Why Purim is Called Purim

Most Jewish holidays have names that describe the significance of the holiday (i.e. on Sukkot we dwell in sukkahs – specific small huts, on Passover G-d passed over the Jewish people…etc.), what then is the meaning of the name Purim. Translated, Purim actually means “lots,” as in “drawing lots.” From where does this name come?

In the third chapter of the Book of Esther, after Haman is angered by Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to him, when Haman decides to destroy the entire Jewish people, “a pur, [a lottery], was thrown before Haman [to select] which day and which month” (Esther 3:7). Only after having determined the most auspicious day to kill the Jews, did Haman go to the king. What is so important about Haman choosing his “day of rage” through a lottery?

By casting a “pur” for this most significant decision, Haman is demonstrating his Amalekite commitment beliefs. As discussed in more detail in “Hanging Haman,” the Amalekite nation, the opposing force of the Jewish nation, believes that chance rules the world (rather than the Jewish belief of Divine control). As much as Amalek, and therefore Haman, believe in the existence of G-d, they reject the idea that G-d utilizes the world for a Divine purpose, and thus the very existence of the Jewish people is antithetical to their beliefs. Haman saw the cycles of history, and was aware that the Jews were at a spiritual low point, so he felt certain that he would be victorious. Since victory was guaranteed, he would prove, through their defeat, that might made right, and a single person could control destiny.

Purim, however, is a celebration of the very fact that the world is not run by random chance. Calling the holiday Purim reminds the Jewish people that even when events appear to be happening at random, such as in a lottery, G-d is still the ultimate controller of fate.