Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The role of human initiative and action

The article that I quoted yesterday  It's not Iron Dome [saving us] it's Hashem, where Chaim Cohen claimed that Hashem is diverting the Hamas rockets to non-inhabited  areas and that our hishtadlus (Iron Dome) has little to no effect, started me thinking about this question. The article is perfect example of the current Charedi approach that a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed from heaven (see my post Hashgocha Pratis, what does it mean? for an elaboration of this). I believe that this shita has taken over the Charedi world 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.

While this shita is certainly legitimate and has it's sources, it creates a lot of serious questions about man's role in the world. Basically, according to this shita, man has no real role in the world. This world is simply a test and nothing that man does has any real effect (see R'Dessler). The problem is that we see with our own eyes that this isn't true. Of course R' Dessler says that we are simply mistaken and it is all a test, but I think that most people have a very hard time with this. We see that people take initiative and do things and do have success. People work hard and get promoted for their hard work, get good grades and based on that get high paying jobs, etc. While this shita may have made sense for people in earlier times when man had basically no control over anything, today, when we do have limited control, and we can see the direct results of our actions this shita is much more difficult to accept.

In fact, even in the real Haredi world we find that this shita is not accepted when it comes to certain things, medicine for example. Haredim many times move mountains to see the top specialist in the field (for a famous case see Should we go to the best doctor?).  However, according to R' Dessler (and the Chazon Ish) this really should be considered too much השתדלות and a lack of בטחון. After all, Hashem is doing the healing not the surgeon and once we have done our השתדלות, going to the doctor and having the surgery, why should it matter whether the surgeon is the best in the world or simply Joe surgeon who is competent? As long as we do our השתדלות to avoid requiring a נס, the rest is a גזירה מן השמים. If the גזירה is that the surgery will be successful, then it will be successful even if done by the average surgeon, and if the גזירה is that it won't be successful then it won't help that you have the best surgeon.

In fact, what does it actually mean that someone is considered the best surgeon? After all, הכל בידי שמים, our success is actually an illusion to make it look like it is our skill. In fact, our success in worldly matters is simply a גזירה מן השמים so the fact that he successfully operated is not due to his skill but due to the גזירה מן השמים. This is essence Chaim Cohens claim against Iron Dome, all hishtadlus is simply an illusion and doesn't really matter.

There is however, a different approach, that while there certainly is hashgacha in the world, man also has the ability to take initiative and accomplish things. As I pointed out yesterday, the Ran in his Derashos (10) explains that in truth a person can say that כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה as long as he recognizes that his raw talents come from Hashem. because we see that different people have different talents and some people are truly gifted. With this approach, Hashem has given every person certain כוחות and it is up to us to use those כוחות in the world. According to this approach, Iron Dome itself is from Hashem because he gave the designers and implementers the intellect and skill to build it. However, it didn't just come down from heaven, people had to actually use their initiative and skills to make it happen.

This is much more theologically complex position, but ultimately one that fits in much better with the way we see the world working and I believe gives more meaning to what we do in our lives.


Yehudah P. said...

Regarding going to doctors--there is a Chassidic story about the Maggid of Mezeritch, where he told a physician that a מלאך accompanies a doctor when he treats a patient. The greater the doctor, the greater the מלאך.

The physician was incredulous, but then he visited a patient who was hopelessly sick, and the physician left without delivering any treatment. The patient's condition improved, proving the Maggid's point.

The story, although giving an admittedly non-rational reason for doctors' ability to cure illness, still encourages that there should be doctors, and that doctors should be competent--but to realize that it's not all in their hands.

Nachum said...

Doctors back then didn't really do anything, we now know.

bar_kochba132 said...

Although I think the theological discussions between the two sides are fruitless, in that they seem to be talking past one another, there is not question that a big factor in the mass fall-out of Jews from the world of religious observance in the 19th and 20th centuries was because of despair over the passivity of so many religious Jews and leaders. People saw changes going on around them and that there was a better way than simply resigning oneself to his own personal poverty and degredation in addition to the same situation for the Jewish people as a whole. Zionism was and is a rebellion against such passivity and thus it becomes clear why there was so much opposition to secular and religious Zionism by the existing religous Establishment.
Today, with the emergence of the welfare state and post-Modernist philosophy which teaches people to search for virtual reality or alternative realities while saying the true reality existing outside really isn't "true", it is clear why so many people are being attracted back to this extreme quietist, passive ideology. Whether it will last given the economic, spiritual and moral deterioration in Western society which has re-enabled this passive Judaism is underoing is an open question.

Larry said...

Many of the contentious topics debated on this forum involve concepts from other religions that wound up being absorbed in Judaism, mostly during the middle ages. Let’s face it- Judaism did not just develop in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the study of the development of Judaism in the middle ages is taken up by almost no one in the contemporary Jewish world. Rambam was definitely impacted by Islam but he was not the only major figure subject to Islamic influence (Yehuda Halevy was another). The idea that the intermediary in every event is the hand of Hashem is a direct import from Islam. The result of this approach is a crippling of rational thought due to the lack of attention to actual causes and effects. The current debate is a replay of the Middle Age debate between the Mu'tazilite and Ash'arite sects of Islam. To quote a Pakistani physicist" it was not Islamic to say that hydrogen and oxygen makes water. You were supposed to say that when you bring them together then by the will of Allah water was created. “The late Farouk Ajami often lamented that the underlying factor in the Arabs failures was inability to recognize cause and effect. An excellent source regarding Islam is the recent “The closing of the Muslim Mind” by Robert Reilly. Islam is once again influencing Judaism. Do you think that Haredi woman are wearing Burkas by accident? Is it an accident that many Haredi rabbis in Israel are starting to sound like Imams? These phenomena are most prominent in Israel because it is in the Middle East (not like New York). If we could get Jews to understand that we should not be arguing about Islamic (or Christian-another story) ideas, we could perhaps move some individuals closer to reality and have more Shalom