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Ain't No Chance

03/15/2019 02:59:51 PM


One of the biggest dangers in life is to believe that anything could happen by chance.

Saying that everything happens for a reason is not a new-age feel-good neo-spiritual made-up concept. Yes, based upon some people’s interpretation it might just appear to be. But in truth, it is the truth.

As Jews, we don’t believe in chance. We believe that G-d created the world, and that G-d continually orchestrates everything that happens. One example of this idea is in a teaching from the Midrash: Rabbi Simon taught, “There isn’t a blade of grass in the world, which doesn’t have a spiritual source in Heaven which continually taps it and empowers it to grow.”

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), acclaimed as the most original and versatile of American philosophers and America's greatest logician, founded the theory called Tychism (in Greek it means ‘chance’). Tychism holds that absolute chance is a real factor operative in the universe.

Peirce was actually arguing with those who had absolute faith in science. Whereas some believed that scientific data and formulas determined everything in our world, Peirce held that science achieves statistical probabilities, not certainties, and that spontaneity - absolute chance - is real. This is similar to how quantum mechanics is shaping our understanding of science today.

Some have suggested that Peirce was disagreeing with Albert Einstein’s oft quoted dictum that “G-d doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Whether this is true or not, Peirce’s philosophy is certainly consistent with the idea that G-d runs the universe.

Yes, there are a lot of things in life which seem like ‘chance’. Circumstances often don’t work out as we would have predicted. The effects don’t always seem to match their cause. When people who live healthy lifestyles get sick; when righteous people suffer; when innocent people are killed; when dishonest people prosper; all these examples tempt us to believe that there is a randomness in our world.

Which is correct. There is a randomness in our world. But the randomness isn’t really random at all, as if it comes from nowhere. It in fact comes from somewhere very special – the Hand of G-d. The Hand of G-d, which operates in a way that we can never expect to understand. We humans, with our limited view of reality, simply cannot predict or guarantee how things will be. What is really surprising are the times when we feel that we can actually understand the ways of G-d. 

Believing in chance, and acknowledging that anything can happen at any time, and not believing in right vs wrong and in reward and punishment, and accepting that there is no sense or design to the universe, is not only wrong, but a very scary place to be in. We would be in a constant state of fear. Might would trump right, falsehood would overpower truth.

So yes, we believe that everything happens for a reason. Will we always know the reason? Perhaps not. But oftentimes, our own choice of actions and reactions might provide the reason we yearn to know.

This Shabbat we will add an extra Torah reading portion which we do annually before Purim. The portion instructs us to never forget Amalek and how they tried to destroy the Jewish People, and to eradicate Amalekites from the world.

Who was Amalek and what was so evil about them? The Torah writes, “אשר קרך בדרך” – Amalek happened to meet the Jews along their journey. The Hebrew word מקרה is best translated as ‘happenstance’. In other words, Amalekites believed in absolute chance. Why do things happen? Just because. No reason, no design, no explanation. This, according to the Torah, was worse than all the other enemy nations. There were many other nations which despised the Jewish People and tried to steal their land from them. In terms of their faith, they were idolaters. True, they may not have believed in One G-d, but they did believe in something. Amalek however, believed in nothing at all.

This ties very well into the first word of this week’s Torah portion Vayikra, in Hebrew spelled ויקרא. If you have the chance to look inside a Torah scroll, you will notice that the א, the last letter of the word, is written in a smaller font. Tradition has it that Moses argued against G-d. G-d wanted to write ויקרא, which means “And G-d summoned Moses.” Moses, being humble, was embarrassed to record how he was uniquely summoned. He suggested to omit the last letter and instead write ויקר, which as you know by now means “And G-d happened to meet Moses.” G-d was impressed by Moses’ humility, but refused to provide any insinuation that something could possibly be happenstance. As a compromise, G-d allowed Moses to write a smaller א.

As we approach Purim, we are also mindful of the wicked Haman, who was a descendant of Amalek. Fascinatingly, there is similar language in the Megillah which show how Haman also believed in happenstance, and how the great Jewish leaders Mordechai and Esther reminded the Jews how everything is from the Hand of G-d.

We must always remind ourselves of this. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. Sadly, we are constantly hearing of tragedies around the world. But just like in the days of Purim, we know that G-d will bring justice to the world and retribution to those who plot evil, that G-d can turn everything around, and that we will all be blessed with “light, joy, happiness and dignity!”

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784