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Monday, February 4, 2013

The Purim Song (Part 2: Questions and Methodology)

What bothered us most in this sugya was the first part of the gemara which derives the mitzva to read the מגילה based upon a comparison to the Jews saying שירה at the sea.  At first glance, this comparison makes no sense at all!

True, after the sea was split and the Egyptian army destroyed, the Jews sang אז ישיר.  But that was a one time event of singing אז ישיר.  What right does the gemara have to extrapolate from this singular event, the obligation to read the מגילה annually for all future generations?  At best, we could posit that those Jews of the particular generation that was saved should sing שירה once, but in no way does this comparison seem to justify the establishment of a permanent mitzva!

Secondly, even if we were to somehow answer the first problem, how does the fact that the Jews sang שירה justify the establishment of reading the story of the מגילה.  If anything, it should obligate us in singing שירה, but reading a story does not appear to be the same as singing praise.

(It is true that רב נחמן, later on in the gemara, does say that reading the מגילה is in the place of הלל, but the gemara at this point wasn't holding that.  Also, רבא disagrees with the equation between מגילה and הלל, and yet he too has to learn the original derivation of reading the מגילה from the שירה at the sea.  Also, it is clear that the gemara does not initially believe מגילה to be equal to שירה, or else its subsequent question of why we don't recite הלל would make no sense.  Based upon these three facts, we conclude that the gemara apparently believes itself to be justified in deriving the telling of a story from the singing of praise, even though these are two different activities.)

To summarize our two questions:

1) How does the gemara compare the one time event of singing אז ישיר to the permanent mitzva of reading the מגילה?

2) How does the gemara compare the singing of אז ישיר to the reading the מגילה, being that they are totally different activities?

It would seem that in order to satisfactorily answer these questions, we have to revise our basic understanding of either אז ישיר, reading the מגילה, or both.


  1. You-Also, it is clear that the gemara does not initially believe מגילה to be equal to שירה, or else its subsequent question of why we don't recite הלל would make no sense.

    Doesn't rashi say 'it TOO is a shira' implying that megilla is a shira. I asked in the previous post regarding this-why does the gemara hold we would need 2 shiros.

    1. Rashi doesn't say the word "TOO". Thus, Rashi also implies that megilla itself is not shirah.

    2. Right for some reason I read 'nami' in the actual text of rashi...

  2. Sort of a 'meta-methodological' question. I presume Machlokisim in rishonim and amorim/taanim can be based on two halachik issues such as in this case a)krias hamegilla and b)what is a shira?

    Similar to last post where there were two possible explanations to the macholokes in temura.

    1. There is no rule like that - it could be 1, it could be 3...Each sugya demands its own analysis.

      Here we are making a methodological point. Our problem is that the gemara is comparing az yashir and reading the megilla. To us, these seem incomparable. It must be that we have a wrong idea of one or both of these institutions which leads us to believe that they are incomparable when in fact they can be compared.

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