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A Throw of Dice

A Throw of Dice


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.”

Based on the talks and writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson; rendered by Yanki Tauber.
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Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, Mi/USA March 23, 2011

G-d did determine the outcome I see it as G-d determining the outcome, and when a person tried to force events another way, He made sure those plans did not succeed..

G-d determined that the Jews would be in decent conditions at those times in Persia. Once that decision was made nobody was going to be able to change it. Haman allowed hate to destroy his reason, and tried to change the outcome. At that point G-d took over, and not only made the Jews' position secure, but he made sure Haman was destroyed.

If Haman had not chosen to hate, Mordechai and Esther would have just had ordinary lives, with Mordechai being just(!) an advisor to the king, and through him the Jews would have been secure enough. Reply

Bobby Hooks Macon, GA March 23, 2011

To Thomas Karp If one does not believe that G-d has (is in) ultimate control of every atom in the universe, then he does not have a big enough concept of G-d. As humans we have only enough free will to make "choices". G-d allows this, but He doesn't have to. If He wants us to make a certain "choice" He simply acts upon our minds to do whatever He wills. We are unaware of His action upon us. Or He can decide to let us act just as He already knows we will since He knows the end from the beginning. (Isaiah 46:10)
Faith is simply confident belief as opposed to absolute certainty. It is said that Abraham's "faith" was counted as righteousness, but he had more than just confident belief - he had absolute certainty, because G-d had made Himself known to him by speaking to him,changing his name,giving him a son when Sarah was past child bearing years and so much more.
Thomas, the whole point of the Megilla of Esther is that G-d's Sovereignty and Providence are evident throughout, yet He is not mentioned. Reply

Susan Rene Ganter waterloo, il March 21, 2011

Purim I really love this story of G-d's grace showen yet again ,it tells me no matter how bad things get He is still in control of the outcome, and nothing is over until G-d says its over.
, Reply

Nancy Cobourg, Canada March 18, 2011

Whenever my Bible study asks that we read a passage from Esther, I am torn between a giddy grin and a little groan. I can't just read one little piece of this story. It's always the whole story, every time. I'm always on the edge of my seat, quaking for Esther as she approaches her king, and shouting for joy as the Jews gain their victory. Same for the book of Ruth- it's always a straight-through read (tissues mandatory). Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. March 18, 2011

To Bobby Hooks I am not sure G-d has determined the outcome of events.

He allows for free will. He allows us to determine our own outcome.

That is best effected on our part by not gambling at all; to leave nothing to chance.

When we have faith, we take things on chance, and in effect subordinate ourselves to something else.

Nobody lives solely on free will and reason, though G-d clearly gave us both in good portion over the other creatures with which we share this planet.

At some point or another, we are bound to take a chance on something bigger than ourselves; yet, we retain a certain amount of self-determination through our actions.

Haman was in trouble before he got involved in lotteries through his own choices.

He chose to allow hate to destroy his reason and to so foolishly bet everything on the destruction of fellow human beings.

It was in his hand's at that point, not in G-d's.

Bobby, keep in mind that Esther is the one book of the Bible in which G-d is not mentioned. Reply

Bobby Hooks Macon, GA March 17, 2011

Divine Providence vs. Chance The reason Haman used Pur is that he was aware that, his G-d,"chance" or "fortune" is the opposite of Hashgachah Pratit (Divine Providence, Divine Intervention) and that the Israelites had Providentially chosen their areas of the Promised Land through "lots". (Numbers 26:52-55) [also Urim and Thummim].

He used the process of elimination to determine the "best" day to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:7,13). He believed that fortune, luck or random chance could decide a favorable day for his action against them. He did not realize that The G-d of Israel set the world in motion (what we call the space-time continuum) and that He, therefore has determined the outcome of events. His Will stands. He operates in our immediate circumstances. The die is cast onto the table, but every 'descision' thereof is from the L-ord. (Prov.16:33 paraphrase)

Today most states have "Lot"teries where those who believe that luck and chance will favor them, 'bet' on this. Theirs is the same G-d as Haman's. Ecc. 9:11,12 Reply

Clay Lansdowne, PA March 15, 2011

The idea that we should forsake the past To our friend from Australia:
I do not quite understand your objection. You put value in the Jewish culture, and ask us to remember that, but I think that you forget that the only thing that makes the Jewish culture at all notable is the Jewish G-d.
And how have our religious beliefs outdated themselves? You call for a spirituality, but a vague one- a presumably freer one. Can't I be free to believe in revelations which occurred before my birth if this spirituality is really less rigid?
Finally, even you put objective value in the G-d of Abraham; you preach to us that we should read the Bible and the Quran as an argument for why we should not read the Bible or Quran.
You really should make an argument (it's only fair to your grandfather) that doesn't hinge on the notion that everything old is intrinsically wrong. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. March 15, 2011

To Anonymous from Monroe. The Talmud tells us that the Torah was actually offered to everyone else before it was offered to the Hebrews (Jews); so, in a way, Professor Ben-Shlomo is right.

A pertinent question here is: Why did everyone else turn Torah down, and why did the Hebrews say 'yes' instead?

I'm sure there is a variety of opinions amongst the Jewish sages on it.

As for Hamann: Every generation has had it's 'Hamann'; from Pharaoh to the Roman emperors to the Hitlers and their kind.

The obvious lesson from them is that the hate you pursue against others (not just the Jews) comes back around your way and consumes you.

What then is it about the Torah and the people who said 'yes' to it that inspires that kind of hate from someone(s) in every generation? Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA March 8, 2009

choice I must believe that it is G-d that chooses. It is His right as Creator of us all. Reply

Anonymous Sydney, NSW March 17, 2008

Why do people waste their valuable time and spirit on the inventions of that kind that helped their ancestors to cope in difficult times in the past. Why do not Jewish people and people of all other religions and persuasions accept that past is past and take with them the richness of their ancestors culture and arts but not the dogma of rigid beliefs that outdated themselves.
Remember the past, but live in the present and put your goodness and spirituality to help other people not just your own creed. Isn't that the message of the Tora and the Bible and the Koran ? Reply

Anonymous Monroe, New York, USA via March 18, 2006

Who chose whom? Regarding us Jews as God's chosen people: One of my Israeli professors, Ben-Shlomo, was in the opinion that Israel has chosen G-d and not the reverse. From this basic belief stems the following: Because Israel has chosen G-d, they have received G-d's light and guidance, which the rest of his creations lack. G-d wouldn't make distinctions between his creations that were all born equal. All have the choice of choosing him as their G-d and receive his light. The other way of thinking has permitted the Christians to claim that they are G-d's new choice (they call themselves "the new Jews", and the Moslems to claim that they are G-d's last and true choice, who got the right on every piece of land that once belonged to the Jews. Reply

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