"A person who sets his mind to observe all that happens to him and around him, will perceive G-dliness tangibly in evidence." - The Rebbe, Hayom Yom, 7 Tishrei.
Freaky. Spooky. We've all had that feeling when those random details that comprise daily life suddenly fall into place as if... as if... they are not really random after all.
Like when you have just mentioned someone's name and they unexpectedly call or walk into the room. Or when you suddeenly feel you're being watched and you turn to surprise some stranger who had been mindlessly gazing in your direction.
Usually we can find a way to write off these coincidences to random chance. After all, the guy behind me had to be looking in some direction, and there are only so many people I could be speaking about who are likely to call or walk into the room.
But then there are coincidences that do more than raise eyebrows - they blow minds. Here's a personal story to exemplify.
My father died when I was three years old and because he was sick for quite a while, I never got to know him. In fact, I have only one memory of him. It was late December and my mother took me to visit him in the hospital during his final days.
We stopped in the gift shop and as little kids do, I set my fancy on a little something and would not be swayed. It was a cute little wooden evergreen tree with some red decorations and snow-white trimmings. My mother said, "No, let's get daddy something else," but I started to cry and make a fuss and soon the prized little gift was in my hand.
Daddy was lying in the hospital bed when we arrived. I handed him the little seasonal memento and he took a good look at it and then set it down on the bedside table. Then he turned and picked me up with his strong arms and held me over him, playing with me and turning me this way and that... and that was all. He passed away a few days later on the 24th of Teves in 1959.
Twenty-two years later, I lit a yartzeit candle for my father, as I did every year on the anniversary of his passing. But that year, another candle somehow got lit - the candle of my soul - as a result of what seemed like a chance encounter with a Chabad rabbi.
The experience would not have been more transformational if I had walked into the room a caterpillar and left, a butterfly. My cocoon was a six-hour argument with a man who had questions for all my answers and answers for all my questions.
I was intrigued by his message of how to live a passionate yet dignified life, but did not want to be sucked into any dumb religion. After all, to my view then, religion was a crutch and G-d was just a theory. And with all the religions around, why would Judaism be the true one, and who says that there's a soul or an afterlife, and what about the age of the universe and Darwin and the big bang, and Moses' nepotism, and the oral tradition's broken telephone, and all those crazy miracles and even if they did happen, why don't they happen today? Besides, how could the Jews be "chosen" since all people are alike, and what about the six million and why do bad things happen to good people if G-d is just?
Somehow, as educated as I was, and by that time you could say I was in Grade 20, on every single issue, this Chabad rabbi presented challenging perspectives and information that turned my questions back on me, and also opened my eyes to the fact that the rabbinic tradition has involved more than spending three millennia trying to memorize the ten commandments. Did that leave me a believer? Not exactly, but it certainly suspended my disbelief and left me open to the possibility that when Jews pray and say the word "atah", Someone may in fact be listening.
Within a few weeks, I was praying and studying a little every day. By three months I was keeping kosher and Shabbos. And after a year, I was engaged to a nice Jewish girl, a miracle in and of itself.
On the afternoon of the 24th of Teves 1982, a year to the day from my transformational encounter with Chabad, I found myself hurrying through the final pages of a book that I really wanted to finish before rushing off to the other side of campus to close a very big open bracket in my life. I was going to say the kaddish prayer for my father for the very first time.
The book was called The Philosophy of Chabad and as I turned to the final page, a curtain suddenly lifted and I caught a glimpse of the invisible Hand of G-d. The book, which is mainly a biography of the Alter Rebbe who founded the Chabad movement, concludes with mention of his yartzeit, the 24th of Teves.
The synchronicity was overwhelming. Here I'm reading about the Alter Rebbe's yartzeit for the first time, on the date itself, which is also my father's yartzeit, as well as the anniversary of my doing teshuvah a year before on the same date as a result of an encounter with the very movement that inspired me to teshuvah. And all this at the moment that I'm about to mark the date with my first kaddish prayer, so long overdue.
Even my one and only memory of my father seemed like a link in the chain, for what could possibly be going through the mind of a holocaust survivor from a chassidic family as he receives a toy Xmas tree on his deathbed from his three-year-old son? Only teshuvah - a teshuvah that reverberated in heaven and spilled out into my life decades later in an awakening from above.
Freaky? Spooky? Not for me. I have an explanation. But for those readers who are skeptically inclined to invoke "dumb luck" rather than the invisible Hand of G-d, please link to this article, The Whole Megillah, which also serves as a good warm up to our next big holiday, Purim.
When Moshiach comes, there will be no Argument for Design, there will just be the Artistry of the Designer, revealed for all to see, and no more will we have to satisfy ourselves with little glimpses behind the curtain for "our eyes will behold our Teacher," with the coming of
Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at www.arniegotfryd.com.