Now before you academics get into a tizzy based on my title, pointing out the different levels of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) from Moreh Nevuchim and the idea of Hashgacha Klalis (general providence, as opposed to specific providence) in seforim like the Sefer HaChinuch & Shomer Emunim (cited here), you must know that there are different levels of Hashgacha. But before understanding how the Rambam agreed with the Baal Shem Tov that Hashem's hashgacha is on every individual detail of creation, we must first see the first side of the Stira in the Rambam.
The Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim, Vol. III, ch. 17 the following (translation by Chabad.org):
The approach of our Torah is that… Divine Providence focuses on the individual only in regard to the human species… With regard to animals and how much more so, with regard to plants… [His] Providence governs the species as a whole, but not its individual components.It might appear for this and similar statements that the Rambam is making a blanket statement that there is no hashacha pratis (specific Divine Providence) of any kind on every detail of the world, including animals and inanimate objects.
(And in ch. 18:) Divine Providence does not rest upon all men equally…. As to the fools who rebel [against Him],… their interests will be loathed and will be controlled by the [natural] order as are those of the animals. To them can be applied the verse:7 "He (a sinner) is comparable to the animals who cannot speak."
However, this cannot be true.
The Yerushalmi in Shvi'is 9:1 tells the story of what happened when Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar left the cave after 13 years of hiding. "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 ." "[Rebbi Shimon and his son] went out by the mouth of the cave and they saw a man trapping birds with a net. They heard a Bas Kol [heavenly voice] call out "Free!" and the bird got away. He [Rashbi] said: A bird will not be saved without the help of Heaven, how much the more so human beings." We see from this that Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar viewed whether or not a bird is captured in a net as being the will of Hashem, and not only part of some automatic mechanistic system called "nature."
Also, The the Baal HaTanya points out that the Gemara in Chulin 63a, says, "ר' יוחנן כי הוה חזי שלך אמר (תהילים לו) משפטיך תהום רבה." "When Rav Yochanan would see a heron, he would say 'Your judgments are in the lowly depths [since You judge that this particular heron should kill this particular fish].'" The Rambam would not be able to simply ignore this Gemara.
Actually, the Rambam himself implies in many places that he agrees with the approach to Hashgacha Pratis that was later articulated by the Baal Shem Tov. He says in Hilchos Teshuva 6:2 , "בזמן שאדם אחד, או אנשי מדינה חוטאים, ועושה החוטא חטא שעשה מדעתו וברצונו, כמו שהודענו--ראוי להיפרע ממנו; והקדוש ברוך הוא יודע היאך ייפרע." "When one person or the people of a nation sin, the sinner sins of his own will, and as I have said, it is appropriate for him to be punished. And Hashem knows how to punish [him]." The Rambam here is speaking of sinners, both Jews and non-Jews. He does not limit the scope of his statement to intellectually accomplished Jews or even Jews in general. He says that Hashem is mashgiach over them (supervises them) both in the fact of the punishment and in the specific method of punishment that is appropriate to each individual. This would clearly fall outside the scope of the superficial meaning of what he said in Moreh Nevuchim.
The Rambam also says in Hilchos Teshuva 6:5 that "לפי שחטא מעצמו תחילה והרע לישראל ... נתן הדין למנוע ממנו התשובה." "Since [Par'oh] sinned on his own first and harmed the Jewish people... Hashem judged him by withholding Teshuva from him." You see from this also that even Par'oh, who is certainly not the kind of elevated person being referred to in Moreh Nevuchim, has hashgacha pratis that defines what happens to him in this world according to the Rambam, and he isn't merely subject to some automatic and mechanistic system of natural law. (While the Rambam in M.N. merely asserts a greater level of "Hashgacha Pratis" over elevated people, he does not differentiate here between how this principal would apply to Paroh vs. a regular gentile vs. a Jew.)
Actually, Rambam himself openly states that Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) applies to every detail of creation! In laying out the contradiction between Divine knowledge and the existance of free will, the Rambam says " דע שהכול בחפצו ייעשה, ואף על פי שמעשינו מסורין לנו." "You should know that everything is done according to [Hashem's] will, and nevertheless our actions are in our hands." (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 5:7) The Rambam identifies the source of the apparant Knowledge/Choice contradiction in terms of nothing happening except through His will one one hand, and our free choice on the other hand.
