By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi would temporarily shut down his yeshiva on Purim so that his students could go to a shul and listen to the Megillah. The Gemara states that if Kohanim performing avodah in the Beis HaMikdash interrupt or delay their service to hear the Megillah, then certainly yeshiva students should interrupt their studies to hear the Megillah. The Gemara concludes that we permit bitul Torah for the sake of reading the Megillah. It has been often asked, “Why don’t yeshivos incorporate more study of Nevi’im into their curriculum?” The best answer given is that they are non-prophet institutions. Still, one could hardly call the study of Nevi’im and Kesuvim bitul Torah! How can the Gemara refer to listening to the Megillah as bitul Torah?
There are many answers offered to resolve this question. One rather obvious answer is that listening to the Megillah per se is not bitul Torah. It’s the whole hubbub of stopping learning and going to a shul to hear the Megillah. The Shaar HaTziyon assumes that there were at least 100 students studying with Rebbe. To clear out the beis midrash, assign buddies, walk to shul, and find seats takes a precious amount of time. That time could have been used to study Torah, but instead it was utilized to join a shul for the Megillah reading. Still, presumably there must have been some ba’alei kriah at the yeshiva. Why didn’t they just lein the Megillah in yeshiva? The Shaar HaTziyon assumes that there was not usually a regular minyan in the place where they were studying. Perhaps they were studying in Rebbe’s private house. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim concludes that to perform the mitzvah of megillah in the choicest manner one should join the largest minyan in his community. The students could have made their own minyan, but to fulfill the mitzvah of megillah b’rov am they had to stop their studies to join a shul with a larger minyan. If this is true, this leads us to the question of why every shul has its own minyan on Purim. Isn’t everyone obligated to join the largest minyan at whichever shul that may be? The Chayei Adam says that anyone who regularly davens in a particular shul need not search for a shul with the largest minyan. He may hear the Megillah in his own shul. Someone who does not regularly daven at a particular shul should preferably join the largest minyan around for the Megillah. The Chofetz Chaim adds a caveat to the leniency of the Chayei Adam. If someone has a regular minyan in his house, he should still join a shul minyan for the Megillah reading. The Chayei Adam only said that a shul regular can stay in his small shul but would agree that someone who has a minyan at home should nevertheless join a shul for the Megillah reading.
There are at least three exceptions to this rule mentioned by the poskim. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky said that one can daven Vasikin even if it is a small minyan and he doesn’t regularly daven there. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, said that one should rather help make a minyan for a sick individual than fulfill b’rov am. Finally, the Shevet HaLevi wrote that one can daven with a smaller minyan if that minyan finishes earlier and he needs the time to fulfill a mitzvah. One would therefore be allowed to hear the Megillah with a smaller minyan that doesn’t bang for Haman to facilitate his tzedakah collection activities.
The RaShash offers another answer to the original question of why listening to the Megillah is considered bitul Torah. If a person was toiling and striving to understand a difficult pasuk in Tanach or a difficult passage in the Gemara and interrupts his study to listen to someone simply read verses from Tanach, that is bitul Torah! Likewise, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes that if someone decides to study only easy portions of Torah, that is considered bitul Torah! A person can learn non-stop and still transgress bitul Torah. The Torah expects an individual to use his full mental prowess in the study of Torah, and to simply listen to verses even from Tanach is bitul Torah. However, here the Sages mandated that everyone must listen to the Megillah, so one is allowed to take a pause in his in-depth learning to hear the Megillah.
It is interesting to note that on the very same daf that the above halachah was written, there is a relevant anecdote cited in the Gemara. The Gemara cites that when Yonason ben Uziel translated Nevi’im, a Heavenly voice proclaimed “Who revealed my secrets to mortals?” Yonason ben Uziel’s actions were prompted by a desire for unity in Klal Yisrael. Everyone should be able to agree as to the intent behind the pesukim. Yet, Tosfos Rid writes that Heaven wasn’t happy with the translation. After the translation, no one will have to work hard to figure out the pesukim. They could just look at the translation. Hashem wanted Klal Yisrael to use their full mental acumen and analytical skills to uncover the secrets of Nevi’im. Now the intent of the pesukim is handed to us on a silver platter. The sefer Aley Vradim mentions a story that took place some time ago. A mechanech came to Rav Grossbard of Chinuch Atzmai for help to cover the printing costs of a book that used pictures to illustrate a portion of Torah. Rav Grossbard asked Rav Shach for his opinion. Rav Shach wasn’t sure that he liked the idea of the sefer. He told Rav Grossbard who was anyway going to the United States the following week to ask Rav Moshe Feinstein his opinion. Rav Moshe quoted this very Tosfos Rid and said that Chinuch Atzmai should not help pay for the sefer. Children need to learn to use their minds and not have material spoon-fed to them. Mechanchim and rebbeim can use various forms of media to make learning more interesting and appealing. Perhaps after the lesson, pictures can be shown as a review for what they have already learned. However, if children are capable of understanding a concept on their own with a little bit of effort, they should not have it handed to them on a silver platter with the use of pictures and charts. It’s not clear which book this story was referring to, and obviously at times pictures are needed. For example, it seems to be standard practice to study Maseches Keilim nowadays with a picture book.
My Rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, would often repeat that teaching children is akin to training infants to walk. If you put a treat too far away, the infant will give up. If it’s placed too close, the infant will not be challenged to walk. The trick is to place the treat at the right distance where the infant will succeed if he tries. That is the job of a rebbe–to make the material easy enough to understand with some effort, but hard enough to challenge the students. One time after my rosh hayeshiva said this, a talmid with a little chutzpah asked him “Is that why the rosh hayeshiva always makes his shiurim hard to understand, so that we are forced to work at it?” The rosh hayeshiva just smiled. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.