Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Machlokes Does Not Truly Exist

The following is a translation of Maamar 41 of Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava in the 5th Volume of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, beginning on page 208. It is a fundamental yesod which sheds light on all machlokes'n whether it be Rambam/Baal Shem Tov, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld/Rav Kook, Eipschutz/Emden, Baal HaTanya/GR"A, Rebbe Nachman/Shpoler Zeidi, etc. etc. etc. It is so fundamental that I wanted to translate the whole Maamar directly (only 4 pages):

Hashgacha (Providence) - General and Specific

The machlokes (dispute) of the Rishonim and Acharonim (medieval & later scholars) with regard to Hashem's specific Providence is well known. Some hold that there is specific providence for every created and formed thing and over every single detail, even the most minute. In contrast, there are those that hold that specific providence only exists for mankind. However, other created things do not have specific providence, only general providence, i.e. only toward the perpetuation of the species. For example, if there are 1,000 donkeys in the world and it is decreed that two hundred of them shall die, it makes no differnce which ones die. It will be two hundred without any calculation (unless they have owners, in which case it would make a difference to a human being).

It is Clear That There is Total Hashgacha Pratis

First, one must understand that it is impossible for there to be an opinion that there not be Hashgacha Pratis on any created thing, because if were the case, these would not be in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but only in the hands of "nature." But who created this "nature" that we speak of? Hashem! It comes out, then that nature is Elokim (As is known from the Kuzari [that the gematria of "Hateva," nature, is Elokim]). It comes out then, that whether we define this as Hashgacha Pratis by Hashem or whether we define it as left to the designs of nature, the bottom line is that everything is Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and that nature is also Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Everything is directed by Hashem. Not only this, but if we would assume that, in truth, there is no cause at all as to which donkey should die, then why, in truth, does one donkey die and not another? If there is no reason, why couldn't it just as easily be the opposite? We must say that there is a cause because nothing happens in creation without some cause. Therefore, we must understand those Rishonim and Acharonim who hold that all non-people are supervised by Hashgacha Klalis (General Providence).

Truth, its Borders and Limits

Before we explain the topic of Hashgacha, we must first explain a general Yesod (foundation) in our general way of understanding things; an extremely vital one for anyone who wants to understand kedusha (holiness). Everyone knows that 1+2=3. Who set this? By external apearances, we would immediately say that this is reality! However, from a deeper perspective we must understand that this reality that 1+2=3 is indeed reality, but it is a reality that Hashem created. Hakadosh Baruch Hu could have also created it that 1+2 would equal 4! This appears to us to be lacking in any logic. However, this is because we were created within the confines of Creation, and we can only perceive a reality that fits the truth of our Creation. However, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is infinite, and in the infinite, there are no limitations. It is possible that 1+2 would equal 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. etc. There is no end to the possibilities. We learn from here that whenever we speak [of reality or truth], we are not speaking of absolute truth, of infinite truth. Rather, we are speaking of a truth that we can comprehend.

Another Example to Assist in Understanding the Matter

Let us give another example of how the truth that we live with is a relative truth for created beings, and not infinite, absolute truth.

Moshe Rabbeinu said to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, "שְׁלַח-נָא, בְּיַד-תִּשְׁלָח," "Send the one whom You usually send" (Shmos 4:13). The Ramban explains that Moshe thought that he was the worst of all people. How could it be that Moshe Rabbeinu thought that he was the worst of all? The answer s very simple. We define everything by our definitions. It appears to us that two meters is greater than one meter. However,, in truth, according to infinite truth, it could be the opposite, that one meter is greater. Therefore, when a person comes to calculate whether he is greater than his friend, even if according to true human measures he is a greater Tzadik and more of a Talmid Chacham, etc. etc., thevertheless, it could be that he could be on a lower level than his friend.

The Deeper Reality of Purim

This is the secret of Purim's "לא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי," "not knowing the difference between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordechai." (Megillah 7b) In truth, they are both the same, but only on the level of "לא ידע," "not knowing," since on the level of "knowing," we cannot understand this. (This is not carried out on a practical level however, since according to halacha one must conduct himself according to Shulchan Aruch, since that is Hashem's will, v'dai l'maivin.)

We have given two examples, but the person of understanding will see that everything that we "understand" could also be the opposite. We do not discuss the true reality according to the perspective of The Infinite. Rather, we always talk about a perception of the truth according to our own limitations, according to our own bounded comprehension. If Chazal said that "such and such does not exist," this does not mean that it, in true reality, does not exist. Rather, [it means] that in our limited world, no such thing exists. All of their [Chazal's] words were only said according to our understanding, and not according to reality according to the perspective of The Infinite.

The Explanation of Those Rishonim Who Say That There is No Hashgacha Pratis

Now we can understand and comprehend the opinion of those Rishonim and Acharonim who hold that there is only Hashgacha Pratis on mankind. Their words can be understood in the following way: Certainly, there is hashgacha pratis on every created thing. However, we cannot ever comprehend this. With regard to human beings, we can understand a little of why one specific person dies and not another. This could be because of his sins in this gilgul (incarnation) or another one, or the like. But with regard to animals and other created things, we cannot understand at all why this specific animal should die and not another. We cannot recognize any essential, inner difference between one animal and another. And therefore, we we cannot understand why this one needs to live and this one needs to die. This is what they mean by asserting that there is no Hashgacha Pratis. Meaning: We cannot comprehend Hashgacha Pratis (according to what we said earlier that Chazal spoke about a level which we understand and not from the perspective of the true methods of Hashem).

Much Wisdom is Required in Order to Understand the Place and Limits of Every Statement of Chazal

We clarified earlier that Chazal spoke according to the level of human understanding. Let us define this more clearly.

