God controls the world. But how much attention, how much direct guidance, does He give to the details? Ramban provides an uncompromising statement on the subject, which requires further examination due to his own equivocation. Ramban (Ex. 13:16) writes (tr. R. Aryeh Leibowitz, Hashgachah Pratis, p. 70): From the overt major miracles man comes to a realization of the hidden miracles, which are the foundation of the Torah. For a person has no portion in the Torah of our teacher Moses unless he believes that all our matters and circumstances are miraculous, that they do not follow nature or the general course of the world–this is true regarding the nation and the individual.

Does God Micromanage?

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I. Chance or No Chance?

God controls the world. But how much attention, how much direct guidance, does He give to the details? Ramban provides an uncompromising statement on the subject, which requires further examination due to his own equivocation.

Ramban (Ex. 13:16) writes (tr. R. Aryeh Leibowitz, Hashgachah Pratis, p. 70):

From the overt major miracles man comes to a realization of the hidden miracles, which are the foundation of the Torah. For a person has no portion in the Torah of our teacher Moses unless he believes that all our matters and circumstances are miraculous, that they do not follow nature or the general course of the world–this is true regarding the nation and the individual.

According to the Ramban here, a person who denies that God directs everything miraculously is a heretic. There are no rules of nature, no happenstance or coincidence. Everything is a miracle. Every time I drop a rock and it falls, that is not gravity but a miracle.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:51) explains that God’s direct providence only applies to those who attain perception of God. Meaning, only those who reach philosophical perfection receive direct providence. All others are left to chance. (See also Chinukh, no. 546; Sefer Ha-Ikkarim 4:10.) In the above passage, Ramban sharply dismisses this approach.

II. Way of the World

A guest of mine for Shabbos lunch suggested that this debate revolves around another dispute between Rambam and Ra’avad regarding the Messsianic Era. Following Shmuel’s Talmudic view, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 12:1) writes that the normal way of the world will not change in messianic times. Animals will still behave as always and people will still work and live normal lives. Nature will not change. Rather, “olam ke-minhago holekh, the world will continue in its path.” Any prophecies to the contrary are parable.

Ra’avad (ad loc.) disagrees based on those prophecies. Rambam’s view is slightly more complex, as commentaries point out, because elsewhere he seems to accept some changes (ibid., 5) and also seems to reject Shmuel’s view (ibid., Hilkhos Teshuvah 8:7; Hilkhos Shabbos 19:1). Be that as it may, the Rambam clearly states that, in the Messianic Era, nature will continue in its course while Ra’avad disagrees.

Rambam’s view, my guest suggests, implies that there is such a concept as nature. If everything is a miracle, there is no nature to continue in its path. Instead, there is an illusion of nature that can change at any time as God chooses. According to the Rambam, there is a base of nature in which God intervenes at times with miracles. This nature will continue in the Messianic Era.

III. More Ramban

However, the Ramban’s view is more complex than the above quote allows. In his commentary to Iyov (Job 36:7), Ramban states that individual providence only applies to those who cling to God. All others are subject to nature and chance. Ramban seems to imply this in his commentary to Gen. 18:19, as well (see Rabbenu Bachya, ad loc.). In other words, Ramban clearly adopts the view which he states is outside the Torah!

Two recent books examine this contradiction and reach opposite conclusions. R. Moshe Eisemann (Ramban As a Guide to Today’s Perplexed, ch. 19) explains that Ramban essentially agrees with Rambam. According to the Ramban, only the righteous, those who cling to God, receive direct providence. All others are relegated to group providence and the forces of nature. Dr. David Berger (“Miracles and the Natural Order in Nahmanides” in R. Isadore Twersky ed., Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations in His Religious and Literary Virtuosity) offers a similar view and adds that the Ramban’s statement with which we began refers to acts of reward and punishment (see the continuation of that passage in the Ramban). Divine recompense is miraculous. Other happenings in this world may not be.

R. Aryeh Leibowitz (ibid., p. 71ff.) reaches the opposite conclusion. He argues that “chance” is really just hidden divine providence, unobvious miracles. Everything is a miracle, even if it seems like a natural occurrence. R. Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Pirkei Emunah Ve-Hashgachah, vol. 1 p. 109ff.) adopts the same approach. While this view has the benefit of easily harmonizing all statements, it ultimately reads many comments in the exact opposite way to which their plain meaning imply.

According to the first approach, we average people need not despair of divine assistance. We have two avenues of salvation. First, God rewards us for our merits and we can therefore add good deeds and pray that the reward arrive at a beneficial time. Additionally, we have in our power the ability to rise to a higher level of divine attention. Our goal should be to achieve constant divine providence.

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes (Halakhic Man, p. 128):

The fundamental of providence is here transformed into a concrete commandment, an obligation incumbent upon man. Man is obliged to broaden the scope and strengthen the intensity of the individual providence that watches over him. Everything is dependent on him; it is all in his hands. When a person creates himself, ceases to be a mere species man, and becomes a man of God, then he has fulfilled that commandment which is implicit in the principle of providence.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.


