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Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh 5772

Ask the Rabbi: Repeating Questionable Words in Zachor and Megilla

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: In Parashat Zachor and Megillat Esther there are words with variant readings and most shuls read them twice. Should one repeat the word, the phrase it is in, or the whole pasuk?


Answer: First, it is not clear that it is necessary to repeat any of the above. The variance of zeicher to zecher (for the Ashkenazim who distinguish between these vowels) in Parashat Zachor might change the meaning of the pasuk, which determines when a mistake must be corrected (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 142:1). The word for “memory” is apparently “zeicher (see Tehillim 111:4). The question is whether “memory of” changes to zecher. The more accepted position (i.e., in reading the same pasuk during Parashat Hashavua) is “zeicher.” However, the Radak and the Gra (while some have different accounts) said that “zecher is correct. The Mishna Berura (685:18) recommends the minhag to read twice, which seems to have emerged based on the Chatam Sofer’s (died, 1839) practice.

It is not so clear that reading the wrong one changes the meaning, considering that the context of the pasuk points to “memory of,” and context apparently affects what needs correcting. The two traditional changes in Megillat Esther do not seem to change the meaning (grammatical and halachic arguments are beyond our scope). In any case, probably due to our great regard for Parashat Zachor and Megillat Esther, the idea of repeating is now a strong minhag, which is effectively untouchable in most communities.

The matter of how many words to repeat enjoys much less consensus. To start with, there are three different accounts of what the Chatam Sofer repeated (the word, the phrase from “timcheh,” the whole pasuk). The minhag decades ago was to repeat the phrase, which Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, OC V:20.32) and Rav Yosef D. Soloveitchik recommended (see P’ninei Harav, p. 148; I have heard differing accounts).

Some raise issues with repeating just the phrase. When we lain a word wrong, we fix just the word. If the mistake was adding a word, we reread the phrase where the word was inserted without the extraneous word. The simplest explanation of how this works is that by repeating the phrase, one ‘erases’ that which was said before and starts the phrase again. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 209:2, based on some Rishonim to Berachot 12a) says that if one accidentally recited “… borei pri hagafen on beer and then immediately added “shehakol …,” it works to replace the mistaken part of the beracha (at least enough to not have to repeat the beracha). Thus, saying “zecher” (the second time) may erase “zeicher.” (It would make more sense to say “zeicher" second, but that is not the minhag.) The idea of finishing the pasuk before repeating is that once the pasuk is finished, it is ‘money in the bank’ that cannot be ruined.

Those who suffice with repeating the phrase can defend themselves and counterattack. Perhaps erasure happens only if one intends to replace that which was wrong and not if one only wants to add an alternative reading just in case the first reading was wrong. The counterattack is that the Ramban understands Berachot 12a as being unsure about the case of one who said the beracha correctly and immediately, upon finishing it, added the wrong ending, whether he is credited for the beracha or it was erased. So, even finishing the pasuk might be problematic, strengthening those who choose what they believe is the correct reading and do not repeat anything (as shuls did for centuries). We have pilpulim to support either side (which we leave out for brevity’s sake) but no conclusive proof. We will not share an idea to solve the problem according to everyone (as we do not to want to introduce more chumrot than already, for better and/or for worse, exist).

In conclusion, we believe that those using any of the many minhagim fulfill their mitzva of zechirat mechiyat Amalek and recommend that each shul keep to its minhag.

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