Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reciting Hallel on Purim
Rabbi Judah Zoldan
Midrasha for Women-- Bar-Ilan University
The gemara in Tractate Megillah 14a asks why we do not recite hallel on Purim. Several answers are given:
1. hallel is not recited over miracles that occurred outside of Israel, once the Israelites left Egypt and entered the Promised Land.
2. The megillah reading is in place of hallel on Purim.
3. The deliverance of the Jews on Purim was only partial, since they remained under Ahasuerus' rule.
These three explanations can be seen as contradictory. According to the first and third, two essential prerequisites for reciting hallel are lacking: the miracle must have taken place in the Land of Israel, and the miracle must have taken place at a time when the Jewish people had political independence. According to the second reason given by the gemara, these deficiencies do not preclude recitation of hallel on Purim. Rather, hallel should be said, except that in this case the megillah reading serves in its place.
In Hilkhot Hanukkah 3,6 -- note well: in the Laws of Hanukkah, not Purim--Maimonides ruled according to the second view: "The rabbis did not establish that hallel be read on Purim since the reading of the megillah is the hallel." If Maimonides indeed did not view the other two explanations offered by the gemara as sufficient grounds for not saying hallel, as opposed to what one does on Hanukkah and other festivals, why indeed do we not recite hallel on Purim, and why was the megillah reading instituted in its place?
Hallel on Purim and Hanukkah
Upon reflection, it seems that Maimonides understood that the three answers offered by the gemara complement rather than contradict each other. This can be seen from considering his remarks in Hilkhot Megillah 1,5 and comparing them with Hilkhot Hanukkah 3,1-2.
Maimonides begins Hilkhot Hanukkah with a lengthy discussion, the likes of which is rare in Mishne Torah, in which he explains the historical, religious and halakhic background for instituting the holiday. In halakhah 1 he describes the hardship the Greeks caused the Jews. He concludes as follows:
In halakhah 2 Maimonides notes the miracle of the oil and in halakhah 3 he presents the ruling of the Sages in the wake of these miracles: "Days of rejoicing and singing praise (hallel), kindling lights in the evening in the entrance to one's home, ... to show and reveal the miracle." Maimonides emphasized the restoration of the monarchy to Israel in his exposition of the miracle of Hanukkah in order to explain the context for ruling that hallel be recited. This emphasis is absent from the gemara in Tractate Shabbat 21b, which explains "whence comes the holiday of Hanukkah" (mai Hanukka) and why it was ruled that "in subsequent years it be noted by thanksgiving and hallel."
Of course the miracle of Hanukkah, which took place in the middle of the Second Temple period, happened in the Land of Israel and led to Israel's independence, ending the Jews' subjugation to Greece. Thus two of the circumstances that had been lacking to institute hallel on Purim at the beginning of the return from the Babylonian exile were fulfilled in the Hasmonean Period.
In Hilkhot Purim 1,1 Maimonides does not deal with the background for establishing the holiday of Purim but makes do with the following general statement about reading the megillah: "It is well-known that this was established by the Prophets."
As for reciting hallel on Purim, Maimonides makes no reference to the practice in Hilkhot Purim, but, as noted above, deals with the subject in Hilkhot Hanukkah 3,6, in which section he discusses in detail all the rules concerning the recitation of hallel throughout the year. Maimonides sets forth the rules about hallel in the context of the rules of Hanukkah and not in the context of the laws pertaining to prayers (Hilkhot Tefilla) or benedictions, as one might perhaps have expected, since Hanukkah provides the model for applying the Prophets' rule (takkanat nevi'im) to recite hallel on any occasion of redemption from disaster (cf. Tractate Pesahim 117a, and Rashi there).
Let us take a look at a second, seemingly unrelated law: In Hilkhot Purim 1,5 Maimonides discusses the rationale for ruling that the Megillah be read on the 15th of Adar in places that were walled cities in the time of Joshua:
This law about when to read the Megillah in a city that was walled in the time of Joshua originates from the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Megillah ch.1, halakhah 1. Maimonides' ruling in this matter emphasizes the two conditions lacking in order to institute recitation of hallel on Purim, although this halakhah does not deal with the laws concerning hallel. 1)The miracle took place outside of Israel at a time when the Land of Israel, its cities and walls, lay in waste. 2)The Land lay waste also in the sense that the Jews were not sovereign in Israel.
