Sometimes things that happen at the last minute can test our patience but when we get in just barely under the wire, it is, in another sense an adrenalin flow too. It could be filing papers in the court, paying taxes, or paying a mortgage. Deadlines do matter even if there is some flex time. Showing up on time to Shabbat services or being prompt at your doctor’s office knowing full well you that you will still have to wait significantly longer than the time you were supposed to arrive for your appointment. It is just part of doing business in America. There are deadlines and there are deadlines.
But when it comes to a deadline of having a brand new Megillah Ester arrive to a congregation the day before Purim then we are talking about the Biblical standard of meeting our deadlines. That is a whole different story. Missing the deadline of sending a brand new Megillah to a congregation the day before the holiday of Purim would trigger any number of divinely inspired consequences that would impact us and the scribe who wrote that Megillah in the first place. Just the idea of stirring up the divine wrath after missing Purim with our newly commissioned Scroll of Esther would preclude me on the Sabbath from imagining the repercussions.
We have waited almost 9th months from the time when the planning started for our congregation to commission our scribe Neil Yerman to not only write a Scroll of Esther for the holiday of Purim but also design and create a beautiful container that would enable us to keep it in the ark of our congregation along with the Torahs. Thanks to another donation last year we also have a scroll from the Book of Ruth, the book we read on the holiday of Shavuot, inside our ark. Now we add the scroll or Megillah of Esther to our collection of holy books. We as a congregation should take great pride at the sight of our expanding collection of holy scrolls and ask ourselves what does it mean for us to increase this collection?
First, the advent of the new scroll of Esther represents another example of Maimonides levels of Tzedakah. One who gives anonymously is considered the second to the highest rung of charitable acts. The first is one who helps someone help themselves. We are grateful to the donor who made this gift possible for us. The donor was part and parcel of the planning and the design of the work of art as well as, of course, the funding of it. We are all most grateful to the individual. We bless this person and all who are near and dear to the individual with continued good health and nachas or satisfaction for their generosity and kind spirit. Giving our financial resources to the Temple is critical for our congregation to survive. It is about the group and not just the individual. The spirit of philanthropy at this congregation is strong not only in mortar and brick but also for the spiritual life of the congregation.
Second, what makes this Megillat Esther special? Besides the fact that it is brand new and written for us and designed by the artist and scribe with us, there is even more based upon the style and structure of the Meggilah that deserves our attention. As I hold it and open it before us, please note that the Megillah is to remain on these spindles to roll as the reader reads it. Why? The two reasons are that we wanted everyone to watch the reader using the yad during the ceremonial reading the Scroll so that the congregation could see the inside of the Megillah itself. Second we were mindful that the Sephardic tradition also contains their Torahs in containers this way rather than taking out the scroll the way we customarily do. Just go into a synagogue from the Sephardi tradition and we will see them open up the containers with the Torah scrolls remaining inside. Also note that the parchment is not lambskin but goatskin and tanned to the dark brown style of texts, both Torah and Megillot scrolls, that belong to the Jewish cultures of North Africa.
Third, this new addition of the Meggilat Esther symbolized another step in the maturation and growth of Bet Yam into a full service congregation. In that way it must also signify the growth and maturation of the Jewish community of the low country. The building is built and that sends a message about the scope of our presence. Now what we focus on is defining the depth of our Jewish community. A beautiful edifice or more Torahs and scrolls of festive holidays like Purim do not automatically guarantee that we are a wiser and more learned congregation. Yet, this new scroll can bestow upon us a sense of authenticity about the ethos of Beth Yam. It means that we respect tradition and that doing things by tradition is a positive value as long as it fits into our sensibilities and values as liberal Jews.
At this point let me share with you more about the Megillah in Judaism. There are actually five megilot or scrolls in Jewish tradition. We read Song of Songs between Passover and Shavuot. We read Eicha or Lamentations on the fast day of the ninth of Av which we commemorate the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. We read Ecclesiastes during the holiday of Sukkot. And, finally, we read Esther on Purim. Each one of them is read from a scroll or Megillah. But we are most used to using the term Megillah to refer to Esther itself.
Jewish law decreed that all of us were obligated to read the Megillat Esther, not just men. Not so different from the laws of sounding the Shofar, the rabbis said that while each person should read it, they could fulfill their obligation by hearing it read in the synagogue.
Similarly, the Megillah reader must have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah on behalf of the listeners. For if the listeners do not hear every word then they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. It is proper and fitting to have a valid handwritten Megillah that one can say word for word quietly in case one cannot hear the words from the reader. Also, Jewish law stated, women who sit in the women’s section (Orthodox tradition) are encouraged, if possible, to obtain a valid Megillah from which to read for in the women’s section it is difficult to hear the reading and women are obligated to hear the Megillah the same as men. If one is in morning during the week of Shiva, one may read the Megillah at home but the person is encouraged to attend the Purim services to hear it read. There are many more customs surrounding the Purim and the reading of the Megillah.
Today this Megillah arrived at 1pm. Our scribe flew down to Hilton Head and our President, Ted David, met together and transferred possession of the Megillah to the congregation. This now becomes part of the history of Beth Yam. Now it is ours and we shall read it with great joy. For the Talmud says; “With the arrival of the month of Adar, one should be exceedingly joyful.”(Ta’anit 29a) Our sages added, “Should all other festivals ceased to be observed, the days of Purim will never be annulled.” (Midrash on Proverbs)
Finally, tradition says, “in the time to come all the other parts of the Prophets and the Writings will lose their worth and only the Torah of Moses and the Book of Esther will retain their value.” (Jerusalem Megillah ch. 1.5)
The deadline has been met. Our scribe Neil Yermon has, in the spirit of the biblical btzalel, the artist who designed the Tabernacle, completed his mitzvah and traveled two thousand miles from New York to Hilton Head and back to deliver us this gift. My prayer is; ‘May the shechinah rest upon all the works of his hands.’ This moment represents an, aliyat hanefesh, an ascent of the soul for us and all those who will read and hear its words for the future.
Deadlines are not to be trifled with in the bible. The world is safe again and the deliverance of the Megillah symbolized the deliverance of the Jewish people from the grip of Haman. Our future is secure once again. Ken Y’hi Ratzon.