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PURIMPURIM: THE HOLIDAY OF LOTS
Adapted from "Sifsei Chaim" vol. II pg. 186 by Rav Chaim Friedlander, zt"l, Mashgiach Ruchani of the Ponevich Yeshiva
Purim is called "Purim" because of the "Pur" (lots) which Haman used to determine the date upon which to destroy the Jews. (Esther 3:7 and 9:26) The name Purim expresses and delineates the root of all the lessons that are to be learned from the holiday of Purim.
How does "Purim" express anything special about this holiday? Haman threw lots, and his lots turned to our favor. Wasn't this simply one minor part of a greater sequence of events? Haman wanted to determine the right date for his plan to annihilate the Jews. Instead of randomly choosing a date to kill the Jews, he threw lots to determine the right date. This was just one detail out of the many occurrences of that time. Why was it designated to be the name of the holiday?
Secondly, if the name of the holiday is based on the lottery, it should be in the singular "Pur" and not "Purim" (lots - plural).
In order to answer our questions, we must study the difference between choice versus chance.
Normally a person is in control of determining his behavior. He consciously and thoughtfully decides on a course of action. However, sometimes it is difficult to make up one's mind. For whatever reason it is, he can't decide on his own. Then he decides to choose without deliberation, like flipping a coin. This decision is not based on the person's own choice.
Rather he is leaving it up to "luck".
We find a similar concept in the Torah - the lottery. There was a special mitzvah to choose among the two goat offerings of Yom Kippur by a lottery (Yoma Chap. 6 Mishna 1). Both goats were equal in all respects. The lottery determined which was offered to G-d and which goat was sent to Azazel. The inheritance of Eretz Yisroel was also accomplished through a lottery.
("And you shall inherit the land by a lottery to each of your families." Bemidbar 33:24)
How are we to understand this process of lottery? Is the Torah telling us to leave things up to "blind chance"?
There are two ways to understand a lottery. We can look at it from a vantage point of emuna. The lottery shows us G-d's will. It is a decision which is not in Man's hand. This was the lottery of Yom Kippur. Heaven determined the fate of each goat, if it was to be offered as a sacrifice to G-d, or sent to Azazel. So too, the division of Eretz Yisroel. Heaven determined which section of land went to each tribe.
The nonbeliever, on the other hand, views the lottery from a heretical point of view. When he doesn't want to decide on his own, when he doesn't want to make a rational decision, he leaves the decision up to "chance". "Chance" will decide! When Haman gave over his decision to the whims of the "lots" it wasn't out of belief that the result would be the revelation of the will of G-d. Rather he wanted "chance" to make the decision for him. This was the profound conviction behind Haman's every action - everything is merely chance. There is no Divine will
"'And Mordechai told him (Hasoch) everything that had "happened" (קרהו) to him.' [Lit. - Mordechai related to Hasoch the entire chain of events that had occurred.] He said to him, Go tell Esther that the grandson of 'it happened by chance' ( (קרהוhas come against us" (Esther Raba 7:5).
Mordechai read into the word קרהו - "happened" as referring to Amalek. The possuk described Amalek as: אשר קרך בדרך "Who happened (chanced) upon you on the way." Haman was a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek, the nation of "chance."
Mordechai summed up the whole essence of Haman - the descendant of "it happened by chance." Amalek saw all the miracles and wonders of the Exodus from Mitzrayim and the splitting of the Sea. "The chiefs of Edom were astounded.... all the inhabitants of Cana'an melted" (Shemos 15:15). All of the surrounding nations viewed the events and the miracles. As the news penetrated, their hearts melted and they became terrified. In the meanwhile, Amalek stood up and waged war with Yisroel. How could they have the audacity attack Klal Yisroel after seeing what had just happened to the Egyptians? The answer lies in the possuk, "who chanced upon you on the way." Amalek saw the same chain of events: the Exodus, the splitting of the Sea, as merely a sequence of chance events; simple natural occurrences. He denied Hashgacha Pratis. Haman was following in Amalek's footsteps. This was Mordechai's insightful description of Haman's essence - the grandson of "it was mere chance." He saw everything as accident. Nothing moved him. He was impervious to noticing a miracle. The idea of any Divine supervision in the world was totally alien to him.
