What are the Chances? No Really, What are They?
Did you ever have an experience where different events in your life came together to create an outcome that just seemed so unlikely, so bizarre, that you were left trying to figure out how it all could have possibly happened?
The Jewish way of pronouncing such a situation is hash-ga-CHA pra-TEET (or Divine Providence, for all you English speakers out there) as the idea of coincidence within Judaism is a big no no. We don't look at the universe as a bunch of random events that just sometimes (oops!) produces crazy, unexpected results, but rather we see the world operating with a certain unity, purpose, and destiny. (Parenthetically, we believe in free will that works in conjunction with this Divine Providence, but that's a subject for a different time.)
Anyone who was ever forced to sit through the treachery of Hebrew School (I too am a survivor) should be familiar with at least a few stories from the Torah. And if you are, you've probably noticed that a bunch of big, in-your- face miracles happened back in those days, despite the fact that things like don't happen anymore.
Don't be alarmed – I've noticed it too – and there's a perfectly logical explanation. Big open miracles don't actually work so well in getting people's attention, believe it or not. People who struggle with belief in God often make claims like, "If God would only produce a personal miracle for me, then I'd surely believe." But let me remind you of The Ten Commandments movie. Inaccurate as it is, you've probably seen it, and we can use a small section of it for our purposes. Remember those ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, God's presence on that fiery mountain? Now cut to the next scene, and the Jews are building a golden calf in order to commit idolatry – one of the most serious prohibitions in the Torah. So, yeah, as I was saying, open miracles don't actually work too well.
Therefore, the new model for attention getting (since the story of Purim occurred) is for God's hand to remain hidden, but for us – if we look closely – to be able to find it. And since we're on the subject of finding God's hidden hand, I thought I'd share a freaky, hard to explain event that recently happened to me.
We've been getting the Wall Street Journal delivered to our front door every day for over a year without incident, but for whatever reason, last Monday, we got a New York Times instead. Now it wasn't that a neighbor had just switched our papers. The New York Times had our name and address on it, along with the WSJ label, and yet there it was.
Also, my husband's hair had been getting a bit long over the last few weeks, but because he's been very busy with work, despite my gentle suggestions for him to get it cut (I, of course, never nag) he only finally decided to do it last Monday. When he got to the barber, however, he saw the place was closed. (Turns out this store is always closed on Mondays.) On his way home, since he now had some extra time on his hands (having not gotten his hair cut) my husband decided to stop off at the magazine store in town to see what he had missed in the Wall Street Journal that day. While he was at the store, he decided to peruse the other periodicals on the wall and noticed a magazine with a front page story depicting Orthodox Jews very negatively.
He brought the magazine home and tossed it into one of the many piles of paper that we collect around the house, without mentioning it to me. It just so happened that I passed by the pile, saw the magazine, and was instantly intrigued. Despite the fact that it was just about bedtime for my daughters, I found myself engrossed in the article, and only took a couple breaks from my reading to help them with pajamas and tooth brushing. After my girls were in bed, I continued to read the article. Then just as I was finishing it – about to place the magazine on the table beside me – I heard my BlackBerry beep from across the apartment. I checked the email a few minutes later and saw that the subject of the email was the same as the title of the magazine I had just finished reading.
The email was from an editor of a Jewish paper who had seen my recent article on Aish.com, gotten to my website from the article, saw my mission of breaking down stereotypes about Orthodox Jews, and was now asking me if I had seen this article depicting religious Jews in such a bad light. "Did I see the article", I thought to myself, "I just finished reading the entire thing!" And one final note – I don't believe my husband or I had ever once purchased this magazine before that day.
After I retraced in my head how the various steps of the day played off of one another, I started to wonder how unlikely an event like this would be to occur, so I called my brother-in-law in Israel, who happens to be a statistician. I went through each of the day's events with him and we made estimates for the statistical probability of each part. He then ran some sort of statistical equation for the whole thing (which I'll admit, I have no understanding of) and reported back that the likelihood of all of those various events occurring, ending with the email about the article coming in just as I was finishing it is: 1 in 270,927,835,051 (that's one in two hundred seventy billion, nine hundred twenty-seven million, eight hundred thirty-five thousand, fifty-one).
I am not about to say that such crazy odds prove God's existence. If I said that, the atheists reading this would have my head, and anyway I don't think we actually can prove God's existence, or else that free will I mentioned earlier, wouldn't exactly work too well. But the confluence of these events, with their final outcome certainly made me pause for thought, and I hope they did the same for you.