The story of Purim, which we read in the Book of Esther, is a story about a righteous Jewish leader who held fast to his principles refusing to bow down to a rabid anti-Semite. It’s a story about a courageous Jewish queen, Esther, who saved her people risking her life. And yet, this holiday is not called by the name of Mordechai or Esther, it is called Purim, because, as the Book of Esther informs us:
For Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had devised to destroy the Jews, and he cast the pur—that is the lot—to terrify them and destroy them… Therefore, they called these days Purim after the name pur. (Book of Esther, 9:24,26)
This is odd because the casting of the lot (pur) seemingly played an incidental role in the story. The lots thrown by the evil Haman were first to determine the month of the pogrom and, second, to determine the exact date. Why did the sages name this festival “Purim” (in Hebrew, purim is the plural form of pur, meaning “lots”) as if these lots play the key role in the story?
Usually, we do not see open manifestation of Divine Providence in this world, because it is concealed by two veils. The first veil is nature—or the laws of nature, to be precise. In science we tend to explain everything as a manifestation of the laws of nature, leaving no room for Divine Providence.
Kabbalah, too, speaks of the expression, “Shemesh u’magen Hashem Elokim” – the sun and shield are YHWH and Elokim. The two names of God—Havayah (YHWH) and Elokim—are compared respectively to the sun, and the shield that screens the light of the sun. The numerical value (gematriah) of the name Elokim is 86 (Alef=1 + Lamed=30 +Heh=5 + Yud=10 + Mem=40 = 86), which is the same as the numerical value of ha-tevah – the nature. It is nature that conceals Godliness and Divine Providence—by design.
The other veil is that of the human ego. The ego always gets in the way. We tend to overthink things, we tend to worry too much. We think we know what is good for us and what is the right thing to do. We let our ego run our lives instead of allowing the hand of God—Divine Providence—to gently guide us through life and show us the way.
Luckily, there is one mechanism that allows removing both veils at once—surrendering ourselves to randomness. If one resolves to make a decision based on the outcome of a lot, one removes one’s ego. A fair dice is such that it has equal probability to fall on any one of its sides randomly—this eliminates the influence of the laws of nature. Using a fair dice we “neutralize” the laws of nature, as it were.
Using randomness, we remove both veils—we throw a curtain wide open to allow Divine Providence shine forth in a manifest way. This is why, on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) cast lots: which goat was to be sacrificed to God and which was to be sent to Azazel.
It is noteworthy that quantum physics is random at its core. When Albert Einstein objected to this randomness – “God doesn’t play dice!” – Niels Bohr retorted, “Quit telling God what to do!” If we surrender to quantum reality, which is random at its core, we surrender to the Divine.
This is one of the meanings of the two lots cast by Haman. The importance of this lesson is so great that the festival on which we celebrate our salvation from Haman is called lots—Purim.
Haman was no slouch. He understood all this and used his lots to reach Divine Providence in order to manipulate it to his evil ends. He reached the level of Divine Providence all right. What he didn’t realize was that there is no randomness on this level. Randomness is necessary as the building block of creation to manifest Divine Providence in the physical world, which is why on the quantum level randomness rules. But it is superfluous on higher levels of reality – in the spiritual worlds, where there is no nature and no ego to conceal God’s will. Ultimately, I suppose, Einstein was right—God does not play dice! So when Haman reached that spiritual level through casting the lots, he discovered the true will of God—He chose the Jewish People. Jews are called “ the chosen people” not because we are better or smarter than others, but because it was a simple choice of God. Call this choice “capricious,” call it “irrational,” but ultimately, as Neils Bohr quipped, “Quit telling God what to do!” This is the ultimate lesson of the story of Purim.