Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Gam zu l'tova?

 I am looking for a good explanation of the following

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17) (3) Everything is controlled by Providence and there is no such thing as accident or chance at all. A corollary of this view is that the one who governs must have total knowledge of what will happen in the future. This is the view of the Islamic sect - the Azariyah. This view has tremendous problems and whoever accepts it is obligated to accept the inherent absurdities. For example they must accept the view of Aristotle that there is no difference between the falling of a leaf and the death of a person! They in fact agree to this equality but explain that in fact the wind itself only blows by the decree of G‑d and not by chance. Furthermore no leaf falls by chance but at a particular time and place by the direct decree of G‑d… Those accept this view also must believe all the movements of all living things are totally determined and that therefore man has neither the ability to initiate nor stop doing anything. Thus everything is totally determined and either must happen or can’t happen… It necessarily follows from this view that the Torah itself serves no purpose since man has no independent ability to obey what he is commanded to do or desist from that which he was commanded not to do. Those who accept this view say that G‑d will send messengers, command, warn, give hope and threaten - even though man has no free will. Thus it is possible that a person will be obligated to do something totally impossible and that even if a person fulfills the command he still might be punished while someone who transgresses will be rewarded. Therefore this view assumes that G‑d’s activities serve no purpose. All of these absurdities are inherent in this view so that when we see a person who was born blind or leprous it is not possible to conclude that these result from sin - but only that this is the will of G‑d. When we see a pious person tortured to death - we can only say that this is G‑d’s will and that this is not an injustice because it appropriate for G‑d to afflict the innocent and reward the sinner…

 Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17): My belief concerning this fundamental principle of Providence is not based upon intellectual speculation and proofs but rather what is clearly the view found in the Torah and that of our prophets. This view is less bizarre and closer to reason than the other views I have described. I believe that Providence in this world i.e., that which is beneath the sphere of the moon only exists for man and not for other creatures. It is only for man that his circumstances and the good and evil that happen is according to absolute justice as it says All His ways are judgment (Devarim 32:4). But in regards to the rest of living beings and surely in regards to plants and other things, my view is that of Aristotle. I do not believe at all that a particular leaf falls because of providence, nor that a particular spider eats a particular fly because of a decree from G‑d that He wishes this to happen. Nor do I believe that the gnat that is killed by Reuven’s spitting is because of a Divine decree that the spittle should fall on it. I don’t believe G‑d that decrees that a particular worm should be eaten by a particular fish. All these cases occur simply because of pure chance - just as Aristotle asserted. Providence, in my opinion and according to what I see, is a function of the Divine overflow. Intelligence is the indicator or whether there is an attachment to this overflow. … Only intelligent beings are attached to this overflow are thus also attached to Providence and have their deeds judged as to reward and punishment….

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:18): We have just explained that Providence exists only for man and not any other creatures because it only applies to intelligent beings… Consequently the degree of providence will depend on how prepared his physical matter is and his level of learning - assuming as I do that providence is a function of intelligence. In other words providence is not the same for all people but rather is directly proportional to their perfection. According to this speculation, providence for prophets should be extremely great and should be a function of their level of prophesy. Similarly the providence for good and pious people should be a reflection of their degree of goodness and piety… In contrast fools and rebels, to the degree that they lack this Divine overflow their status is debased and at the extreme they become like animals He is comparable to the beasts who perish (Tehilim 49:13). That is why it is a relatively minor thing to kill evil people and in fact capital punishment for them is a Divine commandment. This idea that Providence varies according to the level of perfection of the individual is one of the most fundamental principles of the Torah…. Concerning the differential providence for pious men and degenerate fools (Shmuel I 2:9): He will guard the feet of His pious ones while the wicked will be silenced in the darkness because a man will not prevail with strength. The verse informs us that the reason that some individuals are saved from disaster while others aren’t is not because of their physical strength and natural dispositions. Rather it depends upon their degree of perfection and deficiency, i.e., their nearness or distance from G‑d… There are innumerable verses which indicate this principle that providence is proportional to perfection and piety. There are also philosophers e.g., Plato who agree with this principle…

 Menoras HaMeor(#298): When a person has a calamity happen to him he should not think that it was just by chance. Because whoever mistakenly believes that is punished measure for measure and is deserted to chance without any protection… This is a very great punishment because there are many opportunities for accidents to happen and if one is deserted by Heaven he has no protection at all… This verse that says that evil doesn’t descend from Heaven is because a sinner doesn’t need to be harmed from Heaven it is sufficient that his protection is removed and then he vulnerable to accidents and suffering since there is no suffering without sin… Therefore a person must believe with solid faith that G‑d knows the secret matters and He is the true judge and judges the entire world …

