Reading the Megillah Backwards

T he Talmud opens its second chapter on the Purim laws with this powerful statement: "A person who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled his obligation." (TB Megillah 17a).

Basically, this teaches us to read the Book of Esther in the proper sequential order. Do not, for instance, begin with chapter ten and conclude with chapter one.

On a practical level, this law can make quite a difference to the Megillah latecomer. Suppose you are tardy on Purim night, entering a little after the Rabbi or Chazzan already began to recite the Megillah. You know that you have to hear each and every word, and realize that you've just missed out on the opening, so you are tempted to continue listening to the end, and then try to compensate and catch up by hearing just the start of a second reading.

You may think you have saved yourself some time, but no, you must now repeat and hear the whole Megillah all over, from beginning to end, to hear it in just the right order.


But note that the Talmudic wording here is:"Reading (not just hearing) the Megillah backwards." Why would someone attempt to do something so confusing and nonsensical ('Moishe Kapoyer' in Yiddish; the modern equivalent of pushing the reverse button to show a video backwards)?

In the Purim spirit, a humorous explanation may be offered. This law is stopping someone from pulling a Purim Prank. We know that Purim is the ultimate joyous celebration of "V'nahapoch Hu," when many things tend to go upside down and topsy turvy. So the point here is that Purim is no joke; it is a very serious matter, and the correct rule must be followed. Before getting involved with the frolic, jolly and silly aspects of the Purim celebrations, we should properly follow the Mitzvah as prescribed and be sure to get the story straight.

Only after we listen carefully, and know the exact unfolding of events, can we fully understand and appreciate the reason for our celebration.


Going beyond the simple and practical law as it relates to the proper Megillah sequence and protocol, the holy Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic movement, offers a deeper spiritual dimension to this Talmudic expression.

The Baal Shem Tov explains: If one reads the Megillah thinking that the Purim events happened only thousands of years ago in the distant past ("backwards") and are not relevant in our day and age, he has missed the whole point. The Megillah is so much more than just a fascinating story, and our Purim observances are certainly not nostalgia for old times' sake. We must personally relive Purim and experience it, realizing that it is actually happening with us, right here and now.

Do not view Purim like ancient history, but rather as current events. Times have changed, but the issues remain the same. Purim is here and now, not only then and there.

Unfortunately, we have arrogant progressive sophisticates who do not personally relate to the Purim era. They dismiss and look down on the proud and obstinate Mordechai and his feud with Haman as backward, primitive and old-fashioned, considering it outdated in our modern era.

Although written 2,356 years ago, the Megillah is actually ahead of its time. Of course, we now have Presidents instead of Kings, and Parliaments instead of Palaces. We have Secretaries of State rather than Grand Viziers, and today's Capital cities have names other than Shushan. Modern Hamans carry contemporary names and titles, and pursue sophisticated agendas, but their underlying aim is the destruction or restriction of Judaism and the Jewish people.

On the other hand, on Purim, every Jewish man, woman and child is a hero. Today's Esther may not wear a crown or live in a palace, but she is represented by our inspired and dedicated daughters of Israel who risk their own safety to fulfill their mission to save our people. And we should learn to rally around our own righteous Mordechai, the truly dedicated and committed Jewish leadership that refuses to bow to alien pressures and personally cares for our physical safety and our spiritual continuity.

Now as then, we must realize the mistake of Jewish pandering for acceptance in the grand royal parties, the root cause of our difficulties. Now as then, it is our prayers and return to Torah that lead to salvation. And don't forget the kids! Mordechai had gathered twenty-two thousand children, studied and prayed with them. It was the children's Torah study that tipped the scales, and turned the tables.


We rendezvous with history on Purim. The Purim holiday is a window in time when it all comes alive, as the past and present come together, allowing us to see the hand of Gā€‘d behind the scenes, concealed within "circumstantial" occurrences, even in our very own secular and natural contexts. This is beautifully expressed at the Megillah's conclusion: "These days are remembered and reenacted in each generation," as explained by the holy Arizal: 'when they are remembered, they are actually being reenacted."