"Reuven's" perception of reality is different from that of "Shimon." So too by other people, Neshamos are destinct from one another. In general, they are divide into 4 parts. There are those whose neshamos are rooted in the world of Atzilus (the highest world)," [some originate from] Briah, [others from] Yetzira and [others from] Asiya [our world, the lowest]. Therefore, sometimes [Chazal] speak according to the aspect of Atzilus, sometimes from Briah, etc. etc. And once in a long while, they speak according to the asepect of The Infinite. Great wisdom is required in order to understand each statement of Chazal according to the aspect to which ist is relevant. Mistakes in distinguishing create contradictions bvetween statements of Chazal. All contradictions are rooted in this, since every statement [of Chazal] is speaking about a different level and aspect. This is the secret of "אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים," "these and these are the words of the Living G-d." (Eiruvin 13b) Every opinion is correct. However, each one is true according to its level and the aspect about which it is speaking, and no more. The root of dispute is based in the lack of understanding that all of their words are true on their level alone. However, no more than this. The tikun for dispute is through clarifying everything's place and limits. They are all true in their place.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Eichlers)

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Anonymous said...

Wow! Great piece, thanks for sharing this!

I have an idea about why some people love to insist that there are machloksim everywhere. It's all about "divide and conquer." If they can convince you that everyone argues, then you don't have to listen to anyone. When you show how they have so much in common, you are strenghtening the authority of everyone. Yishar Kochacha!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


True. I think it shares a common denominator with the discussion about hashgacha pratis specifically. If I can limit my understanding of machlokes'n to a determination of just dividing up all of the shitos into neat little categories, then there's less achrayus from any of them because they're just a bunch of options out there to be studied under the microscope as a disinterested scientist would study his lab project. Whereas if we see that they're all true, and yet speak to different types of people, different times in history, or different aspects of reality, but they're all equally true, but different expressions of the same unity, then I can't just bruch off any one or all of them as easily as I could if I thought of them as just a bunch of mutually exclusive options, A, B, C or D.

I think with the hashgacha issue also, there is a motivation to say there's no hashgacha pratis on the level of reality (as opposed to perception, as they were discussing) at least according to the Rambam & others, because this also puts less achrayus on the person. If Hashem is only paying real close attention and directing life events for a select few, then there's less achrayus on me because I will feel that "Hashem isn't really paying close attention to me anyway." It's a feeling some people long for because it means being "chofshi," freer, and with less achrayus. It's a shame though because it allows people to think they are like the nachash, whose food was the ubiquitous dirt. This distanced him from having to rely on hashgacha pratis and tefillah for his food, gave him less achrayus to Hashem and distanced himself from Hashem, as we know from the well-known vort. Rachmana l'tzlan.

A Talmid said...

Baal Shem Tov Al HaTorah in Parshas Beshalach quotes the Izbitzer in Beis Yaakov who says that the Baal Shem Tov says that "Hateva" is gematria of "Elokim" (like you mentioned) and that Hashem created nature with all the future events determined at that time. So there really is no machlokes, since there is no time by Hashem.

I find it interesting that some can not accept the concept of Hashem being in control of everything that happens in the world. If one wants to learn out of the Rishonim this concept they will fight it vehemently.

If after 120 we go upstairs what situation would we rather be in? Defending ourselves from our belief that Hashem controls every minute thing or defending ourselves for saying that Hashem doesn't control every little thing? If we didn't mean everything we said 100% for the sake of Heaven, then we are in big trouble with the latter.

Anonymous said...

In the hakdamah to Beis Yaakov of the Izhbitzer, it also shows how many ideas in the Rambam are in agreement with the mekuballim, just speaking on a different level. Also in Divrei Yoel, we see how he harmonizes them. We need to see every gadol as a facet of a single diamond, rather than shattering the diamond and holding up each shattered fragment at a distance "with intellectual tweezers" (a phrase used in the intro to the book "Time Pieces").

Anonymous said...

It is a beautiful expression of the idea you discussed in the earlier posts. However, I just point out that the intial paragraph conflates first cause and the efficient, or, most proximal cause.
There are 4 main causes of nature in Aristotle's view:

the material cause,
the efficient cause,
the formal cause, and
the final cause.

According to the Rambam G-d is the First Cause of everything, but through a chain of causes and not necessarily as the efficient cause of every event that happens in the world.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


The fact that your and others' comments do not take into account in this context is the fact that whether Hashem is the "efficient cause" or "first cause," He has knowledge of what the results of all of those intermediate causes will be when He creates and when he re-creates every detail of Creation. Not only did He determine the laws of nature, but He is also the one who places every created thing when/where it is and how that chain of causes will affect it in the "future," thereby directing every detail through Creation. To summarize, it only appears to be conflating when you're neglect to account for Hashem's knowledge.

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that a lot of people are really fixated on Aristotle as the key to Rambam. You have to realize that while Aristotelean thought forms the background for the Moreh, it is certainly not the decisive voice. To see through this error, you really should get a copy of Jonathan Blass's sefer Minofet Tsuf where he shows how the Rambam strongly disagrees with Aristotle's understanding of G-d. To take one example, according to Aristotle, G-d cannot do miracles, while according to the Rambam, belief in miracles is a major pillar of our belief. This is not a small issue. Aristotle thought the First Cause is controlled by nature, while according to the Rambam, G-d is the source of nature and will transcend it as needed. The deterministic nature of Aristotelean thinking collapses when you understand things this way. In Rabbi Blass's words in an article a few years ago, "Rambam disagrees with the philosopher on almost all substantive theological issues."

micha said...


The Rambam is Aristotilian not in his conclusions, but in how he sees the world. He frames his questions in terms of Aristotle's version of Active Intellect, form and substance, member vs class, the impossibility of a completed infinity, etc.. He may reach a different goal, but the Rambam is playing Aristo's game.