A classic joke tells the story of the fellow driving round and round the parking lot looking for a spot. He’s getting a little worried, as he’s arrived for an important meeting. Any longer and he’ll be late.
He turns his eyes heavenward and prays, “God, please open up a parking spot for me. I promise that I’ll start going to minyan every day.”
Just then, as he’s turning around for the tenth time, a car pulls out of a spot right in front of him. “Awesome!” he thinks to himself, before muttering, “Don’t worry, God, I’ve just found one.”
תַּנְיָא: רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר: לֹא מֵתוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן עַד שֶׁהוֹרוּ הֲלָכָה בִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה רַבָּן. מַאי דְּרוּשׁ: ״וְנָתְנוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אֵשׁ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ״, אָמְרוּ: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהָאֵשׁ יוֹרֶדֶת מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִצְוָה לְהָבִיא מִן הַהֶדְיוֹט.
Rabbi Eliezer says: The sons of Aaron died only because they issued a halakhic ruling before Moses, their teacher. What did they expound? “And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar”, which led them to say: Even if the fire descends from Heaven, it is nonetheless a mitzvah for a human being to kindle a fire on the altar.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Freiber (Kerem Hatzvi Shemini) writes that Nadav and Avihu were correct. Ordinarily the task of the priests was to kindle the fire on the altar. Their error, however, was their response to the heavenly fire. Once the fire had descended from above, there was no longer any need for human involvement. That’s the meaning of “And a fire came forth from Hashem and consumed them.” Their mistake was acting after the fire came from God. They perished as a result of the fire that had already descended from Heaven.
Their hubris was the same as that of the fellow in the carpark. God works miracles throughout our lives. And yet, not only do we fail to acknowledge His providence, we rationalise the events to take credit ourselves. The fire had already descended from Heaven – why would Aaron’s sons have felt compelled to kindle a fire?
Because that’s human nature. If we light our own fires, we’re able to demonstrate that we don’t really need God in our lives. We could function perfectly well without His intervention. We can find our own parking spots without God getting involved.
If we were to acknowledge God’s engagement in our affairs, there’s an obligation that arises. If He miraculously opened the parking space, then I owe it to Him to go to minyan. And since I don’t want that feeling of obligation, I’d rather rationalise away His hand of providence.
But here’s what you need to know: God is so much bigger than that. He doesn’t need your minyan. If you want to go to minyan, go to minyan! You’re not doing Him any favours. Mitzvos are an opportunity for you to connect with Him. But He doesn’t need your efforts.
While He may not need your efforts, He nonetheless loves your efforts. But, at the same time, He doesn’t condition His love on your efforts. He’s your Father in Heaven. He wants to shower His endless bounty upon you. And the more you acknowledge His blessing, the more He will reveal His blessings to you. Appreciating Him for that parking space enhances His glory in the world. The greater the revelation of His glory, the more forthcoming the miracles and revelations will be in your life. Simply saying ‘thank you, Hashem’ opens the tap of heavenly blessing.
Your Father in Heaven longs to shower you with blessing. The more you acknowledge the little miracles in your day, the larger and more open the miracles will become. May Heaven’s bounty rain down upon you!