Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hashgocha Pratis, what does it mean?

I recently saw someone make the following statement on Avoda.

I have heard from a reliable source, in the name of Dayan Abramsky, that "today, anyone who does not believe in the Baal Shem Tov's shita in hashgacha pratis [i.e. the one that the Chinuch rejected] is an apikores".

Here is the opinion that the Chinuch rejected.

Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 169:

There are sects among mankind who maintain that Divine providence controls all the matters of this world… that when a leaf falls from a tree, He decreed that it would fall…. This approach is far-removed from the intellect.

In other words anyone who doesn't believe what the Chinuch called far-removed from the intellect is an apikorsus. Anyone who doesn't believe that everything that happens (even the most insignificant thing like a leaf falling from a tree) is decreed from heaven is an apikorsus.

This kind of statement boggles the mind. Most of the Rishonim including both the Rambam and the Ramban hold like the Chinuch. They state explicitly that except for exceptional tzadikkim everyone is exposed to (chance) מקרה. The amount of hashgocha a person has is directly related to how close they are to Hashem. The average person is very much exposed to chance (the forces of nature etc.).

Interestingly enough this also comes up in this week's parsha (וישב).

When the brothers are planning on killing Yosef, Reuven saves him by suggesting to throw him into the pit. The mefarshim ask what did Reuven accomplish, the pit was very dangerous (full of snakes, etc.), even life threatening. The אור החיים and the אלשיך both answer as follows. A person has בחירה חפשית and therefore the brothers could kill Yosef even if he was not supposed to die. However, animals since they have no בחירה חפשית cannot kill someone if he is not supposed to die. In other words, בחירה חפשית trumps hashgocha pratis. A person can be killed even though there was no gezera on him to die. The Netziv gives this answer as well, however he qualifies it by saying that this only applies to someone who is not a צדיק גמור, but a צדיק גמור cannot be harmed even through בחירה חפשית (as both the Rambam and the Ramban say that the closer a person is to Hashem the more hashgacha they have).

Believe it or not people defend the original statement (anyone who does not believe in the Baal Shem Tov's shita in hashgacha pratis is an apikores) as follows.

Many rishonim lived before the discovery of the Zohar, and all lived before the AriZal and the Baal Shem Tov, so they were missing information. The AriZal was taught by Eliyahu Hanavi, and the Baal Shem Tov by Achiyah Hashiloni, and therefore knew things that had been completely forgotten in previous generations.

In my mind this is very dangerous if not apikorsus. This destroys the whole idea of the mesora. What happened to לא בשמים היא? How can we believe that the Rishonim מפיהם אנו חיים for life and death issues could be so mistaken on such a fundamental issue? How can we think that they were missing such a vital chunk of the mesora?

It is also based on "chassidishe maases". Was the Baal Shem Tov really taught by Ahiyah Hashiloni? The Gra and all those who opposed (and still oppose) chasidus obviously did not think so.

In any case the fact is that many Acharonim after the Ari and the Besht agreed with the Rishonim.

The Meshech Chochma( Shemos 13:9)writes:

Divine Providence is manifest for each Jew according to his spiritual level as the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (3:18): Divine Providence is not equal for everyone but rather is proportional to their spiritual level. Consequently the Divine Providence for the prophets is extremely powerful each according to their level of prophecy. The Divine Providence for the pious and saintly is according to their level of perfection. In contrast the fools and the rebels lacking spirituality are in essence in the same category as animals... This concept that Divine Providence is proportional to spiritual level is one of foundations of Judaism...

The Meshech Chochma died less then a hundred years ago, did he not know the Ari and the Besht?

What is even more interesting is that the Or Hachaim Hakadosh was a Kabbalist after the Ari and he still says what he says in this week's parsha (see above). The Alshich was a talmid of the Ari, and the Netziv bases this idea on the Zohar. They didn't know the Ari's shita?

This is historical revisionism at it's worst.

I think that the Besht's shita has been accepted in the last 50 years for the following reasons:
1. It is theologically simple. It is a very black and white answer which fits into the current Charedi mindset and it promotes emuna peshuta
2. It is as the Chinuch wrote far-removed from the intellect, which fits the current anti-intellectual climate
3. It fits very well with a Torah only mindset. If everything (even a leaf falling) is from Hashem then Torah only makes a lot of sense. Everything else doesn't count anyway.


Chaim B. said...

I guess the way you frame these issues depends on your perspective - I once asked a local Rav (a talmid of RYBS and R' Ahron) how one could possibly hold like the Besh"T when the Rishonim so clearly reject that view. He was as baffled as me and had no answer.

I think this is not a chareidi-only phenomenon. I live in a MO community and I am willing to bet that 9 out of 10 people would define hashgacha like the Besh"T. In the war of Litvishe vs. Chassidus, chassidus has won and has permeated every area of jewish life in hashkafa, minhag, etc. The zeitgeist of jewish life is now chassidus.

Hagyan said...


I got here via your comment to "Poshiter yid" at R' Slifkin's blog.

Thanks. Looks like I'll stay to smell the flowers.