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Purim All Year Round
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

None of the parts has any inherent control over the others and yet we know that the harmonious and unified functioning of the entire system is itself a phenomenon. Hence it must be due to some cause. 

The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.6.

"Wow. To bump into you now after all these years, just when I was thinking of you!"

 

"Meanwhile, quite independently, another scientist had just discovered the same thing, half way around the world."

 

"And after all that, where did the manure happen to land when Haman's daughter dumped it out the window? On her father's head of course!"

  

Why do things like this happen? They seem too fluky to be accidental. Yet there is no apparent cause. Some people call it lucky. Some call it divine providence. Perhaps science has an explanation.

 

For example, take the first case -  just as you think about someone, they call. What are the possibilities? Let's propose three: (a) absolute randomness, no cause; (b) G-d did it; (c) Natural causes, e.g., maybe one person's energy field preceded him, making an impression on the first person's consciousness.

 

Let's take a closer look at these three options: (a) On the surface at least, the dumb luck argument makes some sense, (assuming of course that something that's dumb can be smart). Let's say every person has some 300 friends and acquaintances they could bump into. There are only so many places to go and everybody's going somewhere sometime, and having had things in common in the past, you might wind up with a similar travel itinerary once in a while and.. Bingo! a chance occurrence that looks meaningful.

 

(b) The Hand of G-d argument makes sense too. Two friends who lost touch, little nobodies in a big world of billions reunite in a faraway place, and just when one was thinking of the other? Who could have organized that except for a Being with control of all the details and a bit of a sense of humor to boot?

 

(c) The aura argument has some merit too. There are a host of related phenomena, Kirillian photographs, mind over matter experiments, thought transference, remote viewing. All these fringe phenomena seem to have something to them and now even a well-grounded theoretical framework (See the book, Zero Point Field by Lynne McTaggart) to make sense of it all.

 

While they all make sense, each type of argument has its downside.

 

(a) Since dumb luck really is dumb, it can't do anything except describe the range of possibilities that have been created by something else - a something else that is anything but dumb - a creative entity that generated the possibilities that the mathematics of randomness merely describes.

 

Once the possibilities are on the table, chance only measures the likelihood of the outcomes. But as for the details of what exactly happens to whom when? Chance has nothing to do with that. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in statistics or probability to deny the very real possibility of some intelligent agent operating on individual events, manipulating details while leaving overall patterns unaffected.

 

So the dumb luck argument is no explanation at all. It is as unscientific as it is unsatisfying because for the scientist, the very existence of a phenomenon, in our case the serendipitous meeting of friends, is proof of some cause that could explain it. "Caused by chance" is not only unscientific. It is an oxymoron.

 

(b) On the other hand, to say simply that G-d did it, an answer that by definition will apply to pretty much everything, does not tell you much about what is going on or why. This is one of the things that bugs the anti-intelligent-design lobby (I always wonder where I should put the hyphen.. ..anti-intelligent? or anti-design?). Their concern is that ascribing all cause to heaven leaves us with nothing more to understand. As such, they claim, the "G-d did it" argument has nothing to do with science.

 

They could have been right except for a few small points. (i) Cause-and-effect reasoning leads inexorably to the necessity of a First Being, therefore the "G-d did it" argument has everything to do with science; (ii) Analyzing the positive and negative properties of that First Being in a philosophical manner yields a treasure trove of information about man and nature and how they do indeed work; (iii) The Torah tells us how to look at coincidences, as messages from the Creator to suggest how we can improve our ways.

 

(c) The scientific approach has its disadvantage, too. As important and interesting as it is to understand the mechanics of natural and social interactions, it leaves a big hole in our picture of what's going on: The explanation. Science adds level upon level to our descriptions of things but takes us no further to understand the purpose of things.

 

In our first example above, why did one friend sense the other before they met? It wasn't because of the aura, it was by means of it. Why did they happen to meet just there and then? Science will never know. Why is just not a scientific question. Even if we were to trace each friend's path in life all the way back to birth, we would not be able to figure out the reason, only how it came about.

 

Our last example above, the daughter dump on Haman's head, is even more poignant. This was but one in a long chain of low probability events that had all combined for a unified purpose: To save the Jews in a most beautiful way. We see divine justice, both punitive and rewarding, in full regalia and glorious detail, despite no hint of any supernatural event, nor even passing mention of G-d's name.

 

Consider: A bona fide miracle of Biblical proportions without even rippling the fabric of nature. If that's what happened during Purim, what's going on today? Surely the divine providence we do detect is but a pale glimmer of the immense and diverse divine providence we don't. Like the zillions of info-bits encoded in the radio waves that constantly and invisibly bathe us all, so too we are immersed in a sea of divine providence without even knowing it!

 

Divine Providence: Chance processes conceal it, the Hand of G-d dispenses it, and the details of how it all works inspires us. But at the end of the day, it's divine providence operating constantly, and that gives us enough joy to make it Purim all year long.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868

 

 


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