No Such Thing as Coincidence: By Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, “Or Yisrael” Part 2, page 129.

 

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. He entered the cellar. He then 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.”[1]

Contemplate What You Have Been Given Permission to Contemplate

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,” which refers to finding the Divine directive in all the circumstances that surround us in life. The concealed Divine directives show us the way to come closer to God.[2]

Proper application of this tenet, however, requires a great deal of study and training under a pious mentor. The Ba’al Shem Tov disapproved of the dry, practical propensity that many people have for living life with a cold attitude, thinking that all that happens is coincidental, without rhyme or reason. In Hebrew, the word for a heretic is a kofer and its root stems from the same root as the word for “freezing” (kfor). Additionally, the Hebrew word for coincidence, mikreh, shares a two-letter root with “cold” (kar). On the other end of the psychological spectrum are those individuals whose imagination takes hold of them and causes them, in a flight of fancy (usually fueled by egocentricity), to interpret every occurrence and situation in a thousand different 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 point of view that sees the contraction of God’s infinite light (or revelation of His limitless nature) as having taken place literally (known as, tzimtzum kipshuto). The psychological and emotional products of this type of outlook are seclusion and a feeling of estrangement from the world and its events. The tzimtzum kipshuto approach provides us with an excuse to not contemplate the circumstances of our lives and not ascribe any meaning to what is happening around us. Instead, it 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.

In order to prevent us from falling into this difficult outlook on life and our circumstances, the Ba’al Shem Tov leads us to the opposite extreme. If the psyche has already been wounded, to cure it requires moving to the opposite extreme, as Maimonides teaches.[3] To affect his cure, the Ba’al Shem Tov showed that God shines a light and reveals Himself in a way that is beyond our ability to receive. In the Zohar, this light is known as God’s light that surrounds or encompasses all (sovev kol almin). This light can be said to be all circumstances (which in Hebrew are sibot, cognate to the word 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 questions the way God governs 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.[4]

“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 contain the depth and complexity of the thought needed to govern the entire world and all that it holds, cannot understand the smallest detail, either. From the most immense vastness down to the microscopically minute, everything is connected. Everything is joined together and the sheer volume of meanings and directives that pertain to each and every event can be likened to the lights of chaos. Trying to contain anything of this sort necessarily leads to a mental breakdown that destroys the rectified, balanced consciousness.

In order to build appropriate vessels for the Ba’al Shem Tov’s guidance, we must find a way to filter out the countless directives and boundless numbers of interpretations that lie behind every set of circumstances.[5] We must admit our limitations and know that we were commanded: “Contemplate those things that you have been given permission to; you have no dealings with the concealed.”[6] 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.[7]

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains this concept in a similar manner:[8]

'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 us, we can return to our will to learn how to better serve Him 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.[9]

  1. Never turn the hint into the crux of the matter. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the occupation with gematria is good and beneficial when it comes to enhance the sweet flavor of what was learned through the accepted methods. Just as one should never innovate a new direction in Torah thought just by means of gematria, so one should relate to 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.
  2. Some mentally ill people see signs of impending doom behind 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.[10] But the truth is that “God is good to all, and His compassion is upon all His works.”[11] God is good to all His creations and always thinks only good about Israel in general and every person, in particular.
  3. “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 Mashiach. This is an extreme interpretation, which would not entice most people. However, a person whose pride leads him has a tendency to see signs encouraging his feelings of supremacy and righteousness in everything.

The purpose of these three guidelines is to help channel the interpretive efforts and the imagination to the 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 to fulfill the dictum that states that, “action is the main goal” and distance oneself from wallowing in imaginary worlds, which, even if they do contain a kernel of truth, will surrender whatever gains may be had with far greater losses.

In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: [12]

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, realize that 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.

 

Notes:

[1] Shivchei Habesht.

[2] As Rebbe Nachman of Breslev said (Sichot Haran 52): “From all things the glory of God is crying out, for the entire world is full of His glory…For His glory is constantly crying out and calling and hinting to a person that he should come close to Him, and He will bring him close with compassion, with love and great affection.”

[3] Introduction to Avot, chapter 4.

[4] Job 38:2-4.

[5] Today, chaos theory is developing. This theory identifies logical rules, including in chaotic phenomena. Certain structures repeat themselves in an immense range of phenomena, from the most general macro to the tiniest micro. In light of this discovery, it is understood that the most basic, typical structure must be located and all its phenomena must be analyzed in its light. This is the path that we took in our book “Sod Hashem Liy’reiav”, where we expanded on the contemplation of many areas according to the four letters of God’s Name, Havayah – with which heaven and earth were created and continue to come into existence, literally at every moment.

[6] Chagigah 13a.

[7] We can say that exaggerated preoccupation with reasons and circumstances is similar to gossip mongering. Gossipmongers go from place to place, relating what they heard and saw – although it is none of their business and none of the business of their listeners. This trait is the trait of those who would destroy the world, meaningless words that contribute nothing to reality. Likewise, in a person preoccupied with deciphering hints from heaven, chaos will ultimately overpower the rectified parts of his personality. Instead of helping to settle the world, he removes himself from the world.

[8]  Likutei Moharan 1:54.

[9]  The Alter Rebbe paved a more inner and settled way to apply the instructions of the Ba’al Shem tov. He prescribed contemplation on the Torah portion of the week, which illuminates the unique Divine vitality at each juncture of time, with tools of understanding and attainment. The Alter Rebbe called this method, “living with the times.”

[10]  See part 1 of this book, page 181, where it is explained that even if a voice rings out from Heaven telling a person that there is no path open to him to return and come close to God, this is nothing more than a trial. One must ignore that voice, knowing that it could not be that any distancing would be coming from God. Rather, it is the person distancing himself from God.

[11]  Psalms 145:9.

[12]  Hayom Yom for the 23rd of Sivan.

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