Monday, July 18, 2016

Hashgocha Pratis, what does it really mean?

The popular current view especially in the Charedi world of Hashgacha Pratis is that everything is a gezera from heaven and a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed in heaven. 

However, the fact is that this is not the traditional view of the Rishonim and in Chazal we find some statements that seem to point to everything is under hashgacha (for example the Gemara in Chullin 7b "אין אדם נוקף אצבעו מלמטה אלא אם כן מכריזין עליו מלמעלה") while there are other statements that explicitly state that there are things not under hashgacha (for example Bava Basra 144b אמר ר' חנינא: הכול בידי שמים, חוץ מצינים פחים, whatever that means or Moed Katan 28a חיי, בני ומזוני, לא בזכותא תליא מילתא, אלא במזלא תליא מילתא).

Some of the greatest Rishonim, the Ramban and the Rambam both write explicitly that Hashgacha is nowhere near absolute and there is no Hashgacha whatsoever on animals. Other Rishonim (Ran, Rashba, Meiri) as well agree that hashgacha is not absolute. In fact, it is hard to find any Rishonim who hold like the common (mis)conception that even a leaf falling is under hashgacha. The Chinuch for example is very unclear what he holds about people, but he writes sharply that it makes no sense to think that there is hashgacha on non-human beings (he writes in Mitzva 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.). The Chovos Halevovos may hold that there is Hashgacha on everything but he is certainly in the minority if not a דעת יחיד.

A number of acharonim explain the story of Yosef and the pit in Parshas Vayeshev based on this. When the brothers are planning on killing Yosef, Reuven saves him by suggesting throwing 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. 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.

We see an amazing point here, not only is Hashgacha not absolute but free will can trump hashgacha. A person could have been judged on Rosh Hashanah for life and yet, still die that year because another person used their free will to kill him. 

We have to ask a number of questions:
1. How can it be that the Charedi world has adopted a position regarding Hashgacha that is against almost all the Rishonim and many Acharonim?
2. How can anyone really believe this?

I think that the answer to question 1 is as follows. We see that the Charedi world has moved away from a rationalistic position and has fully adopted a Kabbalistic/Mystical position. Within a kabalistic/mystical world where mitzvos create spiritual energy which affects the physical world and things like mezuzos act like shields, it makes a lot of sense to adopt the position that the physical world is meaningless and everything happens based on Hashgacha. It is also fits the current Charedi worldview of Torah only. If everything is anyway from Hashem then why bother working, it is meaningless anyway. 

Question 2 has really bothered me for many years. According to current Charedi thought best expressed by R' Dessler and the Chazon Ish, hishtadlus is completely ineffectual and is just a tax. A person should do the minimum hishtadlus possible because it doesn't work anyway. 

I found this hashkafa to be completely untenable. I could not accept that the whole world is one big fake and nothing that human beings do has any purpose or meaning. And the truth is, the Charedi world doesn't believe it either. When R' Elyashiv needed to have heart surgery, they flew in the top cardiac/blood vessel surgeon from Cleveland (a religious Catholic) to do the surgery. This completely contradicts R' Desslers view. 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. The same goes for politics and government money. The Charedi press and people got apoplectic when Lapid cut the budget for the Yeshivas. They blamed him personally, Yet, according to their hashkafa, it's not him, it's hashem. He has no power to do anything. The money doesn't come from him it comes from hashem, so why get upset?

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. So when you really think about it, there are no experts, it is all an illusion, no doctor is better then any other doctor, Lionel Messi is not better then Joe soccer player, it's all an illusion and it's only because Hashem wills it that Messi scores a goal.

When you put it that way, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. but that really is the logical conclusion of this hashkafa. 

Th bottom line is that no one really believes that everything is under hashgacha because everyone looks at the world and sees cause and effect.

The next post will draw additional conclusions from this dispute.


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