  1. And what is their evidence for any of these positions? Answer: none.

  2. Is metaphysics ever evidence-based?

  3. This is theology, not metaphysics. And no, theology does not seem to ever be evidence-based. If you think about it, the post doesn’t even address its own subject line: it makes no progress on the question about what God does. What it does address is what some people’s opinions were. The subject line should be: What Some People Thought God Might Be Like (With No Evidence).

  4. Wow, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. If you aren’t interested in what great rabbis said about the subject, you are probably reading the wrong blog. And if you are looking for progress on some of the most esoteric issues, you probably should not be expecting to find them on a blog.

  5. For some incisive observations about the attempts to (artifically synthesize Rambam and Rambam, see: http://tinyurl.com/at283uy

    On the specific subject of Hashgacha Pratit, any modern discussion that does not take the Shoah into account is pointless from my perspective.

  6. Sorry, try this URL: http://tinyurl.com/a92zj8h instead.

  7. I like the Rav’s statement you cited in closing. When we strengthen ourselves spiritually — increasing our bitachon or our knowledge of G-d — then we increase the intensity of individual Providence. But even before we do any of that, we are already subject to some Providence anyway. It’s just that “One who trusts in Hashem, lovingkindness surrounds him” (Tehillim) — the higher our level, the more obvious and remarkable are G-d’s kindnesses. Not only does it seem that G-d is doing more for us when we increase our bitachon (because we perceive it better), He really is.

    While Rambam and Ramban may not have believed in universal individualized Providence, many Sages before and since did. There’s Rabbi Akiva and Nachum Gamzu, Rashi’s statement about Hashem decreeing which fish a bird will eat, R’ Avraham ben Rambam’s writings on bitachon, Rabbeinu Bachya, etc., and of course the chassidim.

    As R’ Slifkin cited in a footnote in one of his books, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev acknowledged that when one has no faith, one is “left to Nature” without Providence. But, Rebbe Nachman continued, what appears to be Nature is really also Providence. Even for one who is completely evil, everything that happens to him is for the good — perhaps each event is meant to remind him to repent, or to cleanse him from his sins.

    A variety of views on this topic are hashkafically acceptable. However, at the very least we should believe that frequently, on a daily basis, Hashem is intervening for us for our good — whether that is through manipulating nature chance (how the roll of the dice turns out) or something more active. Otherwise many of our regular prayers (such as Birkat Hamazon, in which we thank G-d for giving us this food and providing for us at every moment) and Nishmat Kol Chai don’t make any sense.

  8. “And what is their evidence for any of these positions? Answer: none”

    Have you read the Guide, in particular Part 3? I don’t see how anyone could have read that work and then state that the Rambam doesn’t bring evidence.

  9. Whatever the Ramban holds, there are definitely Rishonim and Acharonim who hold that God does micromanage and that “when a leaf falls from a tree, He [God] decreed that it would fall”

    This is probably the most fundamental question that religion should be answering, how does God run the world? Yet, we have a major dispute about this which has theological and practical implications (e.g. Does hishtadlus work? How much Hishtadlus should a person do? etc.). How is it that we don’t have a clear mesora on this? How can such a fundamental question have such a wide range of opinions from 1 extreme (only Tzadikkim have Hashgocha Pratis) to the other extreme (even a leaf falling is Hadhgocha Pratis)? What does this say about the Mesora?

  10. “On the specific subject of Hashgacha Pratit, any modern discussion that does not take the Shoah into account is pointless from my perspective”
    The Shoah is an sad extreme example of the problem of evil but nothing in the Shoah changes the hashkafic issues at stake. Just after R Eliezer Berkovitz wrote Faith After the Holocaust I heard him speak and asked him couldn’t your book have been written 50 years ago-the issues have been the same for a long time. He agreed that the Holocaust just brought those issues to the forefront they were always there. Certainly contra Fackenheim we don’t believe in a 614 Commandment.

  11. Permit me to include another very strong opinion, advanced by Rav Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag)(1288-1344)in his sefer Milchamot Hashem (included in my book, “Where’s My Miracle:Exploring Jewish Traditions for Dealing with Tragedy”):

    When it is appreciated that evils do not derive directly from God, may He be blessed, it can easily be demonstrated that it is false to say that divine providence extends over all individual members of the human species…. For if God requites every person according to his actions, good or bad – i.e., rewards for good actions or punishments for evil actions…then evil would derive directly from God. However, evil does not stem directly from God, and hence divine providence does not extend over individual people….

  12. Mycroft: I agree. Mass scale horrific suffering existed before the Holocaust. I don’t know any other way to read Eicha and Kinos.

  13. This is probably the most fundamental question that religion should be answering, how does God run the world?
    IMHO Answer-we really don’t know, neither did chazal, neither did moshe rabbeinu. We speculate at our own risk (see the reaction in the rz community to gaza and nachshon wachsman z”l).
    IMHO the real answer is followed by, we do know that there is a master who is reliable so do your job and let him do his (said in a kider,gentler way).

