There's no such thing as coincidence

We may seek to know what a particular event in our lives means, but do we have the strength to bear the weight of the answer?

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, | updated: 15:37

Judaism Discovering Torah
Discovering Torah
צילום: Gal Einai

Once the Ba’al Shem Tov was visiting the holy congregation of Nemerov, and he walked from large houses to small houses until he mistakenly reached a cellar. And he entered the cellar and he gave a directive to check the mezuzahs. Someone asked him, “If a person gets lost, he should immediately think that there is a reason for it? Perhaps it is just a coincidence!”

The Ba’al Shem Tov answered: “By me, there is no such thing as coincidence! Every person should believe that everything comes by Divine Providence and he should not attribute it to coincidence, God forbid.”

(Shivchei HaBesht page 131)

Contemplate on Those Things Permissible to You

A basic foundation in Chassidut is that all that a person sees and hears in the world is not a coincidence, but rather, a directive from Heaven. The tzaddikim of Poland would regularly speak of, “living with the circumstances,” - finding the reason in all the circumstances of life – the concealed hints that show us the way to come closer to God.

To properly apply this tenet, however, one needs much study and practice. Many people have a dry, practical propensity – of which the Ba’al Shem Tov disapproves – to live life with heretical (in Hebrew, the word for ‘heresy’, kofer, is cognate to kfor/freezing) banality and to think that all that happens is nothing more than coincidence (in Hebrew, the word for coincidence, mikreh, shares a two-letter root with kar/cold). Many others, however, have a propensity to take flight on the wings of imagination and to interpret every occurrence and situation in myriad ways. These people will ultimately become confused – in the best case – and mentally ill in others.

The Ba’al Shem Tov wishes to detach us from the ‘contraction as its simple meaning’ outlook, the emotional conclusions of which are seclusion from this world and its events. This approach enjoins us not to contemplate the circumstances of our lives and not to live what is happening around us at all. Instead, this outlook prescribes that we direct our ears to hear the word of God from within the letters of the Torah alone, denying any Heavenly revelation by means of reality.

To detach us from the above approach, the Ba’al Shem Tov leads us to the opposite extreme. This is the way to cure the ill soul, as Maimonides teaches us in his chapters on the soul. He shines a light that is beyond our ability to receive, a light that comes from the Sovev kol Almin, God’s Encompassing Light. This light comes from the place that is above all circumstance and reason (sibot, cognate to Sovev).

Not every mind, however, can cope with this light. We may seek to know what a particular event in our lives means, but do we have the strength to bear the weight of the answer? When Job asks questions about how God conducts his life and the lives of his family members, God answers him, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and declare unto Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have the understanding.”

“Who is this that darkens counsel” – when we contemplate and attempt to access light that the eye cannot bear, we see nothing but darkness. One who cannot reckon the calculation of the entire world and all that it holds, cannot understand the smallest detail, either. From the most immense vastness and down to the microscopically minute, everything is connected. Everything is joined together and the sheer volume of messages that pertain to each and every topic can be defined as chaotic lights – which necessarily lead to the breakdown of any rectified, balanced consciousness.

In order to build appropriate vessels for the Ba’al Shem Tov’s guidance, we must find the way to filter out the many messages and limitless interpretations at the source of any circumstances. We must admit our limitations and know that we were commanded: “Contemplate on what you are permitted, you have no dealings with the concealed.” From within the sea of eternity we seek to draw up only what God has intended for us. The specific hint, the lone sign that He sent us.

This is the meaning of the expression, “to live with the circumstances. “ Everything has its own reason, but only one reason pertains to you at any given moment. You are permitted to believe in your power to delve into God’s actions and reveal the inner meaning of what applies to you. If it does not apply to you, leave it alone, for you will not help yourself at all.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains this concept in a similar manner:

“And with all that God presents him every day, one should delve and expand his thought on it, in order to understand God’s hints. But the expansion of intellect on this must be in proper measure, so that he will not exit the boundaries of holiness. It should be done only in accordance with his human intellect, thus he will expand his thought on it. Additionally, he should not look above his level because “Into what is wondrous to you, do not delve.”

Instructions for the Journey

After we have discussed the difficulty in deciphering the hints that God sends to us, we can return to our will to learn how to better serve God by means of all that happens to us.

Anyone who has a computer knows how important it is to filter out all the spam and viruses, which can destroy the computer if left unchecked.  We need filters, as well. The following are a few suggestions, which with honest use, can filter out many of the foolish thoughts and distorted interpretations coursing through our minds.

Never turn the hint into the crux of the matter. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the occupation with gematriah is good and beneficial, when it comes to enhance the sweet flavor of what was learned through the accepted methods. One should never innovate a new line of Torah thinking just by means of gematriah.

This holds true for other hints from Heaven, which come to direct us in the path of Torah and mitzvot. Any hint that seems to contradict the Torah, God forbid, is nothing other than foolishness. God did not send it to us. Rather, it came from the unrectified part of our souls.   

                                                                                                                                                                                Translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, “Or Yisrael” Part 2, page 129.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                B. “God is good to all and His compassion is upon all His works.”  God is good to all His creations and always thinks only good about Israel in general and every person, in particular.  Some mentally ill people see signs of impending doom in every leaf blowing in the wind. People with this illness – even if it is only mild and not recognizable to others -   may feel very threatened by the service of deciphering hints. They find hints that God is distancing them and drawing away from them in everything.

“And my soul shall be as dust to all.” God does not turn an angry face to you, but also does not constantly send you signs that you are the Messiah. This is an extreme interpretation, which would not entice most people. However, a person whose pride leads him has a tendency to see encouragement and empowerment of his supremacy and righteousness in everything.

These three rules have one purpose: to channel the interpretive efforts and phenomenon of imagination and thought to the field of active service of God. This is the rectified way that people of our stature, who do not enjoy familiarity with God’s hidden ways, can decipher hints and receive direction. One must always strive for ‘the action is the main thing’ and distance himself from wallowing in imaginary worlds, which, even if they do contain a kernel of truth – will override any of his gains with losses.

In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“Take this as a general principle and remember it always: Any matter that is effective towards or actually leads to active service of God, and is confronted with opposition of any sort, even the most noble, that opposition is the scheming of the animal soul.

Nothing will prevent you from actualizing your service of God more than unrestrained foolishness regarding things that the mind cannot encompass.