It is in the daily economic activity of earning a living that we come face-to-face with G-d and experience miracle first hand.
© Rabbi David Lapin, 2014
What the Midrash Means Series - 1:12
Sometimes the parsha in which a Midrash appears forms its context. But at other times an event in ones life provides the context for understanding a Midrash. Often the event is fleeting or even trivial, until it is enriched by a flash of wisdom from a Midrash. This was the case this week when my eye was caught by an exhibit during a brief visit to the New York Natural History Museum:
Such a multiplicity of coincidences are needed to provide earth with the “few vital conditions” necessary for it to support life. I reflected on the word coincidence (“a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected”) and the difference between it and the word miracle. Many people think of a miracle as an event that cannot be explained by science. This is not true, however. Miracles can be explained by science, it is their timing that is super-coincidental. The only difference between the terms coincidence and miracle is whether you believe in Divine intention or in randomness. A miracle is simply a coincidence that, although not planned or expected by a human, is planned and expected by G-d. The splitting of the Red Sea was a coincidence - it was a situation in which events (the pursuit of the Israelites by the Egyptian army and the split) happened at the same time in a way that was not planned or expected by any human-being. What made the splitting of the Red Sea a miracle, was that Hashem intended it, planned it and executed it.
Many dramatic situations – like daily sunsets and sunrises – are not coincidences, nor are they miracles because they are programmed into nature and are therefore expected and predicted. There are other less dramatic events which occur every day and yet are still coincidences and therefore miraculous. Consider the coincidences often responsible for bringing customers into a store on the street each day. It may be a coincidence that they were in the store’s neighborhood, on its side of the street, or that they were open to a sign-board the store-owner had coincidentally decided to put up that very morning. Each of these customers may have been unexpected and unpredicted even though every day people do come into the store.
Parnassah, the economics of earning a living, is miraculous. The science of economics explains how and why things happened after they happened but it cannot accurately predict what will happen in the future. Investors and business people make profits from taking risk; this means that the events needed to create the profits for which they hope, are not one hundred percent predictable and expected (if they were, there would be no risk in the investment). Business people rely on coincidences – or on miracles. They try to manage their risks and spread them. Risk management reduces the reliance on miracle thereby limiting the potential upside. But even risk management can never entirely eliminate a risk while retaining the potential for a profit. In business there is always risk, which means the results of a decision are never entirely predictable and can never be fully anticipated. This makes business success a coincidence by definition and a miracle by Faith. The activity of earning a living more than any other activity develops the midah (characteristic) of bitachon (finding security in one’s belief in G-d).
Parnassah is a daily miracle. Generally the miracle of parnassah happens before we are in deep trouble and need to be rescued. This is part of the reason why the miracle of parnassah often goes by unnoticed. There is another brand of miracle called ge’ulah. Ge’ulah is a miracle that rescues us from trouble, whether the trouble is of an economic or other nature. Ge’ulah is generally more dramatic than parnassah. It appears to us that ge’ulah only happens rarely so that when it does happen, the coincidences – or the miracles – are more evident.
In reality however, ge’ulah does take place many times every day, it is just that we are unaware of the countless dangers from which we are continually rescued. These dangers may be in the form of viruses and bacteria that could infect us and don’t, vehicles that could collide with us and don’t, markets that could turn against us and don’t or people who could harm us and don’t. So ge’ulah and parnassah are daily miracles, and surprisingly ge’ulah is not the greater of the two miracles; parnassah is. We lerarn this from Yaacov’s opening phrases of blessing to his son, Yoseif in which he shows how Ge’ulah occurs my means of an intervening force called a mall’ach (literally an angel). This is not the case for the miracle of parnassah whichis delivered directly by G-d’s Himself. It is in the activity of daily parnassah that we come face-to-face with G-d and experience miracle first hand.
With these reflections in mind about coincidence and miracle, about parnassah and geulah, you will gain new clarity in the following Midrash:
(ב"ר פר׳ צ"ז ס"ג)
רבי אלעזר אמר הקיש גאולה לפרנסה ופרנסה לגאולה … מה פרנסה בכל יום אף גאולה בכל יום ורבי שמואל בר נחמן אמר וגדולה מן הגאולה שהגאולה ע"י מלאך ופרנסה על ידו של הקב"ה גאולה על ידי מלאך המלאך הגואל אותי ופרנסה ע"י הקדוש ברוך הוא (תהלים קמה) פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי.
Rabbi Elazar taught: Rescue (Geulah) and Economics (Parnassah) are linked. Just as Hashem activates the power of Economics each day, so He also activates the power of Rescue daily. And Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman added that the power of Economics is greater even than the power of Rescue. Because rescue occurs through the intervention of an angel (a spiritual or natural force) whereas Economics is managed by G-d’s own Hand. About Rescue, Yaacov says (Bereishit 48:15) “May the angel who rescues me…” whereas about Economics it says (Tehillim - Psalms 155) “He opens His hand and satisfies the desires of each living being.”
- (Bereishit Rabbah 97:3)
Earning a living is an act of Avodah, a sacred practice, and even though it takes place in secular spaces of life, trade and exchange, it entails kedusha (sanctity). The ways we earn our livelihood are governed by the same Torah that governs our religious and spiritual lives. We express and experience G-dliness in our businesses and professions. Make a practice of noticing and the “coincidences” that provide you with success, notice the small coincidences and the small wins throughout each day. Use your awareness of these coincidences to experience the miracles that can bring you closer to G-d in your everyday life.