Monday, May 01, 2006

Hashgacha pratis: the Besh"t vs. the Chinuch

The Besh”t is to have proven the power of hashgacha pratis to his talmidim. He had them follow an individual leaf which feel from a tree and watched as it landed atop a worm trapped out in a sunny field to provide it a little shade. I could not find the exact makor for this, but you can find it referenced here, here, here, here (this one takes patience), here (#2) – etc. etc.
Contrast with the Sefer HaChinuch in Parshas Metzora (169), which I quote -

"There are groups of people who think hashem's hashgacha encompases everything in the world, all living creatures [I.e. animals] and all other things, meaning nothing moves in this world without G-d decreeing so, so that they think if a leaf falls from a tree it is because G-d decreed for it to fall, and it is impossible for it to fall a second earlier or later than that appointed time. This concept is far removed from intelligence (rachok harbeh min haseichel)."
The Chinuch goes on to say that to deny hashgacha completely is also wrong. The correct philosophy is that there is a general providence, "hashgacha klalit", on all living things, so that no species should become extinct, but not on particular creatures. (Incidentally, even before the advent of the theory of evolution, this is why dinosaur bones cause such a ruckus even to Christian theologians, who shared a similar view re: extinction – here was evidence of mass extinctions having occurred contrary to this view of the Chinuch and other rishonim.) The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim takes essentially the same view: hasgacha klalit applies to all mankind, but he excludes animals completely. I discussed this with a talmid chacham over Shabbos who could not offhand name a single rishon who held of the broad view of hashgacha the Besh"t spoke of.
Can anyone explain how and why chassidus just dropped the approach of the rishonim on this issue (and please don't just give me the mareh makom to the Rebbe's sicha - I do not fully understand it, so you have to explain it if you do)?


  1. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Look in the new Minchas Chinuch...I think on the mitzva of Oso v'es b'no. (If it's not there, check shiluach hakan.) There's tons of notes there, and they mention something of a machlokes rishonim regarding this issue.

    Also, there's a gemara in Chullin (in the first perek, I think it's 7a, but it's been quite a while). It says that a person does not a injure his thumb in this world without it having been decreed by God, or something very similar to that.

  2. You guess correctly that I do not own the new minchas chinuch - bl"n I will have to check your mareh makom. The gemara in chulin does say that, but the rishonim ignored that aggadita in favor of others. I don't think you can debate the issue on the gemara level (i.e. what did chazal 'really' hold) because there are aggaditos either way, which is why I am framing the question as how besht interpreted chazal vs. how the rishonim did.

  3. Anonymous2:15 PM

    My friend, the new M'CH renders the old one completely obsolete. It's bittul torah to use an old one. You're shackling yourself for no reason. (There's no s'char for spending 10 minutes on obscure roshei teivos.) Go spend 50 bucks and get yourself a new one. It's better than a Frenkel Rambam, better than the new Mishna Berura, better than the Oz V'hadar Shas. It is the most impressive improvement to any sefer that I have ever seen. Go buy it. Go. Right now.

  4. I took a look at shiluach hakan - the footnotes there cite the same Rambam in Moreh. I want to hear some rishon who would adopt the approach of the Besht. There is definitely a societal trend to adopt the Beshtian mindset - how often have you heard a story of the guy who b'hashgacha pratis just missed the plane that crashed, or who lost his job only to geta better one, etc. The rishonim I have seen do not think things work that way.

  5. Anonymous3:57 PM

    I am not sure that this is Chasidus vs. "litvish", for lack of a better term, issue. I have heard that the idea of Hashgacha pratis as understood by the Besh"t was also put forward by the Gr"a.

    See Sifsei Chaim, the volume titled Emunah V'hashgacha by Rav Chaim Friedlander, in particular, the first 2 ma'amarim and probably later ones as well. He deals with this great detail, bringing in sources from the Nefesh HaChayim, Ramchal and Rambam. Primarily his goal is to define terms and ideas with precision, and to make distinctions among the shitas.

  6. I avoided the term litvish, because in this case it is Rishonim (Chinuch, Rambam, Ramban, others) vs Besh"t, or if you like, vs. other achronim. I do not have access to a copy of Sifsei Chaim - can you please provide a mareh makom to the Nefesh haChaim which would support a formulation akin to the Besht"s - I would like to take a look bl"n.

  7. Anonymous7:13 PM

    Nefesh HaChayim Sha'ar Aleph, Perek 2. Discusses in what sense Hashem created/creates the world. I do not know if the Nefesh Hachayim's definition of Hashgacha is exactly the same as the Besh't, it can (like most things) probably be argued both ways. It is certainly Rav Friedlander's position that the 2 are very similar.

  8. I do not see the relevance, and in fact, would argue that it is mashma exactly the opposite. All the mystical framework of the Nefesh haChaim adds is that the impact of mitzvos/aveiros reverberates in celestial olamos which then interact with this world. Hashgacha pratis means G-d is personally watching and controlling the move of every creature in the world - not that natural or supernatural laws of any type govern their occurance. According to the Rishonim the natural laws of teva govern what happens; according to R' Chaim Volozhiner supernatural laws of the interaction of celestial olamos govern what happens. In either case it is not by direct intervention of G-d in each and every micro occurance in the world. This is addressed nicely in the Shiurei Da'as in the essays on Nes and Teva.

  9. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Wow that was a great article. It really helped me write my senior thesis on Hasgacha pratis

  10. Anonymous10:23 PM

    "the guy who b'hashgacha pratis just missed the plane that crashed, or who lost his job only to geta better one, etc"

    I don't think this is necessarily a contradiction to the rambam. a) there are levels of attachment to God. People sometimes distingusih between the ramban and rambam's view, but the ramban seemed to think that he had the same understanding of hashgacha with the rambam. b) I think the rambam allows for people to benefit from hashgacha for the sake of the tzaddik.

  11. It's usually this Yerushalmi that's cited:

    תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת שביעית דף כה/ב
    ר"ש בן יוחי עביד טמיר במערתא תלת עשר שנין במערת חרובין דתרומה עד שהעלה גופו חלודה לסוף תלת עשר שנין אמר לינה נפיק חמי מה קלא עלמא נפיק ויתיב ליה על פומא דמערתא חמא חד צייר צייד ציפרין פרס מצודתי' שמע ברת קלא אמרה דימוס ואישתיזב' ציפור אמר ציפור מבלעדי שמיא לא יבדא כ"ש בר נשא

    Personally, I believe the Besht proactively and deliberately "compelled" Hashem to change His hanhagah.