Thus, Maimonides viewed the three explanations given in the gemara, Tractate Megillah 14a, as a single unit. Apparently the Sages ruled that nonetheless the Megillah be read as a substitute for hallel because a great miracle of deliverance took place in Shushan all the same; as Maimonides says, "for the miracle took place there." However, if that is the case, it becomes unclear why the Sages saw it necessary to associate the miracle in Shushan with the Land of Israel. Why was it so important that "through this miracle the Land of Israel be remembered"?
Remembrance of the Land of Israel
The story told in the Scroll of Esther takes place during the beginning of the return to Zion from the Babylonian exile. G-d remembered His people, and the first wave of people returning under the leadership of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak the high priest reached Jerusalem and erected an altar there (Ezra 1:1-3, 7). But when they started to build the Temple, the gentiles living in the Land obstructed them. They wrote an inflammatory letter informing on the Jews to the king of Persia, and construction of the Temple was halted for eighteen years (Ez. 3:8-4:24). "And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the start of his reign, they drew up an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem" (Ezra 4:6). This accusation, made in the beginning of Ahasuerus' reign, only concerned the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, not all the Jews throughout Ahasuerus' empire of one hundred and twenty-seven states. However it set in motion a process that culminated in writs being issued to kill and annihilate all the Jews throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in the twelfth year, towards the end of his reign (Ezra 3:7). Thus, the story of Purim takes place against the background of renewal of the permit to build the Temple. The Sages' writings abound with homilies associating the drama in the Megillah with the struggle for renewal of the permit to build the Temple.
Thus the miracle that took place in Shushan is deeply connected with rebuilding the Land of Israel. The miracle in Shushan paved the way for continuing to build the Temple and continuing to rebuild the Land. The miracle may have taken place in Shushan, but its ramifications were felt in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. This is what Maimonides meant when he said that "through this miracle the Land of Israel would be remembered." Not extrinsic remembrance, but an intrinsic and inseparable association with events in Shushan. Though the main thrust of the miracle may have been in Shushan, hence two of the necessary conditions for saying hallel are absent, nevertheless since the miracle was connected with events in the Land of Israel the Sages ruled that the Megillah be read in place of reciting hallel.
In the first and third explanations offered by the gemara in Megillah 14a, a comparison is made between Purim and the exodus from Egypt. Until the Israelites entered the Land, praise was sung over miracles that had taken place outside the Land; in the exodus from Egypt the Israelites ceased being Pharaoh's slaves. Were it not for the absence of these two conditions, hallel would be recited on Purim as it is on Passover. Nevertheless, on Purim the Megillah is read as a substitute for hallel, also in the evening (Megillah 4a), as on the eve of Passover. In leap years Purim is celebrated in Adar II so that these two acts of deliverance be associated with one another (Megillah 6a). This is a deep connection, not just a superficial similarity.
Rav Kook, in his book Mitzvot Rayah, p. 92, gave a different, more general explanation why we honor the Land of Israel on Purim. According to him, the men of the Great Assembly perceived that the miracle in Shushan took place at a different time from the other cities and they understood this as an indication from Heaven that a different status should be accorded to cities in the Land of Israel that resembled Shushan in that they were walled:
According to Rabbi Kook, the connection between the miracle of Purim and the Land of Israel is not based on a past similarity of walled cities to Shushan but rather on the future promise of a state of perfection in which the Jewish people will dwell in their Land and celebrate the holiday there. In the same way we must differentiate between the rules about the recitation of hallel over a miracle that happened outside of Israel from the rules of Purim which take the future into account, when the miracle of Purim will be noted in Israel and the Jewish people will be firmly planted in their Land. Rav Kook's saying for the month of Adar follows a similar line: "Those who recall cities and walled towns from the time of Joshua [i.e. those that remember the laws of Purim and the connection to Israel] will not be able to remain bondsmen to Ahasuerus for long."
Miracles that occurred "in the kingdom of Ahasuerus", however great they may have been, remain under the cloak of bondage. Only through remembrance of the Land of Israel, its walled cities from the time of Joshua, and the renewed effort to rebuild Jerusalem can the holiday of Purim be noted and celebrated properly.