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Beyond the Moon

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… Before Haman was cast a pur—that is, the lottery—from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, the month of Adar.

Esther 3:7

Purim is the plural of pur, which is Persian for “lottery.” Purim, the festival, is so called in reference to the several lotteries Haman had thrown to determine the date of his planned massacre of the Jewish people, G-d forbid.

Altogether, Haman consulted three lotteries. The first lottery was to choose the day of the week (the results of which were inconclusive), the second to select a month (which indicated the month of Adar as an auspicious time for Haman’s plans), and the third to determine the day of the month (the lot fell on the 13th).[1] The first lottery, however, seems superfluous: if the month and the day of the month are chosen, the day of the week is already known. Perhaps Haman wanted to test his luck by seeing whether his lotteries would corroborate. Yet the fact that the day-of-the-week lottery was the first one that Haman consulted indicates that the placement of his chosen day within the weekly cycle was of primary importance to him.

The Clocks of Nature

A cursory look at our calendar shows that we measure time in what seems an awkward and inconvenient way. To distinguish a certain date, we refer both to the seven-day weekly cycle as well as to the 29.5 day lunar cycle (which gives us alternating 29- and 30-day months)—two time systems which bear no relation to each other. Hence, if a given day of a given month falls on Shabbat one year, it may occur on a Monday on the next; a month might have four Fridays one year and five Fridays the next. Why not employ a system that places our days in a singular, uniform context?

But time itself was designed to be experienced this way. The Torah relates that when G-d created the sun and the moon He decreed that:

“they shall serve as luminaries in the sky… and as signs, times, days and years.”[2]

In other words, the human practice of charting time by the movements of the sun and the moon is not coincidental, but intrinsic to the purpose of their creation: one of the reasons G-d set the sun and moon in the heavens is that man should be guided by them in his computation of time. Thus we have two distinct time-formulas: lunar time, by which we set our months, and solar time, which gives us the day, the week (which is the solar day multiplied by seven) and the year. If the two run at variance with each other it is because they are indeed different and asynchronous levels of experience, and are to be incorporated as such into our lives.

Lunar time is fluctuant, marked by steep declines and heroic resurrections. The moon begins each cycle as a mere sliver of light in our sky; then it steadily grows and fills, until, midway through the cycle, it attains its full luminescent potential. But then it begins to recede, finally dwindling to oblivion—only to be reborn and embark on yet another ascent to fullness.

In contrast, the sun is a bulwark of stability and regularity. What is surer than its daily rise in the east? It never misses a day, and is always the same size. What is more stable than the annual clock of seasons, with its scarcely varying calendar of 365–366 days? (The lunar “year” comes in six different sizes—353, 354, 355, 383, 384 or 385 days). And finally, what is more regular than the seven-day week? Instituted at creation,[3] it cuts straight as a rule through time, oblivious to the moon’s phases, the sun’s tilt through the seasons, even the rare solar eclipse. Seven sunrises and seven sunsets make a week, and that’s that.

Man lives by both these clocks. Lunar time is the variable in life: our ups and downs, our failures and comebacks, our capacity for change and renewal. Solar time is the immutable in our lives—the things that always were and always will be, as dictated by the laws of nature and history.

Jewish Time

Our sages say:

“The people of Israel are analogous to the moon. They count by the moon, and are destined to be renewed like the moon.”[4]

The people of Israel count by the moon—our calendar is basically a lunar calendar, in which the month is born, rises, falls and is reborn with the moon. The Jewish month begins with the new moon’s appearance in the sky, reaches its climax with the full moon on the fifteenth of the month—the day on which the particular month’s quality is at its most manifest and luminous[5]—declines with the moon’s decline, and is reborn with its rebirth.

Jewish time is lunar time, for the Jews are the moon of creation. Jewish history belongs exclusively to the lunar element of reality: it is a history of ascents and declines, of seemingly utter defeats followed by glorious renewals. It is a saga that defies all laws of nature and all rules of history—in which every “time-tested truth” is wrenched from its moorings and turned inside out.

Haman believed that he could destroy this invincible nation by emphasizing the solar element of reality. These people are an anomaly, said he, a deviant life-form that can survive only in the lunacy of lunar time. Bring out the sun and they will disappear from the face of the earth. The laws of nature simply do not allow for a “distinct and singular people”[6] to remain so while “dispersed and divided among the nations”[7]; the laws of history dictate that a nation divested of its homeland and cultural heart cannot survive for long.

So Haman sought to first establish the date of Israel’s annihilation within the week, to stake his claim within the framework of solar time. Only then, he felt, did he stand a chance to challenge them on their “home turf” of lunar time, and select the month and the day of the month of their destruction.

A Higher Sun

Haman must have been surprised by the results of his lotteries. As the Midrash relates, his casting of lots in regard to the days of the week failed to produce any day that boded evil for the Jewish people. On the other hand, in his second lottery, the month of Adar came up as a time of apparent misfortune for Israel (though, in the final analysis, the very sign Haman took to spell Israel’s downfall was actually the secret of their salvation).[8] His probing of the solar reality, where he felt most certain of success, proved unfruitful, while the lunar reality, where Israel reigns supreme, gave him an opening.

In truth, however, the only plane on which Haman could challenge the people of Israel was on the lunar level. Here he could hope to catch them on the downside of their ever-oscillating cycle of fortune. On the solar level, his plans were doomed to failure from the start.

What Haman failed to realize was that there is a higher sun than the sun he knew, a higher law of reality than the laws of nature and history. A law that decrees that:

“No matter what, they are My children.”[9]

And that:

“It is impossible for Me to exchange them for another people.”[10]

That beyond the vacillations of our lunar journey through time lies a solar constant that supersedes all solar constants: the eternal and immutable bond between G-d and His people.

Based on a letter by the Rebbe dated “Shushan Purim, 5706” (1946)[11]

Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.


[1]. Esther 3:7; Rashi, ibid.; Targum Sheini, ibid.; Midrash Rabbah, Esther 7:13.

[2]. Genesis 1:14.

[3]. Ibid., 2:2-3.

[4]. Talmud, Sukkah 29a; ibid., Sanhedrin 42a; Zohar, part I, 236b.

[5]. E.g., Passover (15th of Nissan), Sukkot (Tishrei 15), the 15th of Shevat, the 15th of Av, and—of course—Purim (Adar 14–15).

[6]. Esther 3:8.

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. Midrash Rabbah, Esther 7:13.

[9]. Talmud, Kiddushin 36a; et al.

[10]. Midrash Rabbah, Ruth, introduction section 3.

[11] Igrot Kodesh, vol. II, pp. 105-106.

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