Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rambam's Mechanism of Reward and Punishment

Many people were greatly taken aback when I quoted Rambam's letter to Marseilles, which showed him to have believed that the Destruction occurred because the people pursued astrology rather than the art of war and the conquest of lands:

This is why our kingdom was lost and our Temple was destroyed and why we were brought to this; for our fathers sinned and are no more because they found many books dealing with these themes of the star gazers, these things being the root of idolatry, as we have made clear in Laws Concerning Idolatry. They erred and were drawn after them, imagining them to be glorious science and to be of great utility. They did not busy themselves with the art of war or with the conquest of lands, but imagined that those studies would help them. Therefore the prophets called them “fools and dolts” (Jer. 4:22).


A number of commentators insisted that this letter must be interpreted in light of traditional doctrine about the Destruction being punishment for the cardinal sins. As such, Rambam is not saying that it was actually the lack of military strength (resulting from pursuing astrology) that caused the Churban, but merely pointing to a problem resulting from astrology. I think that this is an exceedingly forced way of reading the above paragraph. Moreover, there is a fundamental misunderstanding here about Rambam's worldview. Rambam held that there is no such thing as arbitrary reward and punishment, which God inserts into the world. Rather, the mitzvot are the path to intellectual, moral and societal perfection, while aveirot detract from that. To the extent that there is reward and punishment, it is the natural consequence of one's actions. Thus, Rambam's view is that the people were pursuing astrology - which he explains to be the root of idolatry - and as a natural consequence, did not engage in the material, worldly efforts that would have helped them have a defensible kingdom. Rambam is not arguing with the idea that the Destruction was a punishment for idolatry; rather, he is explaining what, in his view, this actually means.

In general, to understand Rambam's views on any topic requires a thorough grasp of his overall worldview, which was radically different than anything we have been taught in yeshivah. A careful study of The Guide for the Perplexed, with the help of those that have unlocked its difficulties, is indispensable for this. In the future, I plan to discuss Rambam's view of the different types of harm that befall man and their causes. For now, I would like to point out that Rambam's view on reward and punishment in general were extremely different from conventional rabbinic doctrine. Prof. Menachem Kellner has a discussion of this topic in the appendix to his book Must a Jew Believe Anything? which he kindly consented to make freely available. You can download it here; please read it before commenting on this post!

51 comments:

  1. I am missing something. The Talmud, in its own revolutionary way, makes a distinction between bayit rishon and bayit sheini. From Yoma 9b:

    מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב? מפני שלשה דברים שהיו בו: עבודה זרה, וגלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים... אבל מקדש שני, שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם. ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות: עבודה זרה, גלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים

    The formulation for bayit sheini is extraordinary and, I think, very meaningful today.

    Not having read Rambam's letter to Marseilles -- and not having time at present -- how does Yoma 9b figure in Rambam's thinking?

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  2. Hey Rav Slifkin,

    In light of this post and the previous one, maybe it would be worthwhile to further elucidate different Rishonim's distinct views of hashgacha (especially the Rambam and Ramban). Also, it would be interesting if there are any Rishonim who hold of hashgacha as relating to an individual's daily affairs (i.e., like the position put forth by the "Poshiter Yid"). Is this notion that hashgacha acts upon an individual purely an innovation from Hassidism in the late 17th century? Or, is this conception rooted in the "masorah"/ Rishonim?

    I know you discussed this in "The Challenge of Creation" pages 69-70, but that discussion was quite brief and I think it would be really important to expand upon (in light of the two most recent posts). Thanks.

    - Adam B

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  3. IH - I think that Rambam is only addressing Bayit Rishon.

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  4. Adam B, I second that. The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a book, which is available in English online, on this topic. This may be a good start for such an analysis.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/80723/jewish/Brief-on-Hashgachah-Pratis.htm

    Personally, I think there are a lot of things in the Tanakh and Gemara that don't make sense without believing that Providence extends to every event in every individual's life. For example, in Miketz, as soon as Joseph's brothers see the money in their sack they say "What is this that God has done to us?" It only seems proper that we should emulate their faith, and assume all events are caused by G-d for some reason. Much of tehillim seems premised on the fact that everyday problems are sent by G-d.

    In any event, the strong version of belief in divine providence did not begin with the Besht, as R' Slifkin, if I remember correctly, says in his book. The Ramak (in the 16th century) said that:

    "No person who believes should entertain the concept that any action, large or small, takes place by coincidence. Instead, everything is determined by Divine providence" (Ein Kol Tamar, ch. 5).

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  5. A careful study of The Guide for the Perplexed, with the help of those that have unlocked its difficulties, is indispensable for this

    Who has unlocked its difficulties that you can reccomend

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  6. What a wonderful and fascinating essay. Thank you for posting it!!

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  7. Who has unlocked its difficulties that you can recommend

    Each topic is discussed by different people. You can use Schwartz's edition of the Moreh to get references of articles that discuss each section.

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  8. Is there a particular English-translation edition of the Moreh that you would recommend reading? Specifically, let's say I am planning on buying one to read for the first time: what would you recommend that was translated by someone who has a "thorough grasp of his overall worldview", and is neither biased too far to the right or left?

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  9. Yishai (and others),

    In my mind precedents from the age of Nevua/Ruach Hakodesh do not really help us deal with issues of providence because without a way to affirm causality, attribution of providence cannot affect your behavior.