  14. Joel,

    There is a difference between trying to understand what is going to happen in a specific case like Gaza and understanding general rules of how things operate. Obviously we can’t understand specific events but we should be able to have a general framework of how God runs the world and in fact, the Rishonim based on Chazal gave us this. The Rambam describes how he believes Hashem runs the world, Hashgacha Pratis only for Tzadikim, while others disagree.

    My question is how can there be such wide disagreement on the general principles of how things work. How can it be that the Rambam holds that most people have no Hashgacha while others hold that there is hashgacha even on falling leaves? Both the Rambam and his opponents base themselves on statements of Chazal, how can they come to such diametrically opposed positions using the same set of statements in Chazal?

  15. Mycroft, Gil — Nu, so did the 1,000,000 children who perished in the Shoah have Hashgacha Pratit?

  16. Marty: Actually, according to rishonim there doesn’t seem to be much disagreement (if we accept R. Eisemann’s and Dr. Berger’s explanation of the Ramban). Acharonim who accepted Kabbalah expanded the concept of providence.

    IH: The same way the Gemara and Rishonim grappled with the issue, we must also.

  17. “This is probably the most fundamental question that religion should be answering, how does God run the world?”

    Nowadays, this statement is all the more true, as faith is often put in a defensive position on just such issues of chance and hashgocha pratit. Perhaps we cannot have direct evidence for our positions theologically, as demanded by those who “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” but we can distinguish positions by how well they jibe with modern understanding.

    For example, a primary religious argument against evolution (and perhaps extending to much of modern science, deterministic or probabilistic) is its reliance on randomness. While the Rambam’s opinion perhaps might struggle with to explain the “need” for God in the face of modern science, the maximalist hashgocha position (“every leaf…”) can quite elegantly accept that that which appears random to us, is not from above. Random results are taken many times in Tanakh to reflect the will of HaShem. Evolution, daily physical happenings, etc. can be truly random from our perspective, and truly controlled from HaShem’s perspective. Anyone bothered by such contradictions might sit on on a course on 20th century physics.

    I think that one could argue that the evidence requires either an increasing limitation of God or an acceptance of a much broader hashgocha pratit. Though certainly not true for everybody, I know that for me as a physicist and orthodox Jew, the science and faith mesh much more naturally with the maximalist position.

  18. R’ Gil,

    To the best of my knowledge none of the Rishonim held that there is providence on non human beings, in fact, the Chinuch Mitzvah 169 writes:

    “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. ”

    However, there is definitely a dispute between the Chinuch and the Rambam whether Hashgacha applies to every person or not. The Chinuch on the mitzva of לא תקום explains that it makes no sense to take revenge because everything that happens to you comes from Hashem anyway.

    This, in and of itself is quite a large dispute, according to the Rambam most people have no Hashgacha, according to the Chimuch everyone does.

  19. r’1.5,
    funny, I find physics supports both positions rather well (as you say and then as a multiverse might imply that in some universe every eventuality gets played out or onbetween-hkb”h only intervenes when some basic rule [lo aleine the wiping out of klal yisrae]might be violated)

  20. btw a more recent statement of the “it’s all miracles” can be found in the aruch hashulchan:
    ערוך השולחן אורח חיים הלכות ברכת הפירות סימן ריט

    סעיף ב
    ביאור הדברים כמ”ש בריש סי’ הקודם שכל חיותינו וקיומינו הם ע”פ נסים ולא בטבע כמו שאנו אומרים על נסיך שבכל יום עמנו וכו’ והמתבונן בחיי עמנו בני ישראל באריכות גליותינו וגודל פזורינו ראה יראה בעינים פקוחות כי ד’ שוכן בקרבנו תמיד כמו שהבטיחנו בתורתו הקדושה ואף גם זאת וגו’ וזהו מאמרם ז”ל [מגילה כ”ט.] גלו לבבל שכינה עמהם וכו’ כלומר שהכל רואים שקיום בנ”י אינו בטבע כלל וכלל ואף גם בהדורות העושים מעשים לא טובים עכ”ז שכינתו לא סר ממנו כדכתיב [ויקרא טז, טז] השוכן אתם בתוך טומאותם אלא שמייסר אותנו ועל זה נאמר [תהלים קיח, יח] יסור יסרני י’ ולמות לא נתנני וזהו כלליות מצבינו בכלל ובפרט:

    סעיף ג
    אך הנסים נחלקים לשני קצוות עם דרך המיצוע והיינו הקצה האחד כשהנסים גלוים ויוצאים מגדר הטבע לגמרי כמו נסי מצרים וכדומה ועל כאלו צריכים לברך ברכה שעשה נסים לאבותינו או שעשה לי נס וזהו הדינים המבוארים בהסי’ הקודם והקצה השני הנסים הכרוכים לגמרי בהטבע כמו כל פרנסתינו וכל קיומינו ועל זה לא שייך ברכה פרטית ויוצאים בהתפלות התמידיות שמזכירים בם הודאה מודים אנחנו לך וכו’ ועל נסיך וכו’:

