Do You Believe in Coincidence?

Albert Einstein once said that coincidence is G-d’s way of remaining anonymous. What do you think?

Coincidence can be tricky. If I lose a dollar and someone picks it up, I get a Mitzvah. But is the Mitzvah really mine or did it just happen to fall in my lap? Good deeds that come by our initiative are certainly ours; they belong to us. But what of coincidence-Mitzvahs that fall into our lap?

Suppose I smile at someone on a bridge and without knowing it, save his life. Feeling despondent and alone in the world, he was on his way to committing suicide and my smile convinced him that there is hope; that people really care. I intended a cordial greeting and I can take credit for that. But I didn’t intend to save a life so can I take credit for that or was that just coincidence?

The Torah tells us that if I lose a dollar (or forget a sheaf of wheat on the field) and a poor man picks it up, I have performed a Mitzvah. But is it mine by coincidence, or does it truly and really belong to me?

A Wedding Coincidence

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I remember reading a story about a man who went to his aunt’s funeral and met a woman with whom he hit it off. They were having a grand time at the funeral, when he heard the eulogizer mention the wrong name. He asked about that, and it turned out that he had mistakenly crashed her aunt’s funeral; his aunt’s funeral was across the street. But he was having such a good time that he stayed. Eventually they got married; telling everyone that their marriage was arranged by their aunts in heaven.

So now I ask you: Was it arranged or erroneous?  Does his foolish mistake render their marriage a coincidence or does the random nature of their meeting indicate that it was really meant to be?

Find or Found

Most people would say that their marriage was really and truly mean to be. It was arranged from above because they were meant for each other. And from a faith perspective, those people are right.

There are Mitzvahs that we set out to find and there are Mitzvahs that find us.  If we find a mitzvah, we know it is ours. We created the opportunity; we arranged it. If a Mitzvah finds us, we know that G-d arranged it for us. He chased us down to tell us that this Mitzvah was meant for us.

The Mitzvahs that we find are ours because we chose them. The Mitzvahs that find us are ours because G-d chose them for us. These Mitzvahs belong to us even more than the ones we choose for ourselves because we choose a Mitzvah with our minds and hearts, which means that our bond with these Mitzvahs are somewhat on the surface. G-d chooses the Mitzvahs that are intrinsically ours.

The Mitzvah that finds us is like the blank canvass in the painting. When you want to draw a face, you draw facial features in colors of your choosing. What about the parts of the face you leave unpainted, what of the blank part of the canvass, are they part of your drawing? You can certainly take credit for the parts you painted, but what of the parts that find themselves framed by your drawings, are they too part of your painting?

The answer is that the blank section is not only part of the painting; it is the painting’s essence. Your drawings frame the face. The white of the canvass, the part that you leave untouched, is the face. If you cover up the white in the cavass, the features that you painted, won’t form a face.

The same is true for the Mitzvahs that find you. You don’t arrange those Mitzvahs, G-d sends them your way, but your life story and your entire being frame His decision. He knows these Mitzvahs are right for you, that they are linked to your very being, that you will do them and that you will do them well.

Your Purpose

A father once told his daughter, that should her daily routine ever be interrupted by an unexpected coincidence, she should look out for the Mitzvah opportunity that G-d was sending her way. Some seventy years later, she was on her way to a park, when construction forced her car to detour. Riding down an unfamiliar road, she spied a woman being evicted. She asked the driver stop the car and paid the delinquent rent. It was thousands of dollars, but she paid it all because she remembered her father’s words. This was the Mitzvah that found her; it was her purpose in that moment.

The next time you get waylaid by an unexpected Mitzvah, don’t resent it. Embrace it. Suppose you set out to help your friend paint his house and get sidetracked helping a stranger in an accident. You thought your purpose in the next hour was to help you friend, but G-d knew that your real purpose was to help the stranger. He didn’t inform you in advance, because this was a different kind of Mitzvah; it wasn’t the kind that you were meant to find; it was the kind that was meant to find you.

Suppose you are walking down the street talking to a friend, when a stranger pulls you aside to talk to him. If he needs your help or a kind word, know that this is G-d nudging you in his direction; showing you that for the next few minutes this man is your purpose. G-d is summoning. Your destiny is beckoning. Don’t ignore it. Heed the call. Embrace the moment. Because this moment is YOUR moment. 



[1] The father was the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock Shneerson and the woman was his daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Shneerson.

[2] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 15 Parshas Vayetze.


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