We must believe in free will; we have no
choice – an old saying
Is the universe indeterministic or deterministic? Random
or designed? Are our lives predestined or not?
At first glance, one would assume that the answer to these
questions is dependent on belief in G-d. Acceptance of G-d
as Creator of the universe would seem to imply that the
universe was created with design and purpose. If however,
one does not accept that premise, than existence could very
well be a result of a random set of circumstances, with
no particular plan and direction.
Religion too would appear to be predicated on a clearly
defined and even absolute structure: Immutable laws that
define and regulate human behavior. By contrast, many secular
schools of thought embrace a more relativistic approach,
e.g. moral relativism, which rejects rigid guidelines.
Yet, upon further thought the lines are not that clearly
drawn; both approaches overlap. Even according to the circumstantial
argument, the universe is clearly driven by an extraordinary
inflexible order. From the physiological to the cosmological,
we live in a world of fundamental systems ruled by defined
and unwavering laws (the so called “laws of nature”).
Conversely, belief in G-d and religion dictates the concept
of free will, that our choices are not predestined, allowing
for surprises and an unexpected future.
Indeed, a strong argument could be made that a world controlled
by “natural law” is airtight with no room for
spontaneity. As French philosopher Laplace and others have
written in advancing the probability theory, if we were
to know all the data about any phenomenon we could accurately
predict all the events that were yet to come. Since we live
in a causal world, defined by cause and effect, there is
no room for true randomness. In other words, randomness
and probabilities are not an objectively measurable phenomenon
but rather just a measure of our lack of knowledge. A coin
toss, for example, is not necessarily characterized by randomness:
if we knew the shape and weight of the coin, the strength
of the tosser, the atmospheric conditions of the room in
which the coin is tossed, the distance of the coin-tosser's
hand from the ground, etc., we could predict with certainty
whether it would be heads or tails. However, as this information
is not available to us, it is convenient to assume it is
a random event and ascribe probabilities to heads or tails.
Yet, paradoxically there are those that use this same scientific
approach to see all of existence as random. It would seem
logical that thinkers who leave no room for randomness in
existence should also embrace the fact that existence itself
was put in place by a Grand Designer…
Ironically, a G-d based approach to life allows for indeterminism
based on free will more than a scientific approach does.
So how do we make sense of these contradictory approaches?
What part of our lives is predetermined and what part is
determined by our choices?
The question most relevant to us, of course, is whether
we are victims of circumstances or whether we can control
the destiny of our lives.
Purim provides us with the fascinating answer. Purim –
the name of the holiday – is so called because Haman
cast lots to determine the date to kill the Jews. “Pur”
in Persian means “lot.”
Strange name to call a holiday: Lots. Is there anything
more random than a lottery? Why would we give such a name
to a holiday that commemorates the salvation of an entire
people from genocide?
It is because Purim teaches us a radical message. Not order
but indeterminism is the essence of existence. G-d, Creator
of the cosmic order and of all rules of nature, is not bound
by these or any laws and structures. On His essential level,
G-d transcends any form of structure and definition. Yet,
this same G-d and His inherent indeterminism chose to create
and manifest in a highly deterministic universe. Indeterminism
chose a very determined set of laws. The essence of G-d
is beyond determinism and indeterminism, and therefore can
There is randomness and there is randomness. There is a
randomness that is beneath structure and laws – when
things get out of control and result in an arbitrary type
of existence, directionless. This is what we call being
a victim of circumstances – circumstances have taken
control of your life and you are left lost and aimless.
But then there is a randomness that comes from a “place”
that is not bound by laws, a place that transcends and is
The structure of existence, the mystics tell us, originates
from the Essence of Reality that is beyond any structure.
Sometimes our own structures block us from seeing that essence.
Our plans, schedules, organized systems can get in the way
of experiencing the core. Our challenge is to discover the
transcendent within the systems.
Purim embodies this power. Purim reaches a place that is
“beyond our structured perception” (“ad
d’lo yoda”). Logic and the rules of existence
should have dictated a tragic end for the Jews in Persia.
After all Haman was in power and he had persuaded the King
Achashveirosh to annihilate the Jewish people. Yet, it doesn’t
work out that way. Despite all odds, defying all logic,
the tables are turned and instead of tragedy the day becomes
one of great celebration, with Haman hung on the gallows
he built for Mordechai. Suddenly, unexpected, darkness is
transformed to light.
Purim is the true story of life – as it is behind
the scenes. Not man-made plans but a Divine hand is at work.
Amidst the seemingly random events of life, underlying forces
are the true shapers of destiny.
The same Purim force has been working throughout history.
Many great nations have come and gone. They had great plans,
powerful armies, super wealthy coffers, breathtaking culture
– each empire in its heyday thought that it had it
made. Yet, not one has survived. Not the Egyptians, not
the Assyrians, not the Babylonians, not the Persians, not
the Greeks, not the Romans, not the Byzantines, not the
Spanish, not the Portuguese. What happened with all their
structures, systems and plans for permanent world dominance?
Man-made mortal plans can only create mortal, impermanent
structures. Survival, eternal survival is dependent on a
force that originates from a place that is beyond logic,
beyond the odds, beyond defined structures.
The consequences of this idea are far reaching. No matter
how your life has been shaped, no matter how you may have
been scarred by parents, peers and social attitudes, no
matter what experiences have defined you – you are
never a victim of circumstances; you always have a window
to a place that defies structures. With all the determinism
of life, with all its causes and effects, there is no conclusive,
airtight determinism that controls your life. You always
have an opening to an indeterministic place that opens you
up to new possibilities.
Purim tells us that it is not our logic and plans that
runs the world. It is a higher force that may manifest in
random experiences, but within the randomness lies the greatest
power of all.
Yes, we live in a world of structure. Yes, we are bound
by its rules. But, at the same time when we learn to navigate
we can use the structure to transcend structure. We must
do everything we can within the laws of nature, within our
parameters. Yet, simultaneously we must remember that the
essence within is beyond our plans. When we do everything
in our natural power, the deeper essence emerges.
That’s what Purim is all about: Take your structures, take
your defined reality and turn it inside out and upside down,
and see new things emerge.
Your life is dark, truly dark. Purim teaches us that in
one moment darkness can be transformed to light.
You feel limited, locked. Purim opens up new opportunities.
You feel hopeless. Purim suddenly give you hope.
You have a great life, but you wonder how high can you
reach? Can we mortals touch the sky? Can we achieve immortality,
create eternity? Purim tells us we can.
All this – because within the inflexible structure lies
a fundamental indeterministic freedom, that is not bound
by any structures, laws and definitions.
This paradox has now become recognized in modern physics.
According to quantum mechanics a fundamental indeterminism
exists on the microscopic level. On that level entities
don’t have shape or form, they are in a “state
of probability,” with the potential to go different
ways. This probability or uncertainty is not a result of
lack of knowledge, but it has been proven to be an inherent
What makes this even more fascinating and strange is the
fact that, while the basic, subatomic structure that comprises
all of existence is fundamentally indeterministic, simultaneously
macroscopic existence is fundamentally structures and deterministic!
How is it possible that an indeterministic core should produce
such deterministic results? A key component, for instance,
of computer chips is driven by the uncertainty principle
of subatomic indeterminism. Yet, the computer chip produces
absolutely deterministic results that we depend on daily.
Where do the two worlds of determinism and indeterminism
meet? Science has yet to find out.
What science does not yet know, Purim has always known.
So where does indeterminism meet determinism? At your doorstep.
And on Purim the door opens between these two realities.