A brief word on Purim, which begins Monday night.
Purim means 'lots' and refers to the fact that the evil Haman cast lots to determine the date upon which the Jews would be destroyed (see Esther 3:7). Purim takes its name from chance, then - the pure chaos that seems to governs our lives. Haman's crass indifference to the fate of God's people is demonstrated by this contemptuous act of allowing chance to determine when the Jews will be destroyed.
But even beyond this literal casting of the lots, the story symbolizes the chaos of existence on a deeper level. People throughout the vast kingdom are to be destroyed because a single person (Mordechai) refused to bow to a king's Minister whose temper happened to get the best of him? How can any kind of Divine plan unfold in a world in which a single man, controlled by the vagaries of his own anger, has so much power?
God seems to be absent - there is no mention of God in the story at all. What is the relationship between the absence of God from the tale and the sense of chaos and chance that hang over the story?
Levi Yitzchak has a beautiful reflection on this. He takes this notion that God is absent and uses it to emphasize the importance of human agency. God's absence from the story reflects the fact that tzadikim, righteous ones, have the capacity to undo Divine decrees. God looks to the righteous and fulfills their will instead of God's own.
Rather than describing a righteous person as someone who does God's will, he redefines it as someone whose will God does. The righteous are sovereign. This explains why, in spite of God's absence and the corresponding presence of grim fate, the story comes out well: the righteous Mordechai and Esther bring salvation.
Our own sense sometimes that the world is without order, governed by chaos shouldn't lead us to despair. Instead it should lead us to a profound sense of hope, possibility and responsibility - that the chaos is only superficial and can be overcome by acts of courage and beauty.
Pretty heavy. So, don't forget to have mad fun on Purim, Monday night.
The Mitzvot of Purim (not a full list):
*Observe the fast of Esther - Monday morning until Monday evening (March 9th)
*Hear the Megillah read on Monday evening.
*Celebrate with a great meal.
*Send food to friends.
*Give gifts/money to those in need.
*Some say that one is obligated to get drunk enough on Purim that one no longer knows the difference between "blessed is Mordechai and Cursed is Haman." Others, however, say that the obligation is merely to drink more than one is accustomed to. Of course, one struggling with alcoholism is required to stay away from alcohol altogether on Purim.