“Everything Happens for a Reason”

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Many people subscribe to the notion “Everything happens for a reason; chance doesn’t exist.” However, this is rejected by Rambam in his Guide, and Sforno too says this at the end of parshas Tazria. They explain that God’s involvement in man’s life is proportional to his perfection. Great people like the Patriarchs and Matriarchs earned God’s providence in all parts of their lives, while lesser people are left to chance, like animals (Guide, book III, chap. xviii). Maimonides based his opinion on a study of Torah and how God describes His relationship with various people. All matters of God’s acts are deep and we cannot speak without tremendous study. Although it’s comforting to believe that one’s life is purposeful in all its major events and inconsequential minor occurrences, this feeling is not the result of evidence, or even theory. It would appear this feeling stems from the ego, “How can things happen to me if they aren’t planned or important?” But does a person really feel each leaf falls from a tree at a set time, for a reason? Thats this frog was meant to eat that insect? That this scratch on my  car is meaningful? Or, is it irrelevant that this leaf falls at 2:01 and not at 2:02 PM, but leaves falling in general is the plan. And perhaps I didn’t take much care when parking, and scratched the car myself? 

I would add that suggesting there is nothing called chance removes one’s responsibility: he will view all failures as divinely determined, when in fact—as Rambam says—most evils in life are self-inflicted. A person gets ill by eating poorly, not because God determined this. People lose jobs because they fail to meet requirements, and relationships end due to selfish emotions. To know what is real, it must be perceived by the senses, proved with the mind, or found in Torah (Maimonides). But to follow imagined beliefs as those we discuss here, one lives in fantasy, and reality will eventually prove him wrong and halt his plans. If one enters into any relationship because he feels “I met that person for a reason,” and he does not research that person’s ethics, he unnecessarily subjects himself to possible great harm.  

Torah is for man’s perfection, and a major element in perfection is abandoning psychological wishes rooted in ego, lusts, greed, superstition and more. So central to Judaism is the curbing of emotions, that Hillel told the gentile that the main concept of Judaism is to treat others as you wish to be treated (Sabbath 31a). 

Believing “Everything happens for a reason” will lead a person to follow inconsequential phenomena, he will project importance where it is undeserved, while dismissing reality which God designed to teach man and lead him to happiness and success.