    סעיף ד
    ויש עוד מין שלישי והוא ממוצע בין הנסיות ובין הטבעיות והיינו שהעניין הולך בטבע אבל יוצא מעט מגדר הטבע אל טבע הנסיות לדוגמא העובר ארחות ימים וזהו טבע אמנם כאשר יקומו רוחות וסערות קשה ע”פ הטבע שתנצל הספינה ומ”מ אינה יוצאה מגדר הטבע לגמרי כמובן וכ”ש הולכי מדבריות שהם בסכנה עצומה וכן היושב בבית האסורים והחולה שתקפה עליו מחלתו ולכן לברך לשון נס א”א ורק נותן תודה פרטית להשי”ת על הדבר הזה ומצדיק עליו הדין בהברכה שהיסורים שהגיע לו הוי מפני חטאיו והצלתו הוא גמולת טובה מהש”י אך לחייבים:


  21. Joel,

    I certainly don’t think that science puts its stamp on one view. Still, the march of scientific progress has often pushed the realm of divine further and further into dark corners. IMHO, the opinion of the Rambam CAN exacerbate that trend, as it can become harder to see how HaShem interacts with creation. (A metaphorical reading of R’ Soloveichik’s quote perhaps offers one way out). The maximalist opinion, on the other hand, could be seen as demonstrating the the problem of Hashgocha and science is not a problem at all theologically. Simply a difference of Divine and human perspectives.

  22. Simply a difference of Divine and human perspectives.

    I think that answers Hashgacha Clalit, but does not work for Hashgacha Pratit. And I come back to my example: did the 1,000,000 children who perished in the Shoah [each, individually] have Hashgacha Pratit?

  23. R’IH,
    In the maximalist position, yes.
    For those interested, an excellent series on orthodox responses to the holocaust (YHE-SHOAH 5768-5769
    Faith and the Holocaust, by Rav Tamir Granot) can be found here: http://www.vbm-torah.org/shoah.html

  24. R’ Joel — Understood, but I am trying to draw out 1.5 Opinions to understand how his path to the maximalist position satisfies this conundrum within his scientific worldview.

  25. And to expand the discussion: reconcile the hester panim rationale with a God outside of time (either per Rambam or Einstein).

  26. This article mentioned Ramban‘s commentary on Iyov;
    I never heard of before, and I have no idea where I can find a copy of it.

  27. Ye’yasher kochakhem to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student and respondents. In my opinion, it is helpful to distinguish between two separate issues:

    1) One of Rambam’s 13 principles of faith is that HKB”H supervises the conduct and thought of every human being. This is certainly a form of micromanagement in which one is expected to believe. Likewise, another one of Rambam’s 13 principles of faith is that HKB”H rewards the good deeds of every human being and disciplines the misdeeds of every human being. This, too, is certainly a form of micromanagement in which one is expected to believe. Indeed, so begins the first lecture of R. Joseph Ber Soloveitchik recorded in R. Pinchas Peli’s “Al ha-Teshivah”, quoting the gemara in Bava Kamma 50a that it is forbidden for a person to claim that HKB”H is indifferent (“vatran”) to human behaviour.

    2) When we enter the realm of micromanagement over individual animals, here there is a legitimate machaloket Rishonim, and an Orthodox Jew is free to believe whatever he/she pleases. Namely, Tosafot in Avodah Zarah 16b (s.v. dimus patur atah) claim that even animals are micromanaged. Rambam and Ramban (cited in this post) clearly disagree, and assert that the fate of individual animals is left to chance [-though, as R. Leibowitz is mechadesh, one might associate chance with ultimate Providence.]

  28. Marty: See the Chinukh on ma’akeh that I cited in this post: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=49220&st=&pgnum=270

    Mr. Cohen: Kisvei Ha-Ramban vol. 1

    R. Shalom: There is a difference between knowing all that occurs and guiding it via providence. Also, I am not sure that the 13 Ikkarim require belief in reward and punishment *in this world*.

    I believe that Tosafos in Avodah Zarah canbe understood as God directly guiding animals *as they relate to people*. I seem to recall first seeing that interpretation implied in a footnote to R. Aryeh Kaplan’s Handbook of Jewish Thought.

  29. But how much attention, how much direct guidance, does He give to the details?

    I don’t understand how this question makes any theological sense. Human beings do not necessarily plan for or understand all the consequences of their actions, because their minds are limited. But God, being omniscient, should know and intend every consequence of His actions, which means everything that occurs in the world, since He created it. Is the question rather whether we get reward and punishment in this world? If so, there are sources in Chazal indicating it would be better to receive our reward in olam haba, i.e. NOT to have hashgaha pratit!

  30. IH, your source says the Zohar is traditionally ascribed to R’ Yohanan Ben Zakai! How did that one get past the editor?

  31. Hester panim does not mean that God is not acting, merely that we cannot see “His face,” which perhaps means His intentions or reasons. Do I believe that the horrific actions of the Nazis were somehow outside Hashem’s power or ability to control? Absolutely not. But, it is even further beyond my abilities to comprehend than most happenings in the world. I don’t find it at all comforting to think that the children (or anyone else, frankly) died in the Holocaust under Hashem’s watchful care. But I find it no more comforting to think that HaShem just turned his back or was powerless.

