the opinion that the mitzva is only to hear the Megilla, not to read it (the Ran, Pesachim 7b). Accordingly, the concept of shomea ke'oneh would not apply here. See also note 9 below. 3 Rosh, Pesachim 7b. See there for the answers to various difficulties with this thesis. 4 Rosh Hashana, 4:10 5 Megilla 4a 6 Rashi ibid. 7 Tosafos ibid. 8 Source ibid. 9 Rema 689:2. A different approach is the one offered by the Nemukei Yosef. Rather than seeing the mitzva in terms of hearing and reading, he states that the mitzva is to take part in the reading. He goes so far as to say that a deaf person could fulfil his obligation by listening to the reading of the Megilla, and by paying attention to what is being read. Amazing as this seems, his reasoning is based on the purpose of the mitzva of Megilla, namely to cause a pirsumei nisa (publicising the miracle of Purim). The Gemara states (Megilla, 19a) that it is for this very reason that even people who do not understand the reading fulfil their obligation if the Megilla was read in hebrew. A public reading publicises the Purim miracle, and those who did not understand the reading will go to others and ask what was read. As a result, the miracle will be publicised. So too, says the Nemukei Yosef, a deaf person can fulfil his obligation by participating in publicising the miracle. Accordingly, the mitzva is not to read nor hear, but to be part of the public reading while concentrating on what is being read. 10 Megilla 14a. The Meiri goes so far as to say that someone who does not have a Megilla on Purim should recite Hallel. 11 However, this halacha is not clear, as many Poskim disagree with the Meiri. 12 Concerning Shemoneh Esrei which is said quietly, look in Orach Chaim 101:2 with Mishna Berura.
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