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PURIM 5758


It was once customary for children to draw a picture of Haman or to write the name "Haman" on sticks and stones and to clap them together so as to erase his name, in the spirit of the verse "You shall erase all trace of Amalek (Haman's ancestor)..." (Devarim 25:19). This eventually evolved into their present custom of banging [at the mention of] Haman when the Megilah is read publicly. One should not discontinue or mock any custom, for there most certainly was good reason for its institution.
(Rema, O.C. #690, citing from Avudraham and Orchos Chayim)
Aside from masquerading in Purim costumes, one of the most prominent distinguishing characteristics of Purim is "banging Haman" at the mention of the felon's name. According to the Rema, this began as a traditional practice among Jewish children.

At first glance, one would not attach any particular significance to the fact that it is "children" who are responsible for perpetuating this custom. It seems a natural expression of the exuberance of youth. However, upon further consideration, it becomes clear that it is perfectly appropriate for children to be the proprietors of this custom.


It is a fundamental principle in Jewish law that the Torah does not address minors, i.e. children under the age of 13. All of the Torah's Mitzvot and prohibitions were directed at the mature Jew of 13+ years of age. The same applies to Rabbinic edicts. However, this does not exempt minors from all Halachic obligations; the Sages instituted that children are to follow *all* biblical and Rabbinic injunctions in order to "prepare themselves" for life as mature Jews ("Chinuch"). What this means is that their obligation in Mitzvot is secondary to that of an adult.

Another fundamental principle involves the rule that one Jew can exempt another from his Halachic obligation, if no more than speech is involved. It is sufficient to *listen* to another Jew recite a blessing, or read a portion of the Torah; one need not actually recite it himself. (The technical term for this is "Shome'a k'Oneh.") However, this is only true if the one reading is obligated in the recitation in his own right. A minor, who only has a secondary obligation in Mitzvot as explained above, cannot exempt a mature Jew from his Halachic obligations.

All this is the standard rule. However, we find one prominent exemption to these Halachic dictums. According to Rebbi Yehudah (Megilah 19b), a minor *may* exempt an adult from reading Megilat Esther on Purim by reading out loud for him. What makes the Mitzvah of reading Megilat Esther different from all other Mitzvot?

Tosfot (Megilah 24a DH Aval) answers this question by making a reference to a Halachah regarding the obligation of women in reading the Megilah. Although women are normally exempt from Halachic requirements that are time-related (Kidushin 29a), they are nevertheless required to read Megilat Esther just like men. The reason for this is that "women, too, were part of the miracle of Purim" (Megilah 5a). The early commentators explain this statement in one of two ways: (1) Haman originally decreed that Jewish women, as well as men, were to be slain (Esther 3:13). Since the Purim miracle saved the lives of the women just as much as it saved the lives of the men, it is only appropriate for women, too, to proclaim their appreciation for the salvation by reading the Megilah every year. (2) On Purim, a woman was the *central figure* in the Jews' salvation. It was Queen Esther who risked her life and persuaded the Persian king to intervene on the Jews' behalf. In recognition of that fact, the Sages placed the obligation of reading the Megilah upon women as well as upon men.

Applying this teaching to our question about children, Tosfot explains that the Sages fully obligated minors, as well as adults, in this one Mitzvah of reading the Megilah because "children, too, were part of the miracle of Purim." Since their obligation in reading the Megilah is not just a secondary obligation of Chinuch, but rather the exact same primary obligation as applies to all men, children can exempt grownups by reading for them the Megilah, according to Rebbi Yehudah.

It is readily apparent why the first of the two interpretations of "they, too, were part of the miracle of Purim" applies to children. The wicked Haman intended to kill not only all Jewish men and women, but all Jewish children as well (Esther, ibid.). But can the second interpretation of this statement be applied to children as well? Can it be said that children were the primary catalysts of the Purim miracle? It appears from the Midrash that this is exactly the case.

According to the Midrash (Esther Raba 7:13), when Haman decreed his villainous decree, Mordechai approached three children and asked them to repeat to him the most recent verse they had learned. When they all turned out to be verses of consolation and salvation, Mordechai knew that he could be confident in Hashem's protection and that the Jews would be safe from Haman's evil plots. Haman, who witnessed this scene, swore that he would kill those children the first.

The Megilah tells us that Mordechai, in response to Haman's evil decree, summoned the Jews to fast and pray to Hashem for three full days that Esther should be successful in her mission to influence the king to revert Haman's decree. According to the Midrash (Esther Raba 8:7), he gathered the local children (who were his students) as well, and encouraged them to fast and dress in sackcloth. They called out to Hashem and cried, and studied Torah together in that manner. The Midrash then relates the following story.