  32. Many thanks to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student for his kind response to me as well as the clarifications.

    R’ 1.5 Opinions: In my opinion, the important concerns who raise are addressed by the text of birkat ha-mazon prescribed for the house of mourning by the gemara in Berakhot 46b: “He is good and does good, the true G-d, the true Judge, He judges with righteousness and takes with justice, and He rules His universe to do as He wishes, for all His paths are justice, for all belongs to Him, and we are His people and His servants, and for everything we are obligated to thank Him and bless Him…”

  33. 1.5 Opinions — Again, I have no argument with you regarding a belief in Hashgacha Clalit. The issue is reconciling Hashgacha Pratit with the reality of 1,000,000 individual children murdered, which you have not answered.

    It is one thing to say that God allowed the evil to happen for some overarching reason (e.g. our return to sovereignty in Israel), but it is another to say that one must believe that each of those children has Hashgacha Pratit.

    I won’t press further, but I was hoping you might have some helpful insight into this difficult issue.

  34. The text Mr. Spira cites (or simply the Dayan haEmet beracha itself) is more suggestive to me of a general acceptance of HaShem’s guidance even when the result is a perceived bad than not. We call HaShem “the Judge of Truth” (why IS that prayer always mistranslated?!) to point out that we do not know and cannot know the truth on which the judgement is based. I would guess there are no sources that would suggest we can skip a Dayan HaEmet beracha if we suspect a lack of hashgocha pratit.

  35. IH,

    Why would it be less troubling for a specific child to be murdered because of a hashgocha clalit that had nothing particular to do with that child than to simply believe that HaShem has reasons. Maybe the connection with the Rambam’s view can simply be that the more advanced one’s knowledge of HaShem, the better one may intuit or understand such reasons?

  36. 1.5 Opinions — In theory, it makes no difference; in practice, it makes a great difference. A tragedy of one innocent child is the way of the world; a tragedy of one * 1,000,000 innocent children is not the way of the world.

  37. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that HaShem does control everything, but that His reasons and involvement are often beyond us, but that also, as per Rambam, the more developed intellect (wrt God) will understand those reasons more clearly.

    On a different note, I find it interesting that many people assume that b/c the Rambam was such a rationalist that his views will be the best fit for rationalists today. I many ways, the views of the kabbalists or at least more mystical viewpoints can make more sense with modern understandings of nature and science and the like.

  38. Really?! What’s the cutoff? If your child, God forbid, were to get brutally tortured and murdered, would it be less of a tragedy for you or the child? He who saves one soul, saves the whole world, right?

  39. 1.5 Opinions — I’m sorry, but you are not responding to the point. The issue of theodicy is well traveled territory; the issue of claiming divine supervision of 1,000,000 murdered innocent Jewish children in the Shoah is a different challenge, beyond theodicy. If you do not grapple with that, I am happy for your certainty, but that does not help me.

  40. to be clearer: the issue of claiming divine individual supervision of 1,000,000 murdered innocent Jewish children

  41. I don’t view it as a matter of certainty, and not really one even of comfortable belief. I just don’t quite understand what it means theologically to claim an all-powerful God and claim that God somehow leaving young innocents to nature or to evil humans to be slaughtered is less troubling than believing that some Divine truth and reason existed. What difference does it make to me if God chooses which specific kids get murdered how versus deciding not to intervene when each is murdered? If we’re required to respond to cries for help, should not He? If we can be exempted for good reason, perhaps He too can be.

  42. The issue is divine individual ignoring of the murder of 1,000,000 children. Parents get held accountable for neglect if one child dies under their supervision. I’m not comforted by the rewording of God’s responsibility to be neglect vs. murder. So, I accept either total hashgocha pratit in a world that will seem imperfect to us, or existential discomfort with God.

  43. I sense we’re at loggerheads, but I will leave you with the extreme position as articlated in an exchange of letters following Nagel’s review of Plantinga’s most recent book in the NYRB:

    “[..] the most powerful argument against the existence of God, the argument from evil. The theistic responses to that argument of which I am aware seem unpersuasive, and I find it hard to understand how belief in an all-good and all-powerful deity can survive in the face of it. Even if a theist supposes that the problem has a solution that we humans are unable to grasp, that would mean that God, who created us with the capacity to discover the laws of nature and to find the world scientifically intelligible, has made us incapable of finding the world morally intelligible.”

  44. So, you (1.5 Opinions) and Nagel are both in agreement; but, have simply chosen one of the two polarities. I am still searching for the nuanced version.

  45. Troubling, isn’t it? I suppose if we would all eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we would all be “like divine beings,” in the words of one infamous snake. As a scientist, I’ll work with the scientifically intelligible and struggle with the rest.

  46. Tell me if you find it! Nuance would be nice.

  47. While I am not generally sympatico to Kabbalah, I must say the Lurianic (not Chabad) concepts of Tzimtzum, Shevirat HaKelim and Tikkun strike me as a more nuanced and meaningful way of thinking about this than the binary view you, and Nagel et al, articulate.

