What a Coincidence!

I recently encountered, via Facebook, an Orthodox Union (OU) article purporting to list evidence for Hanukkah being a Torah holiday.  Hanukkah celebrates miracles, reported in Rabbinical texts, that supposedly happened during the time of the Maccabees, a period alluded to in scripture only in the book of Daniel.

Most of the evidence presented on the OU articles is entirely sourced from Rabbinical commentaries on Torah, but some refers directly to scripture.  None of it is concrete, and much depends upon the appearance or assumed appearance in Torah of the number 25, the day of the month on which Hanukkah begins, or Torah references to light and the menorah.  When I referred to these supposed allusions as “coincidences” in discussing the article with the individual who brought it to my attention, the question arose of whether coincidences exist with reference to the Divine.  This is my answer.

In short, they can, and none of the present question has anything to do with that.

This commentary on Hanukkah is typical of my experience of Rabbinical commentaries.

  1. It uses information not actually present in Torah, intended to add detail to or make a point about a Torah passage, that has been added to various passages of the actual text. 
  2. It uses the proximity of two passages to each other to suggest that their intent is similar or that an unseen meaning exists as a synthesis of two neighboring passages.  
  3. Finally, it employs the numerical position or value of a word to suggest an additional meaning not mentioned directly in the text.

Here’s an example of the first technique: Citing a Rabbinical commentary, the article informs us that the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev, but its dedication was delayed until the first of Nisan to coincide with Yitzhak’s birthday.  As consolation to the month of Kislev, the Hanukkah miracle began on the 25th of that month.  Here’s the problem: the Torah tells us neither Yitzhak’s birth date, nor the date of completion of the Mishkan, nor that it’s dedication was delayed for any prolonged period.  All that information is found exclusively in Rabbinical texts, along with the Hanukkah miracle.

Furthermore, the Torah calendar explicitly turns on the agricultural cycle, with “Nisan” (the first month) coinciding with the ripening of the barley, not with anyone’s birthday.

Other similar evidence is cited regarding other Torah passages, but also relies on commentaries that add to the text.

  • Conclusion: There can be no allusion to something in Torah if those allusions are not found in Torah.

Now for the second technique:  The article argues that the instructions concerning the eternal flame of the sanctuary immediately follow an enumeration of the Torah holidays, an enumeration that is repeated multiple times throughout the text.  Since the flame was not in that time eternal (it was extinguished during the Chaldean Exile), the proximity of the instructions to the list of holidays implies that at some future date another holiday would be instituted for the lighting and eternal maintenance of that flame, the hanukkiah representing the eternal continuation of that lighting ceremony.

This technique is similar to the first.  It relies on assumptions imposed on the text, not the integrity of the text itself.  Imagine arguing that the Twelfth Amendment of the US Constitution, which revises the presidential election process, implies an additional meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.  Proximity can provide context for a piece of writing, but it doesn’t always, and it cannot create entirely new meaning never directly referenced.

  • Conclusion: There can be no allusion to something in Torah if those allusions are not found in Torah.

    Finally, the third technique: The article notes at the end of the article that the 25th word of the Torah is “ohr” (light), and the 25th of Kislev marks the start of a holiday centered on oil lamps (light)–what a coincidence!  It’s a tortured, forced similarity.
    Let me begin with another bit from Torah. 

    For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.  It is not in the skies, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. -Devarim 30:11-14

    This passage is at the heart of interpretation based upon the “plain meaning” of the text.  It is not intended to be difficult to understand. We do not need to count words or look for ideas that are tangentially related to another topic to find the intent of the text. It is laid out such that the Law could be read out to the congregation every seventh year and they would understand it well enough to perform it. That level of simplicity precludes number games, measuring proximity, or adding cute stories about presumed birthdays.

    • Conclusion: There can be no allusion to something in Torah if those allusions are not found in Torah.
    But is it not an interesting coincidence that the date and the location of the word for light are the same number?  And can there really be any coincidences in Hashem’s Word? Yes, there can be coincidences.  Any finite sets, when compared and searched for data that are remotely related, statistically must yield at least one similarity.  It is a mathematical certainty. And Hashem is as much the author of those mathematics as He is of Torah and Creation.
    My son and I each own a green shirt.  Since our wardrobes are finite, it is statistically certain that we will eventually wear our green shirts on the same day, as we did today.  
    A coincidence is a similarity that lacks meaning. It is a truth of science that correlations do not always indicate causal relationships, and that correlations are sometimes meaningless, especially if your model is designed to find a specific correlation. The same is true of examining any data set, including Torah.
    Here is an example.  There are seven continents.  Is it not then interesting that there are seven days in the week, created to commemorate the seven stages of the biblical creation?  Each of the continents must therefore represent a stage of creation and the corresponding day of the week! And because the continents and days represent the same thing, the ancient Israelites must have known of the four continents that had yet to be discovered in their time, and before Moshe received the Torah, the Hebrews must have had a three day week.
    Is this a reasonable set of assumptions?  Is the appearance of the number seven more than a coincidence?  It has to do with Hashem’s Word and Creation, so it must be meaningful, no? No.  It’s a silly conclusion to draw.

    When we start looking for meaning on such shaky ground as the numerical value or position of a word, we have ceased to read Torah and begun to use Torah as a ouija board, shaping the meaning of the text to fit our own intents.  This is not reading.  It is the seeking of omens and borders on witchcraft.  Both are forbidden in the plain meaning of the text.

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