Throughout the Megilla we see Haman's attitude. His counselors advised him to hang Mordechai. Haman immediately went to Achashverosh to request to hang Mordechai on the gallows specially prepared for him. That very night the Hashgacha arranged that the king couldn't sleep, and Achashverosh requested to have the chronicles read before him. The servants "by chance" opened up to the very spot where Mordechai is mentioned as having saved the king's life by uncovering the plot by Bigsan and Seresh to poison the king. The Yalkut explains that since Mordechai was mentioned favorably in the chronicles, the reader tried to skip this section, but the letters kept jumping back to the incident of Mordechai: the possuk does not state, "and they read..." Rather, "and it was read." The chronicles read themselves. And some say that Eliyahu came and wrote it in." Precisely at that moment Haman walked into the courtyard of the king (to ask him to hang Mordechai.) The king called him in and asked him what honor should be done to the one whom the king wishes to honor and glory. Haman, (thinking the king meant himself) told the king. Then the king asks Haman (previously promoted to the highest position in the government) to honor Mordechai (Haman's arch enemy), to sit him upon the king's horse and lead him through the streets of the city like a lowly stable boy. Fantastic. How marvelously the Hashgacha arranged the whole chain of events.
And what was Haman's response to all this? "And Haman related to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends everything that chanced to happen to him" (6:13). It was mere chance. It just happened. He wasn't moved one iota by this Hashgacha Pratis. He failed to see any Divine punishment for his wickedness. Only a chain of unrelated incidents: one incident upon another which were out of the realm of his control.
Even his counselors were unable to see any Divine Hand in these "accidents." They couldn't understand that it was not G-d's will to hang Mordechai. They merely answered him with the same philosophy. "And his wise-men and Zeresh his wife said to him, If Mordechai, before whom you have started to fall, is from the seed of the Jews, you can do nothing to him, because you will certainly fall before him" (6:14). All pure accident. "If he is from the seed of the Jews." One who provoked the Jews could have fortune shine upon him; then he will see the light of good luck. But if he doesn't succeed, it was merely bad luck, and the wheel of fortune will continue spinning against him until he finally falls before it.
This was Mordechai's description of Haman: the grandson of chance. Nothing enlightens his eyes to see G-d's Hashgacha; he sees in everything mere chance. If he succeeds, it is his good luck, and if he fails, he is not to blame at all. It was all just a matter of bad luck beyond his control.
"LUCK" - A DIVINE DECREE
If we look deeper, however, we notice that even Mordechai used the word chance: "And Mordechai related everything that had happened (קרהו)" (4:7). True, the Midrash explains that he was referring to "the grandson of "it merely happened". Yet we cannot ignore the simple reading of the possuk, that he also related the events to chance and accident. He used exactly the same terms as Haman. (see 6:13)
Rav S.R. Hirsch (Breishis 24:12) explains, "Nothing is farther from Jewish belief than the idea of 'chance.' Rather, the term מקרה (happening) refers to those moments of one's life that he himself did not guide but which guided him. They were unexpected events; not reckoned on, not intended, but which could be the most intentional messages sent by the One Who directs and brings about all things."
Yes, everything which is outside the realm of our choice and free will is called an accident, a ,מקרה it just happened like this. However, this is merely what is apparent to our eyes. In reality it is determined and directed by G-d (nothing happens accidentally.)
There are two basic categories of the way things happen:
A. Free Will: that realm in which we act according to our own choice.
B. There is another realm, in which we have no choice: things which are determined from above. These are the "accidents" of nature prepared in Heaven according to Man's needs in his service to G-d. This realm of chance accident beyond Man's control, the realm of the accidents of Fortune, is a realm of Divine decrees. Mazal מזל (fortune, or luck) comes from the root נוזל - to flow - it flows from above. (See also Daas Tevunos pg. 190.) Mazal refers to whatever is decreed upon Man in Heaven as his station in Avodas Hashem, not as a reward for his actions.
