Saturday, March 23, 2019
Thursday, March 21, 2019
Monday, March 18, 2019
LOTS & LOTS
Rabbi David Walk
Did you ever buy a lottery ticket? I did a few times. I never won anything, but I felt like the dollar spent was worth the visions in my brain about how to spend the loot. The dreams were never about luxury cars or yachts. They were always about financial security for my family and educational institutions where I'd pay students to attend my classes, instead of the other way like in my professional life. A yeshiva without pressures or financial worries, that would be my paradise. But you have to wake up and smell the humus. On the other hand, if God wanted me to be rich, this would allow for that Divine prerogative. In any case, this is the week to discuss lotteries, because it's a major factor in this week's commemoration of the Purim story.
When Haman (!!) decides that the Jews must be done away with, the verse records, 'In the first month, which is Nissan, in the twelfth year of the reign of Achashverosh, a PUR, that is a lot (GORAL), was cast before Haman...and it fell on the month of Adar (Esther 3:7).' Eventually, the text informs us, 'Therefore, they called these days Purim, after the PUR (9:26).' We're being informed that this 'lot' business is very significant. It provided the name of the holiday and a new word into our Hebrew vocabulary. All that's left is to figure out why this is so very important. No problem, a piece of .
The Torah prohibits any type of divination or attempt to foresee the future through any number of methods (LO T'NACHASHU, 19:26). Apparently, this prohibition is related to magic and is, perhaps, an extension of disdain for idolatrous practices. We don't engage in these occult practices because of our unwavering faith in God. Torah and mitzvot bring us to the right decisions, not games. Eventually, the futility of these practices is demonstrated by their utter failure to determine the most propitious date for the destruction of the Jews. When we joyously proclaim that these are days of NAHAFOCHU (total turn-around of fortunes), we are declaring our complete faith in God and total rejection of NICHUSH (divination and fortune telling).
I fully endorse the preceding paragraph, but not everyone does. The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on Esther, writes that Haman's machinations worked. He got the best possible date for destroying the Jews. The miracle of our survival was God's switching (NAHAFOCHU) the nature of that date to become beneficial for our people. This introduces an uncomfortable reality. We seem to actually engage in this practice.
In a famous linguistic turn of phrase, we compare Purim to Yom Kippur, which really means Day of Atonement. However, the full name of the fast is YOM HAKIPPURIM, and KI'PPURIM can be translated 'like Purim'. In some way our Sages are comparing our most solemn day of the calendar to our most frivolous observance. But there's more.
In the Holy Temple, the central observance of Yom Kippur was the offering of the two identical goats. One is offered in the Temple (LAHASHEM), and the other is sent off to the wilderness (L'AZAZAEL). Since the goats are identical, how do we determine which to use for each observance? The verse explains: And shall place lots (GORALOT) upon the goats, one for God and one for Azazael (Vayikra 16:8), Haven't we banished lots from our lives?
Actually, writes that if you have two people, with equal merit, who want to lead the davening, it's permissible to flip a coin, and 'God will guide the coin.' Like Matthew Slater of the Patriots, call 'Heads!' So, now I'm totally confused. May we use lots to determine the correct choice or not? The Vilna Gaon and state that these methods can work. But, explains, you should only use them after you've exhausted other types of investigation. These two gentlemen have equal right to be CHAZAN,
Medan, Rosh of Har , asked this question, too. He suggested that the difference is clear. The PUR in Persia was done 'before Haman' and ignores morality. It is meant to prove the philosophy of Amalek that this is a deterministic world. We make no difference; we have no choice. However, the PUR or GORAL of the goat on Yom is after an extended period of TESHUVA. On this day the Jew is fasting, confessing and praying to change the fate which transgressions have dictated for the sinner. This lot is LIFNEI (before) God. This is a lot which can work,
We can change 'distress into joy, mourning into holidays (Esther 9:22).' NAFOCHU means there are no set laws, dates or circumstances which can't be changed for the good by our compassionate and loving God. There is no magic, but there are unexpected twists in Jewish destiny. We call them miracles. God periodically intervenes in the affairs of humanity to save our people, to sustain the covenant.
Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that 'The is a book of contradictions...filled with events that are unreasonable even absurd...At one moment, the Jews live in security, at the next they face destruction. Mordechai is threatened with execution, at the next he is prime minister.' The notes that uncertainty is necessary for sinful humans to escape obligatory punishment. He continues: The compelling intrusion of the unknown and the irrational is basic to man's existential condition and it is precisely this weakness which qualifies humanity to receive God's compassionate forgiveness.
My Mom passed away on Purim, my Dad right after Yom Kippur. These days are inextricably combined in my psyche. They are equally entwined in Jewish tradition. The solemnity of Yom Kippur and the silliness of Purim; the fasting of one and the feasting of the other combine to remind us that we are not subject to the whims of fate, but to our covenant with God. Purim Sameach!
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