Here is a new exercise for Purim: every time you hear the word with the root ketav (כתב, “write”) mentioned in the Megillah, raise your pen or pencil in the air. It may not be as fun as bringing the house down with the mention of Haman, but it may provide new insights regarding the significance of the “written” words of Megillat Esther. There seems to be an obsession with writing in real time throughout the story in a format aptly named Megillah, a scroll, a layout more interactive than a Book. In a tale that could outshine Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, we perhaps encounter the precedent of the modern day Twitter through the oft quoted written declarations.
What is being implied by the countless (well, 23 by my counting) episodes where details were recorded with the mention of Lichtov (לכתוב, “to write”), written and later re-written?
In verse 27 of Chapter 9, after the dust begins to settle towards the end of the story, we are informed that קימו וקבל היהודים עליהם the Jews accepted and implemented the instructions written by Mordechai and Esther. This momentous and celebrated phrase evokes the Na’ase v’nishma, “we will do and we will listen” commitment made at Sinai. In fact, in a famous debate in Gemara Shabbat, the sages suggest that this Purim declaration affirms the perceived coerced acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. There are additional far reaching interpretations in Gemara Megillah. All point to the fact that this is a pivotal moment of commandment and commitment. Hence we can perhaps see in the compulsive “writing” a continuation of the receiving of both the Written and Oral Law.
This idea is further supported in the phrase describing the acceptance itself. If we look closely, we will see that v’kiblu (וְקִבְּלֻ֣) is written without a vav. This play on words so to speak, invokes for me the phenomena that often occurs in the Torah of kri (קרי) and ktiv (כתיב), a conundrum where the way we read a word may be slightly different to the way it is written. This clearly intentional practice is remarkable. It introduces and cultivates an astonishing paradigm for the oral, the reading, giving new meaning to the written text. The fact this play on words is employed in the very phrase that evokes the giving and acceptance of the Torah mischievously suggests if not encourages a practice and tradition of rigorous and on-going interpretation to the “written” text. The kri – the reading – becomes as binding as the ktiv – the writing.
In this context, our dressing up on Purim and use of masks further potently portrays the literal and enigmatic שבעים פנים לתורה the seventy faces or multiple interpretations of the Torah. What an apt way to (Ad)dress the issue!