According to this we can understand what Mordechai said to Hasach, "And Mordechai told him all that had 'happened' to him." The Targum translates, "...all that had happened for not bowing down to Haman and not bending before the image (that Haman wore)." He had been accused of endangering all of Klal Yisroel. However Mordechai understood that this was the role designated for him from the Beginning of Time (see Megilla 12b, and Michtav Me'Eliyahu V. II p. 130).
"'And Mordechai did not bend, nor bow down.' The people said to him, you should know that you are throwing us onto the sword; why are you opposing the decree of the king? He answered them, I am a Yehudi. They said to him, don't we find that your ancestors bowed down to his ancestors, as it says, "And he (Yaakov) bowed down seven times." Mordechai answered, my forefather Binyomin was still in his mother's womb and didn't bow down. I am his grandson, as it says, 'A man of Yamini.' Just as my grandfather didn't bow down, so too I will not bend nor bow down" (Yalkut Shimoni sec. 1054).
This was Mordechai's special role in Avodas Hashem, to sanctify Heaven's name in spite of no outright prohibition involved. Mordechai understood that this role had been predetermined and preset from the beginning of Creation as his portion in Avodas Hashem, and in light of this role he had to serve Hashem Yisborach.
As we see, our actions are carried out according to the plan designed for us at the beginning of time, each one with his personal role in Creation. Each person has to match himself to his role. He expresses his free will by acting properly using the tools given him for this role.
However, there is a danger in this. A person may decide to change his role. Instead of seeing the fortune presented to him as his Heavenly destined task and harmonizing his own desires to this Master Plan, the individual may want to match his fortune to his personal desires.* This is the statement of Chazal in Avos (4:1), "Who is rich, he who is happy with his lot." What is his lot? This is the lot of a person predetermined from the beginning of Creation, and the person has to be happy with his role in the framework of Avodas Hashem, He should recognize that if HaKodosh Baruch Hu has selected this lot for him, then this portion, and only this portion is for his benefit, and for the benefit of the goal of the entire Creation. Inevitably he will not aspire for someone else's job which is not at all suitable for him within the framework of Avodas Hashem incumbent upon him. This should be our outlook on the "accidents of Fortune (mazal) and Chance."
THE DENIER TRIES TO BEND FORTUNE TO HIS OWN DESIRES
The denier straddles the fence from both sides. He uses chance for his own personal desires to gain success. He knows that there are things decreed from "the powers that be" which are not within his control. However, he deceives himself that he is still, so to speak, the master of his fortune; that he has the ability to bend fortune to his desires the way he wants. When he succeeds, he does not accredit his success to good fortune; rather it was his prowess and personal abilities. On the other hand, when he doesn't succeed, he attributes this to bad luck. He lives with the feeling that it wasn't his fault, because there are things which aren't within the boundary of one's control. The dice were loaded against him. He fails to detect the contradiction.
It was with this heretical attitude that Haman lived, the "grandson of chance." He straddled the fence living in two worlds at once. On the one hand he wanted that the successful day for his plan should be chosen from above; to match his personal gain and desire in his hatred of the Jews. On the other hand, he was the greatest heretic: his attitude toward everything that happened was that they were only a combination of accidents and pure luck, not within the realm of his control. It wasn't retribution for his evil actions. This was the internal contradiction. If you hand your decision over to "the powers that be" to decide, then you have to also know what Heaven expects of you, to subordinate yourself to the Heavenly powers, and not the opposite, to try to subjugate the Heavenly powers to your personal desire.
Haman lived in the world of "luck". When something happened which was possible to explain, it didn't deviate from the Natural order of things. It happened that the king got drunk in the middle of a party. It happened that he wanted to show off his wife to all the people. And it happened that he got so angry at his wife that he executed her. It even happened that he chose an unknown woman to be his new queen, even though she refused to disclose her nationality or country of birth. Regarding each of the individual events of the Megilla, we could say, it happened. But when we see the events unfurling before us in an orderly chain, from beginning to end, we see a marvelous supervision hiding within nature.
Haman also saw the entire chain of events. But each time he saw only a chance happening with no connection to the other events. When he succeeded in utilizing chance for his own benefit and will, he had succeeded in overpowering "the powers that be." But when he couldn't succeed, he didn't feel at fault at all. It was bad luck. His response was, "And Haman retold... all that had chanced upon him." This was the grandson of "it chanced."
HAMAN'S FORTUNE WAS TRANSFORMED INTO OUR FORTUNE
Now we can understand why we call the holiday "Purim" (plural) as the expression of the essence of the day. Yes the lottery which Haman threw, and which is the name of the holiday, was merely one detail among all the occurrences in the Megilla. But this one detail symbolized Haman's heretical philosophy: he wanted to subjugate the Heavenly powers to his own desires. This took concrete expression not only in his throwing the lots. Everything he did was calculated to manipulate fortune for his own gain, and to subjugate the Heavenly decrees according to his will.
However, Heavenly mercy shown down upon us and in the end all his plans were like the lot - which turned into our lot. Hashem Yisborach turned Haman's desires into the conduit to accomplish the Heavenly decrees. For example: Haman wanted to act against G-d's will and threw lots in order to pick the right day to kill all the Jews. He wanted to use "chance" for his personal desire. In the end these lots turned into our lots and as this day turned out to be the day of Klal Yisroel's success. "On the day when the enemies of the Jews chose to overpower them, and it was turned around that the Jews overpowered their enemies" (Esther 9:1). Inadvertently, he chose the most successful month for the Jews, as the gemora states (Taanis 29b), "Who has a lawsuit with a gentile should go to court during Adar." This means to say that Hashem Yisborach used Haman's lot to eventually bring about the good for Klal Yisroel.
Haman advised Achashverosh to kill Vashti. Eventually this, too, turned against him: Esther was taken to the king's palace to eventually bring about his downfall. The tree on which he prepared to hang Mordechai in the end became his own gallows. The advice he gave to the king in order to elevate his own stature, to be honored with sitting on the king's horse and led around the city, was turned against him. He had the degrading job of putting his mortal enemy, Mordechai, on the horse and leading him through the city.
Haman, however, saw all of this as mere chance and accident - he was the grandson of chance. Sometimes he succeeded, and sometimes he just wasn't lucky. HaKodosh Baruch Hu, however, arranged everything according to His pre-planned Hashgacha; all of Haman's lots (Purim) - would in the end be turned to our lots. And through all this would come out a stupendous sanctification of Hashem's name and the benefit of Klal Yisroel.
Now we can understand why the name Purim was chosen, signifying the drawing of lots, in the plural form, and not Pur, in the singular. There are really two sides to the drawing of lots. There was, on one hand, the lot that Haman wanted to use to accomplish his own goals. On the other hand, this lot was in reality our lot. Haman wanted to control the Heavenly powers for his own gain, and it turned into our fortune. Hashem Yisborach manipulated Haman's desires to bring to fruition the Heavenly decrees, and in the end Haman was the conduit to create a marvelous Kiddush Hashem. Therefore there were really two lots: 1) Haman's lot. 2) The lot which was really our fortune.
All this teaches us how HaKodosh Baruch Hu directs the whole chain of incongruent and seemingly unrelated events. Our job is to take an active role in fulfilling HaKodosh Baruch Hu's will. However, this is only possible if the person matches his will to his role in Avodas Hashem, and not, Heaven forbid, to try to adjust Heavenly events to suit his personal desire. In addition to this, he has to divorce himself from the tendency of using his personal failings and faults as an excuse to lighten his obligation to fulfill his role faithfully.
We also learn from all this a very important principal in Avodas Hashem - on one hand there is the Heavenly decree on the person. On the other side, there is our free will. There is no contradiction or paradox between these two. Even what we do freely with thought and decision has been preplanned in Heaven. HaKodosh Baruch Hu arranges how we act, both good and bad, to bring about His Master Plan in the end. Not only does HaKodosh Baruch Hu predetermine the framework of our Avodas Hashem. But in the end result, even those things which are within the realm of our free will and choice, are used by HaKodosh Baruch Hu to fulfill His will. As long as we have the desire to bring about Hashem Yisborach's plan, accordingly will HaKodosh Baruch Hu help us to be the conduit of public Sanctification of His name.
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood). Rabbi Parkoff also would like to publish Trust Me 2. If you would like to sponsor this upcoming book, or would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-325-1257
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