The Meaning of Coincidences
by David Sacks
One of the most powerful ways we experience G-d’s closeness is through coincidences.
I know this is certainly the case with me. Stuff happens to me all the time that I can’t explain.
Here are two examples.
One Friday night, I was in shul and my mind wandered a bit. I realized that this was my anniversary of keeping Shabbos for the first time. In fact, it was exactly 20 years ago to the day. I wondered how many Shabboses that was. I did the math and multiplied 20 (years) times 52 (weeks) and arrived at 1040 Shabbos. Then I realized something that made my head spin. That same week I began a brand new job. The address was 1040 N. Las Palmas Ave.
One of my favorite Torah Commentators is Rabbi Yitzhak Issac Chaver, a tremendous Torah Scholar and Kabbalist from the 19th century, from the school of the Vilna Gaon. The book of his I’ve been studying is called Ohr Torah, the light of Torah. When I learned that he’d also written a commentary on the Aggadata, the more esoteric sections of the Talmud, I ordered that, too. When the books arrived I was overwhelmed with emotion. I sat in my favorite chair, brought the books to my heart, and hugged them. At that moment the phone rang. My daughter ran in to tell me that someone was calling for me. “Who?” I asked. “Ohr Torah” she said.
There is a shul in the community called Torah Ohr, but the caller ID on our phone reverses first and last names, so the screen read Ohr Torah — the name of the Rabbi whose books I was hugging at that moment.
How do you explain occurrences like this, and what are we supposed to do when they happen?
Usually we throw our hands up in the air and say things like, “What are the odds!”, or “Can you believe that?” But the sheer miraculousness of the events always left me feeling like I wasn’t fully appreciating their significance.
So for years I struggled with what the appropriate response to coincidences is — or put another way, given that THAT just took place — what am I supposed to do now??
I once heard that coincidences were G-d’s way of waving, “Hello!”
While that’s a lovely thought, there’s something problematic about it. Namely, G-d is waving, “Hello!” every moment! So given that, what makes coincidences any different from every other moment?
The question perplexed me.
Clearly there is a difference! But how do we express it exactly?
The question stayed with me until I reflected on the following teaching.
In Pirkei Avos, a volume of the Talmud, also known as Ethics of Our Fathers, Rabbi Akiva says, “Beloved are people for they were created in G-d’s image; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that they were created in G-d’s image, as it is said: “For in the image of G-d, He made human beings.” (3:18)
Rabbi Akiva is telling us something amazing here.
You see, something can be true, but it’s indicative of an even greater love when G-d shows us that it’s true.
Imagine this exchange between a parent and child. Child: “Do you love me?” Parent: “Of course I love you.” Child: “Then how come you never tell me?”
The parent loves the child. But it’s indicative of a greater love when the parent makes it known to the child that he loves them.
Yes, G-d is everywhere.
Yes, G-d is saying, “Hello!” to us every nano-second of our lives.
But when we experience a coincidence, G-d is, so to speak, “going out of His way” to make it known to us how present He is in our lives!
Contemplate how awesome that is! G-d is literally customizing a series of events unique to you just to make known to you how close He is.
In Torah this is what we call an “ays ratzon”, a favorable moment. But if we translate the Hebrew literally, it’s even more powerful. It means, “a time of desire”. Meaning a time when G-d is expressing His longing for us.
During these moments the Rabbis teach us that the Gates of Heaven are open to our prayers.
Now we know what to do the next time a coincidence happens!
Pour your heart out and ask G-d for everything.