    But, I do not know enough to defend/discuss that beyond what my mekubal father a”h tried unsuccessfully to teach me many years ago. So, I am left only with an intuitive sense which I am not presently pursuing.

    As Steve Reich quotes from Wittgenstein: “Explanations come to an end somewhere”.

  48. I think that you misunderstand my view as binary on the opposite side as Nagel. The only binary aspect for me is that I accept the existence of HaShem as all-powerful. My sense of hashgocha pratit is simply what makes more sense to me vis-a-vis philosophy, theology, theodicy, and yes, modern science. It is simplistic, yes, but acknowledged as such, and Baruch Hashem, largely untested by trials on my part.

    I think that modern forms on Lurianic kabbalastic thought provide much of the nuance that is necessary for faith in the modern era, though I am perhaps more sympathetic to the Baal HaTanya’s spin as more philosophically sound than you might. I think that a mystical system of theology is more rational form of belief for the modern world, and allow for both science and expansive hashgocha pratit.

  49. Gil and Marty have both suggested that no rishonim believed in individualized Divine Providence on all creation, but this is not true. See this, for example:

    When Rabbi Yochanan saw a fish owl he exclaimed, “Your justice is carried out even in the depths of the sea.” (Psalms 36:7) – Talmud Chulin 63a

    G-d judges even the fish of the sea and arranges that the fish owl should catch those deserving punishment. [Rashi, on the above quote from the Talmud]

  50. One of the interesting larger themes we have discovered in modern science is that things are interconnected. Species don’t develop in a vacuum. The environmental excesses of one country affect all others. The proverbial butterfly wing flap here can effect the weather there. If a change of winds in one era results in a change in evolutionary outcome in another era, what exactly does it mean to say that HaShem “controls” only certain results for certain individuals. Think of all the coincidental occurrences that must have happened just so for any one person to have been born. If that one person ever were to have hashgocha pratit a la haRambam, aren’t each of those occurrences necessitated? Especially since HaShem is outside of linear time?

  51. Y,

    I was referring to the Rishonim who address the subject explicitly like the Rambam, Ramban, Chinuch, etc. Rashi is just explaining the Gemara there.

    BTW, what do the Rambam, Ramban, Chinuch, etc. do with this Gemara?

  52. IH: The Holocaust is a challenge to your faith, but the Great Leap Forward, in which 30 million people died, including at least 2.5 million who were executed, is not? Or are Chinese lives worth less than Jewish ones? Or is anything justified in service of left wing ideology, but not in service of right wing ideology?

  53. Marty, that’s a good question. Do any of those rishonim arguing for more restrictive version of Divine Providence address the Nachum Gamzu story, or relatedly, R’ Akiva’s statement that everything the Merciful One does is for the best?

    I’m not aware of any rishon philosophically discussing the idea of individual divine providence over animals, but the general statements from rishonim like Rabbeinu Bachya and R’ Avraham ben Rambam certainly suggest that everything in the world is indeed directed by Hashem. For example, here’s a quote from Rabbeinu Bachya (in Chovot ha-Levavot), from the 11th century:

    “We ought to trust in God with the trust of one, fully convinced that all things and movements, together with their advantageous and injurious results happen by the decree of the Eternal, under His authority and according to His sentence.”

  54. 1.5 Opinions — Again, you seem to be conflating Hashgacha Clalit with Hashgacha Pratit: viz. species vs. individual.

    Further, how do you respond to Nagel’s argument that if God “has a solution that we humans are unable to grasp, that would mean that God, who created us with the capacity to discover the laws of nature and to find the world scientifically intelligible, has made us incapable of finding the world morally intelligible.”?

  55. I think there’s a few paragraphs in Moreh in which Rambam tries to prove by quoting a few pesukim from Tanank that there is no individualized Divine Providence when it comes to animals. However, he leaves out a lot of lines in Tehillim that certain suggest otherwise (such as in Tehillim 104 and many other places).

    As for humans, I think Rambam implicitly distinguishes between the concepts of divine justice and divine providence. He thinks one doesn’t really benefit from divine providence without attaining some knowledge of G-d or piety (similar to how in Tehillim, trust in G-d seems linked to Providence). However, Rambam says that if a ship sinks and a person is on the ship and dies, that is definitely something Hashem did to that person because he deserved it. I think he also endorses the idea from the Gemara that there is no tribulation without transgression — even getting pricked by a thorn or putting your shirt on backwards or whatever is sent by Hashem as a punishment (or for some other reason). So really, even if Rambam might not think that *everything* that happens to a person is from Hashem, certainly he seemed to think that everything of any significance was.

  56. AJL,

    I have read R’ Leibowitz’s book and it is not very convincing.

  57. marty:
    The reference there is to the gemara you quotes – that is why I referenced it. Do these rishonim have to “answer” up that agadic gemara?

  58. I wonder what does the Ramban mean by ‘all our matters and circumstances are miraculous, that they do not follow nature or the general course of the world–this is true regarding the nation and the individual’?

