[Avodah] Fwd (JID): "Who Says There Are No Coincidences?" by R' D. Glasner

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Wed Mar 6 12:40:17 PST 2013

On Wed, Mar 06, 2013 at 01:32:56PM -0500, MPoppers wrote:
: An article like this (by a descendant of the Dor R'vi'i
: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshe_Shmuel_Glasner>) may provoke more
: questions than it answers, but hey, hQbH granted us some grey cells
: so that we should utilize them every once in a while (and that is no
: coincidence :)) ...

:> Not long ago in a casual conversation, I heard an Orthodox
:> acquaintance of mine say matter-of-factly that we all know there
:> are no coincidences. Although it was not the first time I had heard
:> this assertion, I was surprised to hear it stated with such dogmatic
:> assurance...

Well, this is the notion which R' Chaim Friedlander calls a chiddush
of the Gra's, and the LR attributes to the Besht, which we here tend
to refer to as Universal HP (Hashgachah Peratis). And even though that
pretty much rules out the chance of ever finding a rishon who believes
in universal HP, there is something nearly the same on a pragmatic level
which many rishonim did agree to -- HP universally across all events
that happen to people.

The Rambam says this is the position of Chazal (3:17) but then goes on to
redefine the idea in a way he doesn't attribute to them (3:18) by noting
that not all biological homosapiens are equally "people" in the sense of
beings with da'as. So I think this idea -- HP universal to humans --
is well established, if not the only shitah among rishonim.

: Just why a more or less innocuous saying has evolved into a principle
: of faith is surely an appropriate topic for sociological, perhaps social
: psychological, research, and is likely related, somehow or other, to
: the general rightward drift, both toward and within Orthodoxy...

I actually think it shares a lot with the drift in Western Philosophy
since Kant to Existentialism and beyond. There is now little focus on
trying to figure out the world as it is, and we instead talk about the
world as it is experienced.

So, when the rishonim talk about hashgachah they're having a metaphysical
discussion about how G-d relates to the universe. A statement of
emunah. Moderns have given up, since such a relationship is inherently
unknowable. Instead, it becomes a statement of bitachon; everything that
happens in my life it the result of my partnership with the Eibishter.
It's not even that we've shifted position, we've changed topic.

: Let me try to explain the point with an example from mathematics. I
: once heard a lecture on mathematics in in which the instructor,
: after pointing out an interesting relationship between two classes of
: numbers, asked his audience whether they thought the relationship was
: a coincidence. He then explained that mathematicians don't believe in
: coincidences, because, whenever they discover a relationship, they try
: to prove that the relationship they have found is logically necessary. A
: necessary relationship cannot be coincidental. Things simply could not
: have been otherwise.

Math is a poor example, because it only studies analytic truths --
things that are true because of their meaning. You need a discipline
that also studies analytic truths -- things that are true because they
correspond to evidence.

(Eg: "Black houses are dark" is an analytic truth; for things to be
otherwise would require a different definition of "black" or of "dark".
"Tom's house is dark" would be a synthetic truth.)

: So to believe that there are no coincidences, that nothing ever
: happens by chance, means that whatever happens had to happen exactly as it
: happened; if two events share a common characteristic, that characteristic
: is shared by necessity...

Or, that free will sits in the space between determinism and random. It
is possible to say that the only thing non-deterministic is intellect,
thereby allowing for Free Will and Providence and yet still have no room
for coincidence.

: In the religious context of this discussion, to say that there are no
: coincidences implies that everything that happens had to happen because
: God willed it to happen. But if this is so, then there is no event,
: including the actions of human beings, that was not willed by God...

Why does "there are no coincidences" exclude the actions of humans? We
too are non-random causes of synthetic truths.

: Now one might say that this problem, the conflict between the necessity
: that God's will be realized and human free will, exists regardless of
: whether or not one believes that coincidences are possible. There is,
: after all, an old and well-known conflict between God's knowledge of
: the future and the possibility of human free will, a conflict that
: has occupied the attention of Jewish as well as Gentile philosophers
: and theologians.

I don't understand the problem. G-d doesn't know the future. By which I
do not mean to assert that there is something G-d does not know. Rather,
that G-d has no "now" for there to be a "fore" in "foreknowledge". G-d
doesn't know *now* what I will do *tomorrow* even though He is Omniscient
because He has no "now".

Of course, this makes the concept of Divine Will incomprehensible. Human
Will precedes action, and we just eliminated any chance of using the
word "precedes". But this is far from the only incomprehensible thing
about G-d.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             The trick is learning to be passionate in one's
micha at aishdas.org        ideals, but compassionate to one's peers.
Fax: (270) 514-1507

More information about the Avodah mailing list