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Home » PARSHAT VAYIKRA – THE BOOK OF ESTHER: PROVIDENCE VERSUS CHANCE

PARSHAT VAYIKRA – THE BOOK OF ESTHER: PROVIDENCE VERSUS CHANCE

Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )

One of the recurring themes in the story of Purim is the conflicting ideologies of the Jewish people and Amalek. The Jewish people believe that Divine Providence guides history, nothing is mere ‘coincidence’. In stark contrast, Amalek believe that everything happens by mere chance (mikreh). Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l brought out a fascinating idea with regard to this ideological clash. He began in the Torah portion of Mikeitz, where Yaakov refuses to send Binyamin to Egypt. He explained his fear that “perhaps a disaster will happen”.1 Rav Kamenetsky noted that the Hebrew word for ‘happening’ — ‘mikreh’ — is spelled here with an ‘aleph’. Soon after, in the Torah portion of Vayigash, Yehuda recalls the words of Yaakov to the Egyptian Viceroy2. “If you also take this one [Binyamin] from me, a disaster may happen…”3 On this occasion, the letter ‘aleph’ is omitted from the word, ‘mikreh‘. What is the reason for this change?

Rabbi Kamenetsky explains, that the regular spelling of the word ‘mikreh’ is without an aleph, and in this form, it refers to mere chance. However, when an ‘aleph’ is added, the word kara (call) is formed. This means that an event is ’called from Heaven’, referring to the fact that there is no coincidence, rather everything takes place because of Divine Providence.

With this explanation we can understand the divergence of the spelling of the word, ‘mikreh’. When Yaakov is speaking to Yehuda, he expresses his fear that, if Binyamin would travel to Egypt, Divine Providence may decree that some kind of disaster should befall him. Yaakov was well aware that anything that could happen would not be due to mere chance. When Yehuda was recalling Yaakov’s words he was speaking to Yosef, whom he thought was somebody who was unaware of Divine Providence. Accordingly, he could not express Yaakov’s attitude with regard to Divine Providence because he knew that the person that he thought Yosef was (the Viceroy of Egypt) could not relate to such a concept. Accordingly, he expressed the word, ‘mikreh’ without the ‘aleph’ to refer to mere chance.4

Dayan Chanoch Erentrau asked Rabbi Kamenetsky that a verse from the Scroll of Esther seemed to contradict the explanation that ‘mikreh’ without an ‘aleph’ refers to an expression of mere chance. After Mordechai became aware of the decree to destroy the Jewish people he began mourning. Esther sent her messenger, Hatach, to find out what had happened. The Megilla writes, “And Mordechai told him about everything that had happened…”5 In this instance, the word, ‘mikreh’ is written without an ‘aleph’, which alludes to a belief in chance. According to Rabbi Kamenetsky’s aforementioned explanation, this should imply that Mordechai was describing the events that had taken place as being a result of mere chance, and not Divine Providence!

Rabbi Kamenetksy answered him that the Midrash dealt with this problem. The Medrash notes the use of the word ‘mikreh’ here and explains that Mordechai was alluding to the fact that the nation that epitomizes the belief in chance, was behind the decree to destroy the Jews. That nation was Amalek, of whom the Torah writes, “who happened (karcha) upon you on the way.” The word karcha is from the same root as the word mikreh, both referring to random happenings. Thus, Mordechai was not attributing the Decree to chance, rather he was telling Esther that the Decree was initiated by a member of the nation of Amalek (Haman), who represent the belief that everything is mere ‘mikreh’ (chance).6

On a deeper level, it seems that Mordechai was telling Esther that the reason that Amalek was able to threaten the Jews with destruction was the very same reason that they were able to attack the Jewish people in the desert. The people had expressed their doubts about the presence of G-d in their midst, when they exclaimed, “Is G-d amongst us or not?!”7 When the Jewish people attribute events to chance, G-d, relating to us measure for measure, allows us to be subject to the rules of chance and ceases protecting us. Therefore, the people’s questioning of Divine Providence enabled Amalek, the ultimate deniers of such Providence, to attack.

So too, at the beginning of the Purim story, the Jewish people were far less aware of G-d’s presence amongst them due to the loss of the Temple and the exile. This decline in belief in Divine Providence gave Haman the ability to threaten them. Only by recognizing that G-d drives all events, good or bad, could they merit Divine intervention to save them. May we merit to see G-d’s Hand in everything that takes place around us

By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Notes

  1. Mikeitz, 42:38.
  2. This was Yosef, but Yehuda did not know his true identity at this point.
  3. Vayigash, 44:29.
  4. Emet L’Yaakov, Mikeitz, 42:38, p.216.
  5. Esther, 4:7.
  6. Esther Rabbah, 8:5.
  7. Beshalach, 17:7.

WEEKLY TORAH PORTION,

The Guiding Light

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

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