back Back

The Message of the Altar and Purim

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

We begin reading the Book of Leviticus which deals largely with the service of the Kohanim in the temple. There is a positive commandment to light a fire on the altar every day. Our tradition teaches us that, although in the times of Moses fire descended from heaven upon the altar, nonetheless it remained a mitzvah for the Kohanim to create a fire and transfer it to the alter every day. If fire descended upon the altar in the days of Moses, why was it necessary for the Kohanim to add fire to an already burning altar?

The Sefer Hachinuch, a 13th century work, suggests that God wants to make the miracle less obvious. Similarly he notes that at the splitting of the Reed Sea it is stated “Hashem moved the sea with a powerful easterly wind the entire night, turned the sea into dry land and split the waters.” God split the Reed Sea using the natural force of the wind to ‘cover up’ the miraculous. In other words God always leaves an opening for a possible scientific explanation of the miraculous. Human beings thus maintain free choice. The splitting of the Reed Sea can be viewed as a natural phenomenon, or one could see God’s hand in the perfect timing of this ‘natural phenomenon.’

We are soon to celebrate Purim. The theme of Purim is in fact this very theme. The narrative we read in half an hour takes place over at least nine years. Each event leading up to the salvation of the Jewish people and their return to the Land of Israel seems natural and unremarkable. Only the discerning eye looking back over nine years can see God’s hand in the manipulation of nature and history. This is why God’s name is not mentioned at all in the Book of Esther.

The word Purim means lots. Friends, herein lies our challenge. Our challenge is to avoid seeing life as a random lottery of natural events. Rather, we view life’s lottery of events as the hand of the Divine in our day to day lives.