A home improvement project uncovers something unexpected.
We line-dry all our clothes. Our friends think this is because we are super-green, but it's really because we had no way to hook up our gas dryer. The Engineer re-evaluated our arrangements:
Four boys + rainy New Orleans spring - dryer = (stinky)
and determined that the time had come for us to shell out the cash to lay a gas line from the house to the shed, which would house our life-changing dryer. So, he called up Richie, a buddy from shul who happens to also be an apprentice plumber, and they made plans. Monday afternoon, he and his partner were out in our yard, digging a trench for the gas line. I had just finished putting the baby down, when Richie bellowed my name from the back door. I sprinted down the stairs and around the corner. "What's up?"
He held out his hands, filled with dirt-crusted coins. "I found buried treasure."
"Funny, Richie." I rolled my eyes.
"No. Serious. Come look." He let the coins clatter into my open hands then about-faced.
I followed, hands full, to the end of the trench. Coins glinted in the mounds of dirt and down, 18 inches or so below the surface, Richie was uncovering a plastic bag that had split open and was oozing out silver coins. "I thought I hit a rock or something and I was just gonna stop there, but my buddy said 'Let's get it outta the way, man!' And look at this! Man, this is a gift straight from G-d!"
Munchkin poked his head out of the back door to see what all the fuss was about. "Go get your brothers and come out here!" I called.
The two diggers were so tickled they couldn't get over it, pulling out their phones and snapping pictures, babbling to each other, "Dude, I always dreamed of something like this happening on the job..."
The boys zoomed out and swarmed the trench.
“ Look, guys! Buried treasure!" I squealed..”
Green half-puckered his mouth to keep a smile down, like he always does when he knows I'm playing a joke on him. "Mommy, did you put that there?"
Because here's the best part: we had watched a movie about lost pirate treasure the night before and after I gave him a goodnight kiss and turned to walk out the door, Green and whispered after me, "When I grow up, I'm going to find a buried treasure." And here we stood, the very next day, pulling nearly 300 silver coins out of our backyard.* Too perfect to be a coincidence, even in a 7-year-old's mind.
And in my mind. The Engineer and I kept shaking our heads, saying "What are the odds? Our back yard is huge. Of all the places to dig, we dug right there. What are the odds?"
What was this for? What's the message here?"Thanks to my 9-month-old I was honestly feeling too sleep-deprived to think too deeply about it. Later in the week when one of the kids' Hebrew School teachers came to do a bedtime craft and story with them the boys told her the buried treasure story. She oo-ed and ah-ed with them and then she pulled out her goodies, "Alright, guys. We're going to be making...oh, well that's appropriate...treasure chests!" I chuckled. Of course. The next day, when I saw the week's parsha commentary from my favorite rabbi appear in my email inbox, I actually made time to read it for the first time in a few months. Naturally, it was about a guy who found a treasure buried in his field...wait, what?!
It's like there are flashing neon signs pointing at at that hole in our yard saying, "LOOK HERE! IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION!" So, I'm sitting here now trying to fit all the pieces together and I'm realizing that laying eyes on my new-found "fortune" brought up polar opposite reactions in me.
Reaction #1 - Oh dear! Reward is stored up for the righteous in the world to come. Beware early cash-outs! This is the worldview that helps me deal with the fact that bad things happen to good people. Good people suffer here instead of there. Meanwhile, G-d has to reward the wicked for those things they do which are good, so he does it here instead of there.
Reaction #2 - Yipee! Put out good energy and that's what you will get back. Cause and effect. I use this approach in training my kids. Be good and you'll get good back. Do wrong and you'll find you aren't happy with the results. This is the worldview that empowers me with personal responsibility.
I held both of my paradigms up like a scope to view my buried treasure, and was distressed to find that each one seemed to cancel out the other. I'm left holding both in my hands and wondering which one I need to let go of.
I've found myself gravitating more and more towards that second paradigm in the last year. When things are not going right for me, I find that it's not productive for me to take the position that persecution is a mark of divine favor. I've been more spurred to personal growth to instead ask, "What am I doing wrong that they (this antagonistic person, or situation) are reacting to me this way? I need to adjust my own behavior or attitude in order to get a better result." And yet, when the tragic, unexplainable happens, life seems utterly chaotic and G-d totally unjust if I don't take into account that there is another arena where reward can be given.
Or maybe - it just dawned on me today - maybe there is a third paradigm that I haven't even considered. Maybe these events in our lives are not about rewarding or punishing the past. Maybe they are about opportunity for the present and for the future. Every day, I'm put in situations that give me room to grow. Finding a buried treasure presented me with heretofore unknown avenues to become a more ethical person. Finding a buried treasure prompted us to ask our rabbi, "Who does this really belong to?" and to explore the laws of possession. It prompted us to consider our ethical responsibility towards our shovel-wielding friends who helped make the discovery.
These crazy things sometimes happen and there is plenty of room for assuming coincidence.
Check out this very first word of the book of Leviticus. This is how it is written in the Torah. The word Vayiker - "And He chanced upon" - jumps out at you. It's only once you take a closer look, at that miniature alef stuck onto the end, that you see that the word is actually Vayikra - "And He called." Rabbi David Lapin helped me to bring these threads together with this insight:
We are presented with hundreds of choices every day to respond to an occurrence either as a coincidence or as a calling. A calling leaves us awe struck. A coincidence leaves us thinking that at best “that was cool”. If Moshe would have responded to the burning bush with a sense of cool coincidence, the Exodus would not have occurred – or at least our history would have taken a very different course. Yosef could have seen his being called to interpret Pharo’s dreams as a coincidence of good fortune. Instead, by seeing the Divine hand he saved Egypt from famine and paved the way for his family’s reunification and survival. The Jewish people could have seen the splitting of the Red Sea as an amazing coincidence of timing of tides and winds (as in fact the Biblical Critics do!). We could see the chain of miracles that lead to the founding and keeping of Eretz Yisrael (sometimes more despite our efforts than because of them!) as coincidence and that would cool any sense of Divine intent to our possessing our Land.
Each day you can integrate the things that happen to you and around you asvayiker, chance happenings and coincidences. Or you can interpret them as Vayikra, a calling from G-d Himself to you. You can choose to see these events as His finger pointing you in a certain direction, a hint, a clue, an answer to a prayer. And, what you choose is a manifestation of your faith. Faith is knowing that in a world orchestrated by Hashem, there is no coincidence; there is only human choice and Divine direction.
For me, I chose to operate on the assumption that it wasn't coincidence. That this was a whispering call from Hashem that it's time to grow, and that the very tool I needed for this next step was a buried treasure. *The collection ranged from rolls of 1964 Kennedy half-dollars to Morgan silver dollars from 1879. An appraisal from our neighborhood coin collector, showed that we didn't have anything rare, just solid 90% silver coins. He's seen this kind of thing pretty frequently. "There was this generation that didn't trust the banks, ya see. Banks failed 'em. Sunk 'em into a depression. I knew a guy once - buried a million bucks worth of coins in his yard and left a map so his son could find it. Don't know if the son ever got the map, though. Ya'll should really get a metal detector and check out the rest of your yard..."