R’ Yonason Eibschuetz (Ya’aros Devash 1:10): There are two types of calamities. The first comes from G‑d and appears bad but in fact it is absolutely good. Its start is difficult but it ends up sweet because its purpose is to cleanse a person from sin. That is because nothing bad ever comes from Heaven. This is what our sages (Berachos 5a) describe as “suffering from love” and “all those that G‑d loves He chastises.” The second type of calamity is the result of G‑d removing His Providence and thus leaving the person unprotected from harm - both from the astrological influences and the forces of nature. This resulting multitude of bad is in fact absolutely bad because G‑d removed His protection and no “suffering from love” results from accident. This second category - because of our many sins - is the source of much of Jewish suffering. It is described in the Torah (Vayikra 26:23–24): If you go with Me incidentally I will also go with you in an incidental manner. That means that if they view misfortune - not as a warning to repent from G‑d - but rather as an accident then G‑d will in fact leave them to the vicissitude of nature and mazel. Then they will in fact suffer randomly and thus all their misfortune will be bad. This is especially relevant for Jews since according to the astrological forces they could be destroyed - Heaven forbid - since they are descendants of Avraham. Avraham according to the astrological forces should never have had children and his children resulted only because G‑d lifted him beyond their influence. Thus in the realm of nature and mazel the Jews have no right to exist and therefore when they are left to these forces they have terrible suffering.

Malbim (Artzos HaChaim 1:2): … The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:51) describes a major insight. He asserts that Providence does not apply to man except to the degree that he is attached to the Supreme Intellect. Therefore for the developed person whose thoughts never stray from G‑d, Providence is attached to him constantly and consequently he is totally protected from harmful forces and experiences. To the degree that a person’s thoughts turn from G‑d to that degree Providence is removed from him and he is left to chance just as the animals of the field and the wild creatures of the forest. However Providence returns to protect him when he thinks about G‑d. … It follows therefore that a person determines by means of his thoughts whether he has Providence or is left to chance… In other words Providence from above does not descend to the earth except through the preparation man makes and when he turns his heart away from G‑d he causes Providence to desert him… Thus bad things result from the absence of Providence when he is left to chance and happenstance…This idea removes the complaints of the intellectuals who ask how is it conceivable that from a single unified G‑d comes different and conflicting things such as good and evil, strict judgment and mercy? The answer is that G‑d is constant concerned about the individual and is always prepared to help. But help is only are relevant for the prepared and purified heart which seeks G‑d and for the person who opens up his heart so that it can accept Providence. Thus judgment and evil are not from G‑d but are inherent in the refusal to prepare one’s heart to receive the good from G‑d. Therefore when G‑d is not in my thoughts and suffusing my heart - bad happens since it is the consequence of not being protected from chance and happenstance. This description is found not only in the Moreh Nevuchim but also in the second section of the Kuzari…

Michtav M’Eliyahu (2:75): Hashgocha protis (individualized Providence) is only relevant for a person on the high spiritual level of serving G‑d without ulterior motivations. In other words a person who uses his free will and deeds to reveal G‑d’s glory in this world. It is called protis (individualized) because the providence is personalized for each person according to his service of G‑d. That is why it is also referred to as hashgocha ishis (personal Providence) by the Rishonim. This process is carried out with great precision according to the person’s deeds in order to give him the necessary means to fulfill his service of G‑d. There are also times when G‑d incapacitates him in order to cause him to contemplate and improve his deeds. Our sages (Yevamos 121b) refer to this accuracy when they say, “G‑d is very particular with His pious ones to the precision of a hair’s breadth.” In contrast hashgocha clallis (general Providence) is for those who don’t serve G‑d at all or serve Him in a mechanical fashion without any inner awareness. Therefore their deeds do not reveal G‑d’s honor in a direct manner. These type of people function simply to provide assistance to the true tzadik in his service of G‑d. They develop the physical aspects of the world to enable the tzadik to serve G‑d. Therefore what these people get in this world does not correspond directly to their deeds. That is because their personal accomplishments have no inherent value. They have merit only to the degree they assist the tzadik. Consequently the Providence for them is not direct and that is why it is referred to as clallis (general). That is because it is possible that the needs of the tzadik require that equal portions be given to many people in spite of individual differences in their deeds. This is the Providence that applies to the nations of the world as well as all those Jews whose main occupation is developing this world. It applies also to those who are occupied in Torah and mitzvos in a superficial manner out of habit or for ulterior motivation…. In fact those who slumber and are relatively insensitive to spiritual issues… i.e., all non‑Jews and most Jews - except for some exception - they are without a doubt under the control of natural laws… This is no different than the animals whose Providence is not for the individual but only for the species - because it as a species they fulfill G‑d’s will.

Berachos (5a) Raba (some say, R. Hisda) says: If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: Let us search and try our ways, and return unto the Lord.21 If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. For it is said: Happy is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law.22 If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be the cause], let him be sure that these are chastenings of love. For it is said: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth.

Shulchan Aruch O.C. 230) One should be accustomed to say: All that God does is for the best!

