Haman's Gamble: The Story Behind the Pur in Purim

In just a few days we will all be celebrating Purim, along with all the mitzvos of this special day. The foundation of Purim is Megilas Esther, the beloved centerpiece from where we learn all about the history and the mitzvos. But the Megillah itself is written in an unusual way, because there’s a lot of hidden meaning in its holy words. For example, we all recognize that Hashem’s Name is never even mentioned, yet some say that every time it says “HaMelech” it really refers to Hashem.

Let’s try to unlock another hidden aspect of the Purim that is mentioned in the Megillah, with very little explanation. How did Haman decide on the date of his evil decree? The Megillah says הפיל פור, he “threw” a lottery. Lest you think this is just a random detail, don’t forget that the entire name of Purim comes from this phrase.

Why is the lottery so central to the miracle of Purim? We know that Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and he was simply continuing his great grandfather’s quest for our destruction. The first time Amalek attacked us, the posuk (דברים כה,יח) describes this as אשר קרך בדרך, “that he happened upon you on the way.” The entire approach of Amalek is that everything is מקרה, completely coincidental and there is no Divine Guidance. This is the essence of a lottery.

What type of lottery was this? The Ben Ish Chai gives us a fascinating explanation of Haman’s gamble. He says that Haman used dice, the same ones we use for Monopoly and other games. Rolling the dice is not just a form of gambling – it has roots in witchcraft. Even today, Mongolian fortune tellers cast a set of four sheep or goat ankle bones.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 56) describes the practices of ov and yidoni that are prohibited by the Torah. Both are rituals meant to foretell the future, but yidoni relies on the use of bones, specifically from some type of bird. It is very likely that the expression “roll them bones”, which means to roll the dice, is related to this idea.

Before we continue, it’s important to understand the sequence of the markings. All dice have six sides, with markings from one to six. The opposite sides always equal a total of 7, so the 2 has 5 on the opposite side, 3 has 4, and so on.

The Ben Ish Chai says that when Haman rolled the dice, they fell on 1,3,3. Haman was ecstatic! This was the name of his grandfather, אגג! Its very simple: א = 1, ג = 3, ג =3. Now, Haman turned over the dice to see the numbers opposite 1,3,3, which are the 4,6,4, which spells דוד, the King of Israel. He took this as a sign that Agag would be victorious over David, King of Israel.

And so, the die was cast, as they say. Using the dice with 1,3,3 facing upwards, he began to look for clues to determine the date to destroy the Jews. He took the three adjacent sides, 2,5,5 which totals 12, and used that to determine the 12th month, Adar. He then looked at the other 3 sides – 2,2,5, which totals 9, and then added 4 from the top of the first die and 1 from the bottom of the last one and came up with 14. Hence, the date was set for the 14th day of Adar.

Haman was also very excited because he knew that Moshe Rabbeinu had passed away in the month of Adar. He failed to recognize that Moshe Rabbeinu was born in the same month. This fact is not well known because he was hidden for three months until his discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter, in the month of Sivan. This too, is important, because we received the Torah in the month of Sivan.

What Haman may not have noticed is that his calculations reveal another very important number: 26. This number, as we all know, represents the gematria of the שם השם in the four-letter configuration. The 14th day of the 12th month totals the number 26, which is just one of the ways the number 26 emerges from his little lottery.

Here’s another way the number 26 comes up in Haman’s gamble. The total of אגג is 7, add דוד, which totals 14, from the opposite sides, which brings us to 21. And once again, we use 4 from the top of the uppermost die and 1 from the bottom of the lowest, and we have a grand total of 26.

The Megillah refers to Hamans evil plan as להשמיד, to destroy. The word שמד is closely tied to the actual plan of Haman, which was to cast a גרל. As you may know, there is great significance to the letters before and after each letter of the Alef Beis. The letter before ש-מ-ד are ר-ל-ג, which are the letters spellingגרל , or lottery.

Another interesting connection begins with the word זכר, to remember, which is our mitzvah every year on Parshas Zachor. If you take the letters following ז-כ-ר you will come up with חלש, to weaken, which is what Amalek sought to do to our people.

Using this method of looking at letters before and after a word, we can unlock another puzzle. On the other side of a mezuza scroll, you will find the words כוזו במוכסז כוזו. Surely, these seemingly meaningless words must represent something important if they are found on every mezuzah!  I suggest you do this yourself – simply look at the words and think of the letter before each one you see. The letter כ becomes י, the letter ו becomes ה and so on. I have no doubt that you will be surprised!

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 by B. G. Becker