Friday, December 15, 2006

Providence - practical implications.

The practical implications of the understanding of Hashgacha / Providence I proposed in my last post is that man can take control of his life or chose not to. He can act to satisfy his instinctual urges and live for the moment or act in a more meaningful way playing a constructive role in God’s universe. This explains an aspect of the Adam and Chava metaphor. Man’s ideal goal is to partake in creation and play a positive role in the continuity of the universe.

טו וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ.
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to till it and to watch it.

Losing this focus is seen as being thrown out of the ideal place and left to random chance.

When, however, Scripture says of Adam, "He changed his face (panav) and thou sent him forth" (Job 14:20), it must be understood in the following way: On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away… our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food, such as he never tasted before, and this even only after exertion and labor, as it is said, "Thorns and thistles shall grow up for thee" (Gen. iii. 18), "By the sweat of thy brow," etc., and in explanation of this the text continues, "And the Lord God drove him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground whence he was taken." He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals: "You shall eat the grass of the field" (Gen. 3:18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, "Adam unable to dwell in dignity was brought to the level of the dumb beast" (Ps. 69:13)." May the Almighty be praised, whose design and wisdom cannot be fathomed."”(MN1:2)

The banishment from Eden, ideal life, is because of man’s absorption in feeding his own personal physical needs, ignoring the bigger picture. The picture I get in my mind is that the universe was created by God as a self-perpetuating entity –

The book which enlightened the darkness of the world says therefore, "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Even the existence of this corporeal element, low as it in reality is, because it is the source of death and all evils, is likewise good for the permanence of the Universe and the continuation of the order of things, so that one thing departs and the other succeeds. Rabbi Meir therefore explains the words "and behold it was very good" (tov Me’od); that even death was good in accordance with what we have observed in this chapter.” (MN3:10)

Even death can be seen as good if it results in permanence of the Universe. The word “good” is synonymous with continuity. It is up to each man to figure out how he can contribute and he has the choice to join Creation and act constructively or be indifferent and lead a meaningless life. In religious parlance, that would mean choosing between Hashgacha, namely constancy, and Mikreh, randomness.

Those who approach Him are best protected, and "He will keep the feet of his saints"; but those who keep far away from Him are left exposed to what may befall them; there is nothing that could protect them from what might happen; they are like those who walk in darkness, and are certain to stumble.” (MN 3:18)

The only way man can approach Him is by knowing His ways as it is the most man can expect to know about Him.

The paradox is that the individual never knows for sure whether his conclusions are correct, whether the actions he undertakes based on those conclusions will be constructive in the long term. It is even more paradoxical because a contemporary observer cannot judge whether the actions of this individual were constructive. It is only much later that all the consequences of a particular action can be assessed and judged. The best that we can do is to constantly remind ourselves to evaluate all our actions with the long-term view in mind. Rambam in MN 3:51 -

Also the providence of God watching over them [the patriarchs and Moshe] and their posterity was great. When we therefore find them also, engaged in ruling others, in increasing their property, and endeavoring to obtain possession of wealth and honor, we see in this fact a proof that when they were occupied in these things, only their bodily limbs were at work, whilst their heart and mind never moved away from the name of God.”

It is when we look back at the accomplishment, “the providence of God watching over them”, of these four, the patriarchs and Moshe, that we have proof that all their actions were goal oriented and therefore under Divine Providence.

I think these four reached that high degree of perfection in their relation to God, and enjoyed the continual presence of Divine Providence, even in their endeavors to increase their property, feeding the flock, toiling in the field, or managing the house, only because in all these things their end and aim was to approach God as much as possible. It was the chief aim of their whole life to create a people that should know and worship God… The object of all their labors was to publish the Unity of God in the world and to induce people to love Him; and it was on this account that they succeeded in reaching that high degree; for even those [worldly] affairs were for them a perfect worship of God. But a person like me must not imagine that he is able to attain this degree of perfection.”

The last sentence is fascinating. Rambam reveals his own inner thoughts and self-image. Although looking back from our perspective, Rambam affected Judaism deeply for generations; he was full of doubt about his contribution. Apparently the patriarchs themselves had the same doubts about their actions and their long-term impact. That explains the repetitive assurances that we find in the prophetic visions of the Avot. They always reviewed their actions and questioned whether they were correct and effective in accomplishing their goal for generations to come. That is also the meaning of Zchut Avot starting in Egypt –

כד וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב.
24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

and repeated many times over in the Torah and Neviim. Failure would reflect poorly on the patriarchs. It would raise questions about the meaning of their life’s work. The Torah is confirming and Moshe is joining them in their vision for the future of their progeny and ultimately humankind. When we say in our prayers every day “Vezocher Chasdei Avot” it means we are joining them in their vision to bring about a perfect world – “Umevi Go’el livnei vneihem” and all that as part of God’s creation – “Lema’an Shemo Be’ahavah”.

Much more to come on this subject of Hashgacha / Providence.
Shabbat Shalom.


  1. Please forgive me for being off topic but I didn't see a way to email you listed on your site.

    I guest posted yesterday over @ DovBear. In the ensuing comment thread a commenter called DNA suggested that I show my shtikel Torah to you and pick your brain for mareh mekomos in Moreh Nevuchim.

    I would deeply appreciate your leaving your email here or going there and joining the comment thread.

    Alternatively you could email me @

    Gut Shabbos and ah Lichtig'e Chanukah

  2. my eamail is