Sunday, June 10, 2007

The image of God and Divine Providence.

In an earlier post, , I discussed Form and Matter and explained that Form is the concept that is behind an object and is what makes it what it is. It defines it when compared to other objects. What differentiates man from any other animal is his mind which allows him to think. Although all animals have instincts and urges even some kind of decision process such as which prey will become its next meal, the human mind is much more complex and able to conceptualize at much higher level including abstract thought. The human mind at its basic level, a mind that has not been developed, is no more than a quality that helps man survive in his environment. The human body and how it functions has evolved with many deficiencies in its ability to survive compared to other animals. For example the types of food man requires for nourishment is much more limited. They are not as readily available in nature as those required by other animals are. The human mind’s primary and basic function is to compensate for that.

An animal does not require for its sustenance any plan, thought or scheme; each animal moves and acts by its nature, eats as much as it can find of suitable things, it makes its resting-place wherever it happens to be, cohabits with any mate it meets while in heat in the periods of its sexual excitement. In this manner does each individual conserve itself for a certain time, and perpetuates the existence of its species without requiring for its maintenance the assistance or support of any of its fellow creatures: for all the things to which it has to attend it performs by itself. With man it is different; if an individual had a solitary existence, and were, like an animal, left without guidance, he would soon perish, he would not endure even one day, unless it were by mere chance, unless he happened to find something upon which he might feed. For the food, which man requires for his subsistence demands much work and preparation, which can only be accomplished by reflection and by plan. (MN1:72)

Although we refer to this ability as the Form of man, as it defines his species, it is totally at the service of Matter. The same mind that performs this basic function also has the ability to be developed by man using his Freedom of Choice. Self-observation, abstract thought, self-control are all functions that a developed mind can perform. It is the Tzelem Elohim, the image of God, which God referred to at Creation.

All men have free choice to follow either the good ways and be righteous, or to follow the bad ways and be wicked. That is written in the Torah, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil", i.e. there is in the world a unique species, man, and there is no other with respect to this matter. [Only man] autonomously, in his mind and thoughts, knows the good and bad and acts as he chooses. There is nothing that stops him from doing good or bad. That being the case, "What if he stretches out his hand".[1] (Hilchot Teshuvah 5:1)

The undeveloped mind is therefore in a sense like Matter to its developed state as it deals mostly with the material survival. There is no Divine Providence involved with such a person. He operates within the bounds of nature. His actions are predictable and complex mathematical models could probably foresee all his decisions just like it could with the behavior of animals and plants. It is only the developed mind that can conceptualize and make decisions acting in ways that are beyond just immediate survival, that include ethical, moral even sometimes metaphysical and theological considerations, that is removed from the control of nature. A person with such abilities that acts according to his understanding of reality takes control of his life. That is a person that is under the auspices of Divine Providence to the extent that he acts following the dictates of his mind and conscience. Divine Providence is not something that happens to a man. It is something man must seek out!

This post is just a teaser and a small step in the larger discussion of Divine Providence or Hashgacha.

[1] Rambam reads this as a positive. God is wishing, so to say, that man to choose the ‘tree of Knowledge” and thus live “forever”. Re the difficulty with “pen” being a negative, see Torah Shleima on Breishit 3: 22. Translation courtesy of with my edits as I saw fit.


  1. "Self-observation, abstract thought, self-control are all functions that a developed mind can perform. It is the Tzelem Elohim, the image of God, which God referred to at Creation."

    I was thinking on the same path last night. I read some statistics about the percentage of people of religious faiths compared to people of no religious faith getting scientific questions correct. Turned out Jews by far compared to every other religion got the questions correct (most questions yielded high 80% correct). The ironic part was that a higher percentage of Jews got the questions about evolution correct than people who identify themselves with no religion whom normally base themselves on evolution.

    Upon this question I was thinking about RYBS short statement on evolution.
    "What in fact is theoretically irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of the divine image with the equalling of man and animal-plant existences." (
    It does not seem that there should be any problem of tzelem elohim if one thinks along the lines as above.

  2. I was looking through your blog and see you don't seem to believe in the Zohar or the Arizal. The Vilna Gaon and his students, Baal Shem Tov and his students, Chida and virtually every Sephardic Gadol, and all the Yemenite Rabbi's (except for the small group of Dar De'eim who aren't respected at all) all accept the Zohar as written by Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and they accept the Arizal. As an example, the great Baba Sali, revered by the leaders of the Litvaks, Chassidim and Sephardim a mekubal, very involved in the study of Zohar and Kisvei Arizal. Do you think you are smarter then all of them?

  3. David: How do you answer such a weak mind?

  4. There is a story told about R. Yehonatan Eibschutz. He was having a discussion with the Bishop in town who asked how come the Jews don't follow the majority based on the Torah command to do so? The majority believes in JC after all!

    RYE did not answer but as he walked the bishop into the town square he suddenly stopped gazing up into the sky. The bishop asks him what he saw and he replied "Dont you see the angels dancing over there?". The Bishop had no choice but to stare too. After all if the Rabbi sees the angels how can he admit that hye does not? After a while there was a gathering of all the towns people staring u-p looking at t6he dancing angels. At some point RYE turns to the ishop and whispers in his ear "to tell you the truth I see nothing". The bishop in surprise agrees "me neither". RYE then asks him but the majority say they see! They must be there!

  5. David: I don't like answers comparing to Christianity. His claim that a majority accept the Zohar and the Arizal is not true. The Vilna Goan was against the Ari. Some very close to him say the Zohar too. Rabbi Hirsch too was against the Ari and to some extent against the Zohar too.

    I do use the word 'against' and not 'not accept.'

    The mekubalim up until very recently have been against the Ari too. During the time of Shabbtai Zvi, the mekubalim reject his claim of being the Messiah on the basis of him basing himself on the Ari. (Just to show you how against the Ari they were.)