A Lottery for a Name


Haman, adversary of the Jews, 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.

Question One

If you were given the choice to name this Yom Tov, would you pick “Lottery”? True there was a lottery but what is its significance, why does it play such a major role and characterize the whole festival?

Question Two

Why is it called Purim in the plural and not Pur, in the singular as in the verse “Hipil Pur”?

Question Three

With other Yomim Tovim, the festivities do not spread to the rest of the month, We do not say “when Sivan comes let’s be joyous”. So why with Adar are we instructed “From when Adar arrives we increase our happiness”?

Question Four

When Haman saw that the lot fell on 13th Adar he was ecstatic. He deemed this to be a bad omen for the Jews, for Moshe had died in Adar. The Talmud tells us, Haman was unaware that Moshe was also born in Adar, hence it was also good for the Jews. What is the consolation of Moshe’s birth, surely his death which occurred later in time designated Adar as an ominous month?


Just as no one plans a wedding by casting lots, it is doubtful any sane person would orchestrate a war in such a random manner. Haman’s lottery was not haphazard. Lotteries connect to the spiritual underpinnings of this world, we find Eretz Yisroel was divided by Gorel, Achan and Yonoson were pinpointed as violators by means of a lottery. Haman, by using his knowledge of the occult, the hidden arts, divined the time he would be most succesful, the month and day when it would be bleak for the Jews. His lottery was an astounding success and he managed to pick the worst possible time for the Jews. However even when matters look black, there is always a glimmer of hope. That was our weapon, we took the flickering light and turned into a blazing conflagration. 

Haman cast a double gorel. First he selected which month and then the particular day in the month. Adar was a bad month for the Jews, and the 13th was a particularly bad day within the month, as this day was the culmination of Moshe’s Shivah. Therefore we celebrate both – the month and the day. This explains in contrast to other festivals, why from the onset of Adar we increase our happiness, highlighting the month, and we celebrate the day on Purim itself. This always gives reason as to why Purim is in the plural as there were two lotteries, one for the month and one for the day, stressing that it was doubly bad, and we were doubly saved.

Now let us return to our orignal question why the festival is called Purim – Lottery. The answer is to accentuate the turnaround from pitch dark to blazing light. This is best seen by the lottery where all the stars lined up to spell doom, yet we manged to capitalize on a glimmer of hope to turn it into our most successful season. It is not merely the “Venahopch” the switch, it is the rising from the nadir to the zenith.  

Furthermore, the negative aspect which gave Haman hope, subsequently became the most positive aspect of the day. Haman was excited that the timing of his lot coincided with the anniversary of Moshe’s death. We can safely assume that the darkness of that epoch was the loss of our greatest Torah teacher. Our sages tell us that with the salvation of Purim, the Jews rededicated themselves – stronger than at Mt. Sinai – to the Torah. This was a complete transformation from losing Torah to gaining Torah. Perhaps this why there is custom to learn Torah before the Purim meal, something unique to this Yom Tov, as the turnaround was also in the realm of Torah.


In every situation there is always, yes always, some light and we need to maximize that aspect until it takes over and dominates.

Weekly Halachah

There is a custom to learn Torah prior to the Purim meal.

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