On the night that Haman built his famous gallows, he went to Mordechai and found him seated with children before him, dressed in sackcloth and studying the Torah. He counted, and found 22,000 children seated there. Haman threw iron chains on them, and appointed guards to watch them, announcing, "Tomorrow, I will first kill these children and then hang Mordechai!" They all burst out in tears, and their cries rose to the heaven. Two hours into the night, Hashem heard their cries... at that moment, Hashem took the decrees [that He had written to punish the Jews] and tore them up.
(Esther Rabah 9:3)
It was indeed the *children* that predicted, and predicated, Haman's downfall. As the verse says, "Through the mouths of children and babes You have shown Your power to the oppressors, bringing an end to a vengeful enemy." (Tehilim 8:3)


Children, in fact, play an important role in protecting us from Haman in particular and from his clansmen, Amalek, in general.

It is the role of our children to preserve the study of Torah among us. In fact, according to the Midrash (Shocher Tov 8; Shir ha'Shirim Raba 1:4:1 -- see also Shabbos 33b) our children are our "guarantors" that we will study the Torah. Children learn Torah in the purest manner possible, since "the breath (= talk) of one who has not sinned cannot be compared to that of one who has sinned" (Shabbos 119b). They are our examples, whom we must emulate when studying the Torah.

According to the Gemara (Bechoros 5b and Rashi), Amalek first attacked the Jewish nation only because they "weakened their hands from [studying] the words of the Torah." When the Jewish People conquered Amalek, they corrected this weakness, and stood ready to accept on Mount Sinai the rest of the Torah and Mitzvot.

Similarly, Haman only succeeded in passing his evil decree because the Jews "were lazy in the study of Torah" (Gemara Megilah 11a). The children, who had not accomplished their task of seeing to the perpetuation of Torah in Israel, fell prey along with the rest of the nation to Haman's evil plotting. When the children, led by their bold mentor, Mordechai, strengthened themselves in the study of Torah, the Jewish People too became stronger, and were saved from the hands of the enemy. The jubilant nation was now prepared to accept the entire Torah afresh (Shabbos 88a -- "Kiyemu v'Kiblu").


Perhaps this, then, is why the customary practice was for *children* to demonstrate the eradication of Haman by erasing his name from stones and by protesting the mention of his name. After all, it was they who brought about his downfall.

The Gemara tells us, "Descendants of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak... descendants of Sisera taught children in Yerushalayim" (Gitin 57b). Although our texts do not reveal who these descendants of Haman and Sisera were, the text available to the early commentators apparently did. The descendant of Sisera was Rebbi Akiva, and the descendant of Haman was Rav Shmuel bar Shelas, a contemporary of Rav (Ein Yakov to Sanhedrin 96b; Toldot Tana'im v'Amora'im; Sefer Yuchasin; Menoras ha'Ma'or 5:3:2:3).

It is immediately evident that a typist's error must have crept into our texts of this Gemara. We never find Rebbi Akiva (= descendant of Sisera) teaching children; nor do we find him living in Yerushalayim. To the contrary, we are told that Rebbi Akiva, leader of all of Israel, had thousands of older, mature students (Yevamos 63b) and that he lived in Bnei Brak (Sanhedrin 32b). It is Rav Shmuel bar Shelas who we find teaching children (Bava Batra 8b, 21a), and the place reserved for teaching children is indeed Yerushalayim (Bava Batra 21a, based on the verse "From Zion goes out Torah..."). It is clear that the descriptions of the two sets of descendants should be reversed, and the Gemara should read, "Descendants of Haman (= Rav Shmuel bar Shelas) taught *children in Yerushalayim*... descendants of Sisera (= Rebbi Akiva) taught *Torah in Bnei Brak*." In fact, this is the reading cited by Menoras ha'Ma'or in the Mosad ha'Rav Kook edition of that work. (These words found favor in the eyes of my Rebbi, Haga'on Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman of blessed memory. Incidentally, the emendation that Rav Shmuel bar Shelas taught *children* also appears in a number of manuscript Gemaras, as cited by Dikdukei Sofrim, Sanhedrin 96b #200.)

In either case, how appropriate it is that when they joined the Jewish nation, Haman's descendants became none other than teachers of *children* (like Haman's rival, Mordechai), fortifying that very force which brought Haman's eventual downfall and which protects us from the evil forces of Amalek until this very day!

Our children are our future, and our future is our children. May Hashem give us the resolve and wisdom to raise them in the ways of our ancestors, to accept upon themselves the yoke of the Torah!

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