Furthermore, one can also see that same shita (holding) from the continuation of that Ramabam. He goes on to say that in reality, Hashem's knowledge [of our future choices for example] is beyond our comprehension since He and His "knowledge" are One with His Essence. He then says that due to this fact, "אין בנו כוח לידע היאך ידע הקדוש ברוך הוא כל הברואים ומעשיהם." "We do not have the ability to know how the Holy One knows all creatures and their actions" (Hilchos Teshuva 5:12). But how could the Rambam say that it is impossible to understand this? The Rambam could have just answered very simply. Hashem knows what people will do in the future, in the same way that people are aware of what they themselves did in the past. But just as a person's knowledge of what he did in the past does not alter the free choice with which he acted, so too Hashem's awareness of what we "will" choose does not imply any control over that choice; merely knowledge of it!
So why doesn't the Rambam give this answer? It seems that, as I brought from the Rambam above, "שהכול בחפצו ייעשה," nothing happens without Hashem desiring it. If nothing happens without Hashem desiring it, and this is all implied by Hashem's knowledge as the Rambam said, which is One with His Essence (k'vayachol), then this would indeed be a major contradiction to the very existance of free will. It is not so much Hashem's knowledge of what we "choose" that is the yediah/bechira problem, then, but rather the fact that Hashem's hashgacha controls every molecule of creation that creates the problem. If this were not the case, then the Rambam wouldn't have had to leave the free will issue as an איבעיא דלא אפשטא, an unanswered question. The reason must be that the Rambam recognizes Hashem's direct control over every part of creation.
It would seem that at least the Mei Hashiloach, clearly a talmid of the Derech HaBaal Shem Tov, thought that it was obvious that there is no stira, contradiction, between the Rambam's shita and the Baal Shem Tov's approach because he essentially advocates the Rambam's shita without even bothering to explain why there is no stira. He says at at the bottom of the first column in Parshas Bamidbar that while Hashem is "mashgiach al kol nefesh b'frat," "supervises every soul specifically" by the Jewish people, with regard to the nations of the world, he is only "[mashgiach] al kulam b'chlal l'kiyum hamin," "supervises them all in a general way for the perpetuation of the [human] race." This is essentially the Rambam's shita, yet it seems that it is obvious to him that this does not contradict the general approach of the Baal Shem Tov! But for us, who may not know how to resolve the apparant stira within the Rambam himself and the apparant stira some see between the Rambam and the Baal Shem Tov's approach, what is the resolution?
There are several approaches to understanding why the Rambam is not a stira either with himself of the explanation of the Baal Shem Tov.
One reason why the Rambam's statement about no hashgacha on every creature and inanimate object in creation is not in conflict with the Baal Shem Tov's approach is that the type of Divine Providence that the Rambam was talking about was was one that went hand-in-hand with the concept of reward and punishment. Since animals, inaniment objects and molecules don't get reward & punishment, they can't be subject to the type of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) that the Rambam was discussing. Whereas, in terms of Hashem decreeing every detail of creation, of course the Rambam would not deny that this is the reality. This is the approach taken by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, here.
One of my rebbeim has a different approach. He says that the different approaches to Hashgacha Pratis are talking about the following two types of what may both be called "Hashgacha Pratis." #1) The notion that Hashem controls and decrees every aspect of creation is the "type" of Hashgacha Pratis that virtually everyone, including the Rambam, agree with, as is evident from what he wrote in Hilchos Teshuva above and from the fact that the Gemara says this as well. #2) The notion that there is an interactive Providence whereby the actions, midos and tefillos of a person will "affect" the way that Hashem relates to that person is the "type" of Hashgacha Pratis which is unique to human beings, and especially to those who have elevated themselves.
The Rambam, the Shomer Emunim, the Sefer Hachinuch and the Mei Hashiloach quoted above were rejecting the notion that the second type of Hashgacha Pratis applies to all humans equally, or to animal, plant life or to inanimate objects. They are teaching us that it is foolish to think that if your cat Mittens is merciful on the next mouse that enters the house, that Hashem will mida-keneged-mida, measure-for-measure exhibit commensurate kindness to Mittens. However, they would not deny the fact that the infinite G-d is present and in control of every detail of Creation. Were this not the case, those details would represent an absence of Hashem, Chalila, which would contradit the fact of His infiniteness.
Regardless of which approach to understanding the coexistance of these two general statements about Hashgacha Pratis, an ancillary question, though, would be: Why do academics and academically oriented Orthodox Jews as well, feel so married to this idea that Hashem is not be involved and close in every aspect of our lives? Naturally, they would answer that it is brave, intellectual honesty that motivates them! I have my own ideas about this but I'm curious to hear what others think as well. Let the sparks fly!
Update: See my new clarifying post HERE)
(Picture courtesy of NasaExplores.com)
Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox.