Numerous factors contributed to the salvation of the Jewish people from Haman’s decree, not least amongst them Mordechai’s rousing of the Jews to repentance and Esther’s efforts on their behalf. Yet the name of the festival—the one word chosen to express its essence—refers to a seemingly minor detail: the fact that Haman selected the date of his proposed annihilation of the Jews by casting lots (pur is Persian for “lot”). Obviously, the significance of Haman’s lots lies at the very heart of what Purim is all about.
Why did Haman cast lots? Because he was attempting to break what, to his mind, was a “vicious cycle” that had been plaguing him and his ilk since the appearance of the Jewish nation a thousand years earlier. Many great and powerful men, from Pharaoh to Nebuchadnezzar—not to mention Haman’s own ancestors, the Amalekites—had tried to destroy this people. Granted, the Jews have a great and powerful G‑d, but they also have this inane habit of angering Him with their transgressions. All one needs to do, it would seem, is wait for such an opportune moment. But always, at the very last minute, the Jews repent, and time and again their G‑d is reconciled with them and saves them.
Haman knew that the Jews had sinned yet again by worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and partaking of Achashverosh’s feast; but who knows how long their estrangement from G‑d will last this time?
As long as our plans hinge upon the virtue or iniquity of Israel, reasoned Haman, we’ll just have a repeat of the same old scenario. A more basic approach is called for. Can it be that G‑d really cares about one people more than another? Can it be that He is truly pleased by “good” deeds and angered by “bad” ones? Surely G‑d is beyond all that. There might be a level of reality on which goodness is rewarded and evil is punished, but on a higher plane, these things are obviously meaningless. On that level, a truly infinite G‑d has no concern with what goes on in the material world, and the prime minister of the mightiest empire on earth can do what he chooses to a small, dispersed minority.
So Haman cast lots, hoping to “connect” to that level of reality that transcends the laws of good and evil—to that level of reality on which, he believed, everything is up for grabs, as free of any moral rules as a throw of dice.
What Haman failed to realize was that the people of Israel are G‑d’s chosen people—that even on the level of divine “choice,” which transcends all logical criteria, G‑d desires them and protects them. It is true that G‑d, in essence, is beyond it all; but this very G‑d chose—for no other reason than that such was His desire—to take the people of Israel as His own.
The Jew always knows this in the deepest part of his soul, even if his external behavior may, at times, run awry of this realization. This, ultimately, is the reason why we always return to G‑d, and why G‑d always forgives us in the end.
This, ultimately, is the very essence of the miracle of Purim, and the very essence of the miracle called “the people of Israel.”