    It seems to me he is talking about human affairs, not about laws of nature. I will try and read the Ramban inside, but from my initial reading it seems to me that comparing these ‘matters and circumstances’ to gravity is comparing apples to oranges. Human affairs relates to human consciousness, desire, will and actions. Laws and forces of nature relate to atoms and molecules. Of course, there is an interplay between consciousness and atoms and molecules – our brains are made up of cells, which are made up of molecules, etc. But I don’t think there is an identification between the two – consciousness seems to be more than just the chemico-electric impulses of neurons. I imagine that it’s possible to read the Ramban in that way also (again, judging solely from the quoted translation above).

    Using more modern language, perhaps the quote should be loosely translated as ‘the matters and circumstances of our conscious and free will decisions and actions do not follow nature or the general course of the world – this is true both for national and individual decisions and actions’.

    This statement would not be applicable, though, to the ‘physical world’ of atoms and molecules and the laws that govern them.

    With that said, I would like to note this quote from a book a philosophy of science book by a man named Alex Rosenberg called (funny enough) Philosophy of Science (the quote starts on page 82):

    “…By contrast, Newtonian gravity is not a ‘contact’ force. It is a force that is transmitted across all distances at infinite speed apparently without any energy being expended. It moves continually through total vacuums, in which there is nothing to carry it from point to point. Unlike anything else it is a force against which nothing can shield us. And yet it is a force itself completely undetectable except through its effects as we carry masses from areas of greater gravitational force (like the earth) to areas of lesser gravitational force (like the moon). All in all, gravity is a theoretical entity so different from anything else we encounter in our observations, that these observations do not help us much to understand what it could be. And it is a thing so different from other causal variables that one might be pardoned for doubting its existence, or at least being uncomfortable about invoking it to explain anything. One would not be surprised by a centuries-long search for some ‘mechanical’ explanation of how gravity works or even better some less mysterious substitute for it.

    Most of Newton’s contemporaries felt this discomfort with the notion of gravity, and some followers of Descartes tried to dispense with it altogether. But neither they nor later physicists were prepared to dispense with the notion. For dispensing with gravity means giving up the inverse square law of gravitational attraction,

    F = gm1 m2/s2

    and no one is prepared to do this. Gravity thus seems an ‘occult’ force, whose operation is no less mysterious than those which non-scientific explanations like astrological horoscopes invoke to allay our curiosity. And the same may be said of other such unobservable notions…”

    According to the above, one can wonder what exactly it is that is ‘pulling’ the rock down when I let go of it. May G-d be the ‘occult’ behind this mysterious force. Of course, we may someday have a ‘scientific’ explanation – but one can always wonder if that explanation itself will require an explanation.

  59. IH,

    My point is that the distinction between hashgocha pratit and hashgocha clalit neither makes entirely that much sense in an interconnected world, nor is it a comfortable blanket for me when it comes to the problem of evil. The death of an innocent due to the possible sins of a group with which they are affiliated is just as troubling to me as the death of an innocent for unknown reasons. It is still an individual dying.

    My only response to the issue of a lack of moral intelligibility is the reference above to Bereishit 2. To know God’s would be to be God. We should try to understand Hashem’s works, but understand that we are fundamentally limited in that respect.

    Look, if I could know every consequence, big and small, for everyone, everywhere in the future to every decision I ever make, I would be utterly paralyzed and be unable to make any decisions. Should I be troubled that consequences are, in that respect, unintelligible to me?

  60. 1.5 Opinions — A good discussion. Thanks for the exchange of ideas.

  61. Enjoyed. Tomorrow…back to work.

  62. Look, if I could know every consequence, big and small, for everyone, everywhere in the future to every decision I ever make, I would be utterly paralyzed and be unable to make any decisions.
    I doubt it, you probably would learn to live with it because not deciding is a decision, and you would develop an (intuitive?) algorithm to maximize the plusses and minimize the minuses. After all, imitato dei – so if hashgacha pratit is as iiuc you understand, that in fact is what hkb”h does on a universal scale.

  63. HaShem can do it. I cannot. That really doesn’t bother me.

  64. Ramban on the rainbow (Genesis 9:12):

    ואנחנו על כורחנו נאמין לדברי היונים שמלהט השמש באוויר הלח יהיה הקשת בתולדה, כי בכלי מים לפני השמש יראה כמראה הקשת, וכאשר נסתכל עוד בלשון הכתוב נבין כן, כי אמר את קשתי “נתתי” בענן, ולא אמר “אני נותן” בענן, כאשר אמר זאת אות הברית אשר “אני נותן”. ומלת קשתי מורה שהייתה לו הקשת תחלה. ולכן נפרש הכתוב, הקשת אשר נתתי בענן מיום הבריאה תהיה מן היום הזה והלאה לאות ברית ביני וביניכם, שכל זמן שאראנה אזכיר כי ברית שלום ביני וביניכם

    Don’t sound like he doesn’t believe in “nature.”

  65. Rabbi Student,

    See Rabbeinu Bachye’s introduction to Parashas Ki Sisa, where he expands upon the Ramban at the end of Bo that you initially referenced.

    It is quite clear that Ramban meant that what looks like “nature” is really a “hidden miracle.” What makes it looks like nature is that it happens every time.