Berachos (60b)We learned in the mishna: One is obligated to recite a blessing for the bad that befalls him just as he recites a blessing for the good that befalls him. The Gemara asks: What does it mean: One is obligated to recite a blessing for the bad just as for the good? If we say this means that just as one recites a blessing for a positive event with the formula: Who is good and does good, so too one recites a blessing for a calamity with the formula: Who is good and does good, didn’t we learn in our mishna that over good tidings one recites: Who is good and does good, while over bad tidings one recites: Blessed…the true Judge? Rather, Rava said: The mishna’s statement was only necessary to instruct us to accept bad tidings with the same joy with which we accept good tidings, not to instruct with regard to which blessing to recite.Rav Aḥa said in the name of Rabbi Levi: What is the verse that alludes to this? “I will sing of loving-kindness and justice; unto You, O Lord, will I sing praises” (Psalms 101:1). Rav Aḥa explains: If it is loving-kindness, I will sing, and if it is justice, I will sing. I will thank God in song for the bad just as for the good. Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said: The proof is from here, as it is stated: “In God, I will praise His word; in the Lord, I will praise His word” (Psalms 56:11). The Gemara explains that In God, I will praise His word; that is the revelation of God’s attribute of benevolence, while: In the Lord, I will praise His word; that is the attribute of suffering; even if God brings suffering to bear upon me, I will still praise Him.Rabbi Tanḥum said: The proof is from here, as it is stated: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalms 116:13), and: “I found trouble and sorrow, but I called upon the name of the Lord” (Psalms 116:3–4).And the Rabbis said: The proof is from here, as it is stated: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).Rav Huna said that Rav said that Rabbi Meir said; and so it was taught in a baraita in the name of Rabbi Akiva: One must always accustom oneself to say: Everything that God does, He does for the best.

The Gemara relates: Like this incident, when Rabbi Akiva was walking along the road and came to a certain city, he inquired about lodging and they did not give him any. He said: Everything that God does, He does for the best. He went and slept in a field, and he had with him a rooster, a donkey and a candle. A gust of wind came and extinguished the candle; a cat came and ate the rooster; and a lion came and ate the donkey. He said: Everything that God does, He does for the best. That night, an army came and took the city into captivity. It turned out that Rabbi Akiva alone, who was not in the city and had no lit candle, noisy rooster or donkey to give away his location, was saved. He said to them: Didn’t I tell you? Everything that God does,
Taanis (21a)   It is related of Nahum of Gamzu that he was blind in both his eyes, his two hands and legs were amputated — and his whole body was covered with boils and he was lying in a dilapidated house on a bed the feet of which were standing in bowls of water in order to prevent the ants from crawling on to him. On one occasion his disciples desired to remove the bed and then clear the things out of the house, but he said to them, My children, first clear out the things [from the house] and then remove my bed for I am confident that so long as I am in the house it will not collapse. They first cleared out the things and then they removed his bed and the house [immediately] collapsed. Thereupon his disciples said to him, Master, since you are wholly righteous, why has all this befallen you? and he replied, I have brought it all upon myself. Once I was journeying on the road and was making for the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three asses, one laden with food, one with drink and one with all kinds of dainties, when a poor man met me and stopped me on the road and said to me, Master, give me something to eat. I replied to him, Wait until I have unloaded something from the ass; I had hardly managed to unload something from the ass when the man died [from hunger]. I then went and laid myself on him and exclaimed, May my eyes which had no pity upon your eyes become blind, may my hands which had no pity upon your hands be cut off, may my legs which had no pity upon your legs be amputated, and my mind was not at rest until I added, may my whole body be covered with boils. Thereupon his pupils exclaimed, ‘Alas! that we see you in such a sore plight’. To this he replied, ‘Woe would it be to me did you not see me in such a sore plight’. Why was he called Nahum of Gamzu? — Because whatever befell him he would declare, This also is for the best. Once the Jews desired to send to the Emperor a gift and after discussing who should go they decided that Nahum of Gamzu should go because he had experienced many miracles. They sent with him a bag full of precious stones and pearls. He went and spent the night in a certain inn and during the night the people in the inn arose and emptied the bag and filled it up with earth. When he discovered this next morning he exclaimed, This also is for the best. When he arrived at his destination and they undid his bag they found that it was full of earth. The king thereupon desired to put them all to death saying, The Jews are mocking me. Nahum then exclaimed, This also is for the best. Whereupon Elijah appeared in the guise of one of them and remarked, Perhaps this is some of the earth of their father Abraham, for when he threw earth [against the enemy] it turned into swords and when [he threw] stubble it changed into arrows, for it is written, His sword maketh them as dust, his bow as the driven stubble. Now there was one province which [the emperor had hitherto] not been able to conquer but when they tried some of this earth [against it] they were able to conquer it. Then they took him [Nahum] to the royal treasury and filled his bag with precious stones and pearls and sent him back with great honour. When on his return journey he again spent the night in the same inn he was asked, What did you take [to the king] that they showed you such great honour? He replied, I brought thither what I had taken from here. [The innkeepers] thereupon razed the inn to the ground and took of the earth to the king and they said to him, The earth that was brought to you belonged to us. They tested it and it was not found to be [effective] and the innkeepers were thereupon put to death.

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