Chance vs. Choice

Chance vs. Choice

Rabbi Tuvia Kaplan

Mashgiach Ruchani, Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program
Midreshet Lindenbaum


“How odd of God to choose the Jews” (William Norman Ewer)

“It is not odd the Jews choose God” (author unknown)

The Tikunnei Zohar writes that Purim is “named after” Yom Ha-Kippurim.

“פורים אתקריאת על שם יום הכיפורים”  The comparison seems strange, comparing  Purim – a day of joy and celebration sometimes bordering on frivolity – with Yom Kippur, our most solemn day of fasting and penitence.  The Ba’al Ha-Tanya in Torah Ohr goes a step further. He writes that it is not Purim that is named after Yom Kippur, but the opposite; Purim is the “original” and Yom Kippur is named after Purim, “יום כ-פורים”, a day “like” Purim.  Obviously from a historical perspective Yom Kippur long precedes Purim. In what spiritual sense can we say that Purim “precedes” and is somehow the source of Yom Kippur?

The common denominator of Purim and Yom Kippur is the – גורל”lots” – the lottery of the Cohen Gadol and the lottery of Haman.  The Torah describes (ויקרא פרק טו) the service of the Cohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. As part of the services, he distinguished between two identical goats by means of drawing lots. On one lot was written “for Hashem” and the goat on which it is drawn was offered in the Beit Ha-Mikdash.  One the other lot was written “for Azazel”.  On this second goat the Cohen Gadol confessed the sins of all of Klal Yisrael and the goat was sent to the desert to die.  Only the- גורל lottery distinguished between the two goats; in appearance they were identical. The lottery was drawn in purity and sanctity by the holiest man in Israel on our holiest day with the purpose of atoning for all of the Jewish people.

Haman’s lottery was very different, drawn by an evil person with the worst of intentions, to destroy the Jewish people. Before we can understand how such a lottery could be the source of the lottery on Yom Kippur we have to understand why Haman cast lots in the first place.  Chassidic thought explains that a lottery operates in a realm beyond the realm of intellect, call it chance or Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence), but it is certainly not predictable.  Every time we flip the coin it is a 50/50 proposition.

Haman understood that his desire to kill the Jews was illogical; there was no reason for it other than his irrational hate. He did not stand to benefit in any particular way from their destruction, in fact he paid a huge sum for the permission to destroy them.  It was also clearly unethical, how could he justify wanton murder of a whole people?  Even if the Jews deserved to be punished, their Temple had been destroyed and they were in exile, they had already been severely punished for whatever misdeeds they had committed.  Haman understood in the realm of reason and ethics his plan stood no chance so he resorted to the lottery, the realm above reason and ethics.  In the realm of pure chance, he had a chance. There in that realm there was nothing to distinguish him for Klal Yisrael, values have no significance, good and evil, truth and falsehood are all the same.  It is the realm of chance, and there Haman’s chances to destroy Am Yisrael are the same as our chances to be saved.

But that was Haman’s mistake.  Above the realm of reason and intellect and above the realm of chance, is the realm of Divine Providence.  Hashem’s love and care for Klal Yisrael transcends reason, it is His free choice, undetermined by any outside factor, to choose Klal Yisrael as His messengers in this world.   (דברים ז:ו)Haman loses in the world of chance because even the “laws”  of chance are ultimately subject to the Divine Will.

This Divine choice of Am Yisrael is also the basis of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Deserving or not, ethically or logically defensible or not, if we observe Yom Kippur properly we are forgiven.  On Yom Kippur there is a lottery, but however the lots fall, one goat will go to the Beit Ha-Mikdash and one to the desert.  One way or another in the realm of chance we will be forgiven, but why?

We learn the answer on Purim. We are forgiven because chance is also subject to Hashem’s Will. Haman’s lot fell on the month of Adar and he rejoiced because it is the month of Moshe’s death, a time of tragedy.  He did not realize it was also the month of Moshe’s birth, a time of celebration. מגילה יג:ב)) Which event would determine the nature of the Adar Haman was planning? Was it just chance that one event or the other determined the nature of the Adar of Purim, that it would be a time of destruction or a time of salvation?  We choose to see the hand of Hashem, Divine Providence, in our salvation, not chance but choice. At the time of Purim itself they chose God, by maintaining their trust and faith in God, by refusing to reject their identity, by looking beyond reason, and beyond chance, by choosing and being chosen.

עד דלא ידע בין ברוך מרדכי וארור המן   For some this means drinking more than usual, for some it means sleeping, but the intent of the action is the same.  Purim calls upon us to realize that even in those situations where we see no rhyme nor reason, where we cannot distinguish between blessed be Mordechai and cursed by Haman, when pure chance seems to reign, even there, beyond the limits or our understanding, there is Hashem’s love and care for Am Yisrael and Hashem’s choice.

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