Dixie Yid recently posted an article purporting to demonstrate that the Rambam agrees with the Baal Shem Tov on the nature of Hashgacha Pratit (individual providence). I’ve looked over his sources, and it seems to me impossible to read the Rambam to say what he wants.
Rambam is not like other Jewish thinkers. His ideas are not the standard Kabbalah-based ones that have dominated Jewish theology since. Moshe Idel and Menachem Kellner would argue that, in fact, Zoharic Kabbalah developed as a response to Rambam’s philosophic theology, but that’s another post (or three). Be that as it may, to read Rambam accurately, you have to read him on his own terms, not as a source of quotes to prove someone else’s point.
If “academics” are the only ones to read Rambam on his own terms, rather than through the filter of Kabbalistic Judaism, then so be it. Our
To the substance of my critique:
I submit that Reb Yid has taken the Rambam out of context, repeatedly, selectively quoting opinions that the Rambam himself rejects, if read in context.
From Hilchot Teshuvah 6:2 (Yemenite paragraph numbering): "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]."
Reb Yid takes this to mean that God’s
· Knowledge is, or is about, the happening itself. As Rambam says, God is the Knower, the Knowledge and the Known – the purest infinite Intellect. He knows that something will happen, He knows that it is happening, He is the Happening itself. But Knowledge is not Direction. For instance, my parents know, that absent changes in circumstances beyond our control, that we will be in Parsippany this weekend. (changes could include illness, God forbid, or my sister-in-law giving birth, IY”H, etc. – God is not limited by these circumstances, He Knows what will happen). But that doesn’t mean that my parents are exerting their Will to ensure that I will be in Parsippany. Knowledge, even foreknowledge, is not Direction, is not Causation.
· Consequences are what happens as a result of one’s actions. For our purposes, Reward and Punishment.
We should note that in his 13 Foundational Principles, the Rambam states as axioms of the Torah system, that God Knows all (10th Principle) and that God dispenses reward and punishment as appropriate (11th Principle). The Rambam does not regard it as a necessary belief that God directs every action in the world.
So all this statement says is an affirmation of the 10th and 11th Principles – that God knows what individuals or nations do in this world, and punishes or rewards them appropriately. It says nothing about God’s direction of action in this world.
This would clearly fall outside the scope of the superficial meaning of what he said in Moreh Nevuchim.
As shown above, not at all. It says nothing to contradict what the Rambam said in the Guide. Knowledge of sin, and Consequences of sin, are not Divine Direction to sin.
Reb Yid then gives the example of God imposing His Will upon Paroh, in impeding Paroh’s ability to do teshuvah, as an example of Rambam admitting to individual Divine Providence upon a non-Jew. This is in fact exactly the opposite of what the Rambam is demonstrating. Rambam says: "Since [Par'oh] sinned on his own first and harmed the Jewish people... Hashem judged him by withholding Teshuva from him." It was solely as a Consequence of Paroh’s individual Action that Hashem imposed a punishment on him, to prevent him from repenting. It was solely because Paroh willed to sin, that Hashem then imposed a greater punishment on him. But make no mistake – for Rambam, Paroh, not God, initiated the sequence of events.
Actually, Rambam himself openly states that Hashgacha Pratis (Divine
No, that’s only one side of the paradox, that’s not his final word on how things are. One way to resolve it is to say that it is His Will that we have free will. He created us with free will, and thus anything we do is by His Will, but not directly. It’s like a teacher, who says “you can write your term paper on any subject you choose within the subject matter of the class.” The teacher didn’t will that Zev should write about the origins of the steam engine, but Zev’s choice to write about the origins of the steam engine is a consequence of, and consonant with, the teacher’s will.
Further, Reb Yid says, the doctrine of individual guidance of every blade of grass follows from the Rambam’s continuation of that paragraph. In fact, that’s not the case. He states the paradox, but does not solve it.
Reb Yid notes that there are several solutions to the apparent stira between the Rambam and himself, or between the Rambam and the Baal Shem Tov. One such solution, that he does not note, is to read the Rambam on his own terms, rather than as a source of quotes to support your predetermined conclusion.
For the proposed solutions:
1) I don’t have a Mei haShiloach to see what the Izbitzer says in context, so I can’t speak to it.
2) The late Lubavitcher Rebbe leaves it a paradox – of course the Besht is true, but we can’t dismiss the Rambam, so we live with the paradox. Paradox is central to Chabad theology (see Rachel Elior’s The Paradoxical Ascent to the Divine), so this works for him.
3) Reb Yid’s rebbe simply denies the Rambam’s own position, and replaces it with the Besht’s, then adding a third type of
The Rambam, in the Guide
In essence, Reb Yid begs the question. He presumes his answer, that “everyone believes in the Beshtian view of Hashgacha Pratit”, and then has to k’neitch the Rambam, by pulling quotes out of context, by reading them through a filter of “of course Kabbalah is true”, to force the Rambam to agree. In this, he joins a long tradition of Kabbalists who, not wanting to leave the Rambam out in the cold as the greatest mind of the Rishonim, finds ways to pretend the Rambam accepted Kabbalah. In fact, though, the Rambam had his own intellectual mysticism, totally unrelated to the neo-Platonic sephirotic emanationism of the [then proto-]Kabbalah. His concept of Divine Providence flows from that, while the Besht’s flows from Kabbalistic antecedents.