Synchronicity or Coincidence? (Parashat Chayei Sarah)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

When I was first visiting Abbeville, it wasn’t quite settled in my mind if I was going to end up moving here. I hadn’t gotten a chance to meet anyone local or to get a feel for the area yet. So an aunt of mine advised me to keep in mind what my great-grandmother used to always say: something about, when we’re uncertain of which way to follow, just look for the signs.

G-d is always sending us signs in one form or another. Well, mine about caused me to drive off the road.

Synchronicity or Coincidence?

Before I can really get there, there’s a little bit of a backstory to understand the meaning here. The “J” in my name ultimately comes from Joshua, an old ancestral namesake spread across my family, and, of course, the great leader of the Israelites after Moses who actually takes our very distant ancestors over into the Promised Land.

I like to think I live up to the name. Aside from leading the Israelites though some difficult times, Joshua’s big appearance in the Torah is when Moses sends twelve men to investigate the Promised Land before anyone else enters. Joshua and his friend Caleb are the only two who return faithfully optimistic that G-d will keep His promise to them and lead them to victory over the land’s former inhabitants.

Joshua has the life coach’s mindset. He knows that things will be difficult, he’s made peace with life being a series of obstacles, and he’s ready to face them down on the way to the life he’s meant to lead. That’s where I strive to be too.

Yet, here in South Carolina, spinning off a pandemic shutdown year and the loss of a lot of certainty in my life, I had my doubts.

That is, until I found myself on the way to see my first client in South Carolina. Unbeknownst to me previously, that client lives on the outskirts of an area called–you guessed it–Promised Land. And there on the border was a giant sign that seemed to spell things out so clearly I had to stop and take a photo to send to my aunt.

G-d, is that you?

Parashat Chayei Sarah

In this week’s Torah portion, Eliezer goes through something similar. In Genesis 24, Abraham instructs his servant, Eliezer, to seek out a wife for Isaac. His instructions are very clear. Eliezer is to return to Abraham’s homeland and bring back a wife from Abraham’s extended family. He is not to bring back a wife for him from among the Canaanites, nor to take Isaac out of Canaan if no woman will return with him.

Eliezer’s doubts are revealed here in the details of the oath he makes to Abraham. While the patriarch seems certain that G-d will provide a wife for his son, Eliezer does not make a promise to him until Abraham offers him a way out of fulfilling this task should no woman willingly return with him.

On the one hand, Abraham is acting from a place of rock steady faith. On the other, Eliezer is acting pragmatically from his position as Abraham’s servant. Eliezer wants to fulfill Abraham’s request–to retrieve a wife for Isaac. Abraham knows that G-d will provide Isaac with a wife, and is acting only to enable G-d to do so.

It’s because of this difference in mindset that we find Eliezer praying for a sign. Scripture tells us that Eliezer asks G-d to have the girl intended for Isaac to answer his questions in a very specific manner. Before he even finishes this prayer, we’re told that Rebekah appears and answers in the exact way he asked for G-d to provide.

Stunned, Genesis 24: 21 tells us that Eliezer watches her carefully, and then asks her to whose house she belongs–as if further verifying that she is precisely who G-d intends for Isaac. It’s only when she reveals that she is from Abraham’s distant family that Eliezer humbles himself and praises G-d.

Sometimes We Get What We Ask For

There’s this idea of synchronicity that Jung conceptualized wherein circumstances appear meaningful yet aren’t necessarily related by cause. Essentially, we might think of synchronicity as a pattern of coincidences we experience. Eliezer gives us the perfect example in his thinking here.

The easiest explanation–and one that Torah attempts to show us–is that G-d is active and engaged in our lives, or, at least in the life of Abraham and those around him. G-d promises to bring forth a people from Abraham and Sarah, and that requires their son, Isaac, continuing their line. G-d continues to fulfill that promise by bringing Rebekah into Isaac’s life as his wife.

In Eliezer’s mind, like I imagine the minds of much of the Torah’s audience, the ease of that explanation is overwhelmed by skepticism or even cynicism about anything supernatural happening in our lives.

Eliezer’s instantly answered prayer, the appearance of Rebekah, the words she says, and the whole of this incredible task he is sent on by Abraham all feel like synchronicity or coincidence, that is, meaningful yet unrelated by apparent cause. In Eliezer’s mind there must surely be another explanation for his success. The practical, the plainest, the least supernatural answer has to win out. That’s why he asks Abraham what to do if no woman will return with him, why he asks about taking Isaac with him, why he watches Rebekah, and why he asks whose household she comes from.

He’s experiencing synchronicity–and it takes him until Rebekah reveals that she comes from Abraham’s extended family for him to accept that he’s not just experiencing coincidence, nor is he simply experiencing the weirdness of synchronicity. Rather, there’s an intelligence behind it all. That intelligence is G-d.

We might say that this is a passage about faith (or alternatively, that it’s a passage about doubt). What I read though is a story about how G-d reaches us. I’ve heard rabbis describe the great distance between G-d and creation as a field that inevitably distorts and disrupts our connection to G-d, almost as if it were a radio frequency. Those glitches we encounter, the moments that make us wonder if this is synchronicity or coincidence, are the times the radio dial is right where it should be, and we are connected so clearly to our Creator.

Like so many of us seeking G-d and seeking to act in alignment to G-d’s plan, Eliezer reaches the point in this story where pragmatic reality is overwhelmed, where reason and logic can no longer deny the weirdness of what is happening.

Eliezer’s realization is a challenge to us all: push through, lean in to the synchronicity you experience. Let G-d speak to you through a back country church sign or the generosity of a virgin at a well.

Let G-d answer when you pray.

About the author

Free to Live Healthy is written by JP Mosley, a board certified health and wellness coach based in Abbeville, South Carolina.

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