Megillah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Ten

 

Introduction

In yesterday’s mishnah we learned that translations must be literal. Today’s mishnah, the last in tractate Megillah, teaches that some portions of the Torah are not translated at all because of the nature of their content.

 

Mishnah Ten

1)      The incident of Reuven is read but not translated.   

2)      The story of Tamar is read and translated.

3)      The first part of the incident of the golden calf  is both read and translated, but the second is read but not translated.

4)      The blessing of the priests, the stories of David and Amnon are not read or translated.

5)      They do not conclude with the portion of the chariot as a haftarah.

a)      But Rabbi Judah permits this.

6)      R. Eliezar says: they do not conclude with “Proclaim Jerusalem’s [abominations]” (Ezekiel 16) as a haftarah.

 

Explanation

Section one:  Reuven sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).  This story is not translated in order not to shame Reuven.  

Section two:  Tamar tricks Judah into sleeping with her (see Genesis 38). This story is read and translated because it is actually to Judah’s credit. When he discovers that he has committed a wrong (vs. 26), he doesn’t try to hide his crime, as embarrassing as it might be. Note that Judah serves as a foil for Reuven. Reuven intentionally commits a crime, so we must hide it from the public.  Judah accidentally commits a crime and then confesses, so we make public the entire story.

Section three:  The first part of the golden calf story is from Exodus 32:1-20. This part is translated either because Israel does receive atonement, or in order so that the congregation will learn from their mistakes.  In verse 21 Moses questions and accuses Aaron.  In order not to embarrass Aaron, this section is not translated.

Section four:  The version of this mishnah in good manuscripts says that these sections are neither read nor translated.  The priestly blessing is not read, perhaps because it is a regular part of the prayer service. According to the version of the mishan in the Talmud, these verses are read but not translated.  The Talmud explains that they are not translated because one of the verses says, “May God show favor to you” and people might think that God shows favor in judgment and doesn’t judge justly.    

The story of David and Batsheva (II Samuel 11) is not read as a haftarah because it is embarrassing to David.

 In the story of Amnon (II Samuel 13), Amnon rapes Tamar and then wants to abandon her.  He eventually is killed by Absolom, David’s other son.  This is also quite embarrassing to David and to his house.

Section five:  We don’t read the description of the chariot contained in Ezekiel, chapter one, as a haftarah because ordinary people are not supposed to study this mystical chapter.  However, Rabbi Judah allows this. 

Section six:  Rabbi Eliezer prohibits reading Ezekiel 16 as a haftarah because its content is simply too graphic. Read the chapter for yourself to get an idea of its disturbing content.

 

Congratulations!  We have finished Megillah. 

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives. 

Megillah was full of practical halakhah that is still relevant today.  We learned about reading the Megillah and reading the Torah in the synagogue.  The information in this tractate is just the tip of the iceberg to all of the many halakhot about these two issues, so keep learning.

As always, congratulations on learning another tractate of Mishnah.  Tomorrow we start Moed Katan. 

 

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