The name of each of our festivals usually connotes the character or theme of the day. It is interesting then, that Purim should be named for the seemingly trivial detail that Haman drew lots to determine the date on which to destroy the Jewish people. What’s more perplexing is that the word pur is an ancient Persian word which the Megilla translates for us: ‘hipil pur, hu hagoral’, he cast pur, which is a lot (Esther 3:7).
Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the nation of Amalek. On the Shabbat before Purim we read the special maftir which tells the story of how the nation of Amalek attacked the Jewish people at Refidim, shortly after the exodus from Egypt. The Torah says that when Moses held his hands up towards heaven the Jewish people were inspired to overcome Amalek and when he tired and dropped them Amalek overcame them (Exodus 17:11).
The Torah also relates the nature of the attack: ‘Asher korcha baderech … v’lo yarei Elokim.’ How he happened upon you on the way … and [they] didn’t fear G-d. (Deuteronomy 25:18). Once again the nature of Amalek is related to happenstance and luck.
This is because Amalek represents the ideology that whatever happens in the world is merely by accident or chance. Every experience, good or bad has come about through a multidimensional network of coincidences, each related to another. This is why Amalek ‘didn’t fear G-d’. They saw their success or failure as a matter of their own making.
Yet that philosophy flies in the face of the very foundations of Jewish belief. G-d not only exists but He plays an active role in the world. His relationship with us means that nothing happens merely by chance.
When Haman cast lots, it reflected the philosophy of his ancestors. In fact the word goral in Hebrew means both lottery and destiny. With this in mind, the megilla does not merely translate the word pur but rather expresses the nature of Haman’s plan: ‘hipil pur, hu hagoral’ could mean ‘he cast a lot, this is the destiny [of the Jewish people]’, implying that their destiny will be to have their fate determined by a G-dless game of chance. By casting lots, the very method of Haman’s plan for the destruction of the Jewish people highlighted his nation’s belief that everything is determined by random events.
Despite Haman’s efforts, the entire plan was turned on its head (Esther 9:1) and G-d’s silent hand revealed itself. Everything that appeared to be leading the Jewish people towards destruction (and could have) became the vehicle to ultimately save them. Yet just as the victory with Amalek depended on the Jewish people turning to G-d, the same was true in the time of Mordechai and Esther.
The simcha of Purim comes not only from our victory over Haman, but our victory over his philosophy. A positive relationship with G-d ensures that our lives are never left to chance.