Purim and the Green Line

There is an ultimate plan to history, G-d’s plan, and even while nothing gets in its way, we humans still paradoxically maintain full freedom of choice and action.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

“Esther had a greenish complexion (not really beautiful), but a thread of grace surrounded her” (Talmud Megillah, 13a, 15a).

"תהו" (Tohu, translatable as chaos) is a green line that surrounds the world, from which darkness erupts” (Talmud Chagigah, 12a).

The mathematician and physicist Leonard Mlodinow has written a fascinating history of statistics and probability called ”The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives”.  How’s that for a connection between the Pur, Haman’s lottery from which the Purim holiday gets its name; and Purim’s alcoholic celebration endearingly termed “Ad dlo yada”, drinking until one “doesn’t know”.

Mlodinow starts out explaining how as a child he used to stare at his mother’s Shabbos candles, trying to discern a pattern in the flickering of the flames. He also mentions the story of his father’s survival in the Holocaust, “by a chance event”. The author finishes the book noting that his aunt, who married a Kapo anticipating that his position would ensure her survival, was murdered when the Nazis rounded up all the Kapos and their families, while her sister, Mlodinow’s mom, survived. His mother learned from this “that it is pointless to make plans”; Mlodinow learned to appreciate the good luck of random events that contribute to our success, and appreciate the absence of bad luck, disease, wars etc. that can befall any of us.

It is Mlodinow’s mom (who, with what she lived through, can be forgiven such cold pessimism) who leads us directly to Amalek and Haman. Seeing Pur, randomness, in the chaos of the universe, they conclude that it is all meaningless. Mlodinow gives many examples of how humans, “for the sake of their own sanity (p. 210)”, seek pattern and order in the chaos, even when it is not there; this leads to faulty decision making, and is exploited by marketing, ad men, shysters and gamblers. He notes that “normal accident theory describes how accidents, small random events, occurring without clear causes, can accumulate and cause major incidents” (p.204).

Amalek, in the words of Rav Matis Weinberg, says that is all meaningless and pointless, Tohu, leading in no direction- and so in this reptilian, dog-eat –dog world of natural selection, man might as well act like a barbarian. Amalek-Haman’s cynical attack on meaning is designated “kery”, cold (“kar”) randomness (“mikreh”).

It is Esther who changes (v’nahafoch hu) that kery to yarok (green, her color, as noted above) and to yakar (Megillah 5;16). Yakar denotes honor, sense and meaning. Her counter philosophy was summed up by Mordechai in Megillah 4;14 : “If you don’t seize the opportunity to act now, the Jews will be saved in any case - the Almighty’s plan for this universe does not include the disappearance of the Jewish people - but you will be the only to suffer from your inaction”.

There is an ultimate plan to history, G-d’s plan, and even while nothing gets in its way, we humans still paradoxically maintain full freedom of choice and action.

It is with Esther’s  color, green, that the story gets deeper, says Rabbi Weinberg. It is notable that both Balaam and Amalek press their attack over the pointlessness of nature, especially by pointing to procreation and the explosive nature in which life begets more and more life. To Balaam, “mi manah ..umispar rovah Yisrael” : you can’t really mean that G-d spends his time ensuring that one special sperm of a Tzaddik fertilizes a special (there is nothing special,”kadosh” to a Balaam) egg to produce another righteous Jew (Bamidbar 23;10 and Talmud Nida 31a). Balaam and Haman see this process as nothing but “kery”, sperm, most of which go to waste, so why bother looking for any meaning in such a process? It is all chaos, tohu.

To this Esther points out her green-ness. It is not all tohu, but within randomness there is a specialness (that one sperm, kery, is specially picked by Him) and meaning. For the Divine overall master plan is symbolized by the yarok, green, of Nature: green is G-d’s kery, in Rav Weinberg’s words. For the light that reaches earth has all the colors in the spectrum. The chloroplasts of plants use all those colors except green to produce life-giving oxygen for this planet. The green is the wastage of the process, photosynthesis, that G-d engineered to produce life; the leftover color, green, is what was not used to produce life, just as millions of sperm, pollen, and organisms were “wasted “by nature to produce this world as we see it. Not wasted pointlessly,as Amalek claims;  but wasted per a plan, His plan. Beyond the waste, though, is meaning and life and specialness/kedusha- all of which Amalek denies exists.

So Mlodinow’s theory of normal accidents is wrong: they are not there accidentally, but by design; they are opportunities for Esther, and us, to act.

The Green Line has been a source of chaos to Israel in this third Geula, Redemption - but most of that chaos has been generated by us Jews (especially since 1993 and Oslo). This Geula, however, is no pointless accident of history; it is the beginning of a millennia-long process that is fueled by the kedusha/specialness of the people of Israel, and leads in the direction of Moshiach, the eradication of Amalek, the building of the Temple.

Simply put, this specialness is not shared by Arabs and certainly not by the terrorists of the PLO/PA.

In the words of Rav Tzvi Tau: “The longer we live our full Jewish-lives as an in-gathered people in the Land of Israel, eventuating in the building of the Temple and the re-establishment of the Davidic King in all its holy Koach (force), then the whole world will reach its ultimate, elevated condition when it all, including Nature herself, will be full of harmony and pleasantness”, not tohu and chaos ( Ayin B’Ayin Ti’ru, Sichot Purim, p.156).