    Rav Dessler, based on a Gemara, uses oil burning as an example. The fact that oil burns is a miracle, just as miraculous as if water would burn. But G-d makes oil burn every time, so we become accustomed to this miracle and call it “nature.”

    The laws of nature were set, and, except for possible rare exceptions where G-d trumps His laws of nature, they always work. The righteous can be protected from their consequences, just as they can be protected from every other facet of “mikre,” but otherwise G-d will still perform His “miracles of nature” faithfully, even if there is some collateral damage, i.e. consequences that were not the original intent of the reason this “miracle” is being performed.

    G-d does micromanage the world, but that micromanaging includes deciding in each and every circumstance whether to allow nature to take its course or to intervene. As Chazal say, “Satan prosecutes during times of danger,” as things that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred do occur based on the circumstances, unless the person deserves to be protected.

    The starting point for all creations is to be left unprotected. G-d knows what the consequences of being unprotected are for each and every circumstance, and intervenes when appropriately deserved. As Meiri (Soteh 2a) says, being left unprotected (for humans) is a form of punishment, as they could have reached a level of deserving divine protection and didn’t.

    Although the decision as to whether to leave someone (or something) unprotected can be called “hashgacha pratis,” if the decision is to leave him/her/it unprotected, “hashgacha klalis” applies.

    Ramban is not addressing hashgacha klalis vs. hashgacha pratis at the end of Parashas Bo, but whether there is anything that is “nature” or if everything is done by G-d. As we say in davening every day, “ha’m’chadesh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh b’reishis,” i.e. G-d didn’t just set the world in motion and let it run on its own, but is actively involved in every part of existence, including making the laws of nature work every time.

    The only real difference between Rambam and Ramban on this matter seems to be who qualifies to be a “tzadik” who deserves to be protected from nature; Rambam says one must be connected to G-d at that moment in order to be protected, Ramban implies that it depends on one’s level of righteousness.

    Keep up the good work!

  66. I think that the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo can be understood simply that there are numerous scientific and technological advances in every generation that we take for granted without realizing that each such discovery represents man’s Divinely Inspired step forward from that which had been not known or even dreamed of in prior generations. That is what is meant as Hamechadesh es Tuvo bchol Yom Tamid Maaseh Breishis.

  67. Two very interesting articles on the topic from R. Shmuel Ariel:


  68. J,

    Thanks, those are really good articles expounding the shita that there isn’t hashgacha on everything.

  69. Sorry about commenting on this topic after it has become ‘passe’ (at least in this blog), but there are important considerations that have not been mentioned. There are serious problems with the extreme positions outlined. If detailed divine providence extends to everything in the world, then GOD can be considered responsible for all the evil that exists since He has not prevented its occurrence. Nor can the possible constraint on divine action by the requirement of allowing free will be invoked when it comes to the suffering and death of innocents by disease. There is just too much suffering in this world to be sanguine about the idea of general hashgacha pratit. On the other hand, if such hashgacha is confined to the spiritually and intellectually elite, then were does that leave the relationship between GOD and the rest of us? How can ‘ordinary’ mortals, even if religious and well intentioned, expect to have a relationship with such a distant deity.
    My answer to the above dilemma is that neither extreme position should be adopted. We cannot understand GOD’s manner of interacting with people – why some seem favored and others not, but must assume that He is concerned with our individual fates. That is, we must assume that we can develop a relationship with Him. Such a relationship and evidence of apparent personal divine guidance is an important feature in the life of a religious person.

    As an example of a way of looking at life’s experiences in this fashion, is the daily commute that most of us drivers have. How often have we found ourselves a split second from a possibly fatal car crash? As in “Wow, I didn’t see that car coming, it’s a good thing I didn’t make that intended lane shift”, or “I just made a dumb move, it’s good that I escaped unharmed”. Some would call it ‘luck’, a religious person would, instead, attribute it to divine providence – particularly if it has happened many times.

    In sum, it’s important to inculcate a sense of a personal connection to a caring GOD while having a realistic sense of the everyday tragedies that occur in the greater world.

  70. My opinion is that Gd only gets involved in major political events. Everything in the bible points to that. Nothing done for an individual was done without an end result that effected the masses. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, jacob, Joseph, Moses , korah, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon. All occurrences of divine interactions in their lifetimes have been for the greater good of the nation.

    No external or rabbinical or cabalistic proofs are necessary. It’s all simply in the bible. The biblical character’s interaction with Gd is proof enough.

  71. To me its all the same. Either everything is from Hashem (Ramban), or you make it into Hashem’s plan (Rambam) by thinking/saying “gam zu letova” and the like. So there seems to be no nafka mina as long as you choose to believe it is all from Hashem

  72. I very highly recommend this (Hebrew) shi’ur series delivered by Rabbi Aharon Lewi of the “Arachim” organization in Israel. Based on Ba’al HaSulam, R’ Lewi reviews the stances held by multiple Rishonim, followed by that of the Ba’al Shem Tov, and summarily offers a method of melding the (seemingly) opposed views together:

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