My eye was caught by an exhibit during a brief visit to the New York Natural History Museum. It showed how “Earth supports life because it meets a few vital conditions” like its distance from the sun, the temperature range from its surface to its core, and the precise amount of heat and types of rays filtered out by its atmosphere.
Miracle or Coincidence? I considered the multiplicity of coincidences needed to provide earth with these “few vital conditions”. This led me to reflect on the word coincidence (“a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected”) and the difference between it and the word miracle. People often think of a miracle as an event that cannot be explained by science. This is not true, however. Just like coincidences, miracles can also be explained by science; it is their timing that is super-coincidental. The difference between the terms coincidence and miracle is whether you believe in Divine intention or in randomness. Coincidences are miracles; they are the way we get messages from the Divine Source. A miracle is simply a coincidence that, although not planned or expected by a human, is planned and expected by God. One of the greatest miacles of all times, the splitting of the Red Sea, was a coincidence – it was a situation in which events (the pursuit of the Israelites by the Egyptian army and the split) happened at the same time in a way that was not planned or expected by any human-being. What made the splitting of the Red Sea a miracle, was that God intended it, planned it and executed it.
Economics: We tend to ignore some coincidences because statistics dull us to them. For example, imagine you owned a retail store on a street. Statistically you know how many people pass your store, what percentage of them on average enter the store, and of those who enter what percentage makes a purchase. You even know the average value of their purchases. These statistics make it possible to plan a business yet they do not take all uncertainty out of business. Consider the coincidences often responsible for bringing each customer into your store: It may be a coincidence that they were in your neighborhood, on your side of the street, or that they were open to a sign-board you had coincidentally decided to put up that very morning. Each of these customers were unexpected and unpredicted even though they are part of a predictable generic statistic. Try not to allow the predictability of the statistic to blind you to the miracle of each individual that consistently makes up that statistic.
Parnassah, the economics of earning a living, is miraculous. The science of economics explains how and why things happened after they happened but it cannot accurately predict what will happen in the future. Investors and business people make profits from taking risk; this means that the events needed to create the profits for which they hope, are not one hundred percent predictable and expected (if they were, there would be no risk in the investment). Business people rely on coincidences – or on miracles. They try to manage their risks and spread them thereby reducing their reliance on miracle, minimizing their potential loss but also limiting their potential upside. But in business there is always risk, because the results of a decision are never entirely predictable and can never be fully anticipated. This makes business success a coincidence by definition and a miracle by Faith.
Geulah – Rescue: Parnassah is a daily miracle. Generally the miracle of parnassah happens before we are in deep trouble and need to be rescued. This is part of the reason why the miracle of parnassah often goes by unnoticed. There is another brand of miracle called ge’ulah. Ge’ulah is a miracle that rescues us from trouble, whether the trouble is of an economic or other nature. Ge’ulah is generally more dramatic than parnassah. It appears to us that ge’ulah only happens rarely so that when it does happen, the coincidences – or the miracles – are more evident.
In reality however, ge’ulah takes place many times every day often without us even knowing what dangers we miraculously and unexpectedly avoided. These dangers may be in the form of germs that could infect us and don’t, vehicles that could collide with us and don’t, markets that could turn against us and don’t or people who could harm us and don’t. So ge’ulah and parnassah are both daily miracles. As powerful as the miracle of ge’ulah is, the miracle of parnassah is even greater. We learn this the Midrash on Parshat Vayechi:
(ב”ר פר׳ צ”ז ס”ג)
רבי אלעזר אמר הקיש גאולה לפרנסה ופרנסה לגאולה … מה פרנסה בכל יום אף גאולה בכל יום ורבי שמואל בר נחמן אמר וגדולה מן הגאולה שהגאולה ע”י מלאך ופרנסה על ידו של הקב”ה גאולה על ידי מלאך המלאך הגואל אותי ופרנסה ע”י הקדוש ברוך הוא (תהלים קמה) פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי
Rabbi Elazar taught: Rescue (Geulah) and Economics (Parnassah) are linked. Just as Hashem activates the power of Economics each day, so He also activates the power of Rescue daily. And Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman added that the power of Economics is greater even than the power of Rescue. Because rescue occurs through the intervention of an angel (a spiritual or natural force) whereas Economics is managed by G-d’s own Hand. About Rescue, Yaacov says (Bereishit 48:15) “May the angel who rescues me…” whereas about Economics it says (Tehillim – Psalms 155) “He opens His hand and satisfies the desires of each living being.”
– (Bereishit Rabbah 97:3)
Earning a living is a sacred practice, and even though it takes place in the secular spaces of life, trade and exchange, it entails kedusha (sanctity). The ways we earn our livelihood are governed by the same Torah that governs our religious and spiritual lives. We express and experience the Divine in our businesses and professions.
Try to make a practice of noticing the “coincidences” that help provide you with success, notice the small coincidences and the small wins throughout each day. Use your awareness of these coincidences to experience the miracle of everyday life.