    Let's say you step on your child's left-out toy and hurt your foot. Even if you assume that it was providence, what was the purpose? Is the pain punishment for some past misdeed designed to evoke teshuva? How do you know which misdeed(s)? Is this a test to see if you can control your temper with your child? Maybe it is a reminder/test pushing you to be less lazy in your parenting and improve your child's middos by encouraging them to be careful with their things and aware of dangers to others? Do you think about all possible reasons and work on them all? How do you assign priority?

    But shouldn't you regularly self assess all your behavior and do teshuva? And shouldn't you always be working on your temper? And shouldn't you be working on your child rearing? Taking the position that we do the best with the moral choices that the laws of nature (circumstance) and the free choices of others give us, results in the same practical outcome.

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  10. The issue of the destruction relates to divine providence. From the Rambam's discussion of divine providence in Moreh III, 17, it is clear that divine providence for individuals extends only to men and is connected to divine intellectual influence (shefa). Thus, divine providence is expressed only in men's decisions. The examples he gives of things not happening by chance but by providence are whether a man is in a ship that sinks or a house that falls down. For the Rambam's discussion of shefa, see Moreh II, 36, regarding prophecy and II,4 regarding how shefa influences the spheres. For how the Ramban specifically criticizes the view that providence only affects human decisions, without specifically ascribing it to the Rambam, see Kisvei Ramban I (Chavel) p.19.

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  11. Is there a particular English-translation edition of the Moreh that you would recommend reading?

    There are two translations - Friedlander and Pines. The former is freely available on the internet, the latter is superior. But I wouldn't recommend either! For modern readers, the Moreh is simply incomprehensible on its own. Instead, I recommend reading scholarly treatments of specific topics.

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  12. Yannai, I see what you are saying, but there are real differences. For one thing, the Gemara says anger is akin to idolatry. This is because if you are angry about something, this assumes that things aren't the way G-d wants them -- that there are other powers in the world, or just plain chance, affecting affairs. If you believe, as in Rabbi Akiva's tale of Nachum Gamzu, that "Everyone should always say, "'Everything that Hashem does, He does for the good,'" then you know that you should not get angry about anything. It is difficult to internalize this message, but it can be done -- and this is the main task of the Breslov path of strengthening emuna. I suppose one could still eliminate all anger without believing in divine providence, but it certainly helps a lot.

    You do raise an interesting point about how we know what message Hashem is trying to send us through the various events in our lives. Of course we can't know for sure. But if we expect to see everything as meaningful, as a sign, we may be more conscious of our thoughts and actions throughout the day. We may also engage in personal prayer to determine what the meaning of our daily events are, and the more prayer the better -- as the Gemara says, if only one could pray all day long (Berakhot 21a)! The Garden of Emuna by R' Shalom Arush discusses the ability to know what Hashem's messages mean as the highest stage of emuna, but I don't remember what he says about this issue.

    Yes, one should do repentence each day ("repent the day before you die"), but in practice people tend not to do this, so if you believe that every time you stub your toe it's sent from above, you are more likely to remember sins you may have committed and repent for them.

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  13. I disagree. Too much nonsense has been written about the Moreh to trust secondary sources. I studied the Moreh intensely trying to understand each word. Friedlander's translation is a casual paraphrase. Pines's translation is exact, but he uses too many technical terms. I used Kafih's Hebrew translation together with Pines's translation. Since both are word-to-word translations it is possible to see how a word is translated in both and to decide how the word should be understood. When necessary I also looked at Ibn Tibbon's word-to-word translation and the commentaries.

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  14. a more rounded treatment than kellner's can be found here http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/09/no-hell-below-us-controversy-over.html
    in general the recommendation to rely on "scholarly treatments" is highly problematic, though it does have the old appeal of the appeal to authority fallacy

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  15. Just to calibrate, what is your view of:

    שיחות על פרקי-אבות ועל הרמב"ם
    ישעיהו ליבוביץ

    Emes or Kefira?

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  16. "For how the Ramban specifically criticizes the view that providence only affects human decisions, without specifically ascribing it to the Rambam, see Kisvei Ramban I (Chavel) p.19."

    Human decisions can have huge effects. For instance, a human could cause a fire and change the weather far away and long into the future. So, if there is Hashgacha in human decisions, either the Hashgacha is limited to things that do not have consequences, or the Hashgacha is not be limited to human decisions. The former option would restrict Hashgacha to the verge of its elimination. Ramban must be right.

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  17. a more rounded treatment than kellner's can be found here http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/09/no-hell-below-us-controversy-over.html

    By "more rounded" you apparently mean "more conforming with traditionalist beliefs." R. Joshua Maroof has an excellent comment there: "This post illustrates the danger of trying to interpret the thought of a philosopher or theologian on a purely literary or textual basis, without grasping the principles of his metaphysical thought."

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  18. Just to calibrate, what is your view of:
    שיחות על פרקי-אבות ועל הרמב"ם
    ישעיהו ליבוביץ


    I've never read it.

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  19. The issue of learning Moreh Nevuchim is not a matter of which edition is the most user-friendly. (I agree with R. Slifkin that the Schwartz edition is a good starting point)

    The problems are a. the Rambam contradicts himself (probably often intentionally as he states himself he will do in the introduction) b. there is the possibility (held by some to be definitive) that he is writing esoterically ie. writing that he adopts a certain view but covertly holding a different one.

    Therefore, the average reader will need some help navigating through the various contradictions. The other problem is that everyone who has written on the Rambam comes with their own biases (academic, yeshiva, skeptic, etc.) and so the range of views on where the Rambam fits into prior and subsequent tradition or differs from it is wide.

    For the Hebrew reader, some good starting points for those for whom reading the Moreh is difficult, I would recommend the following recent books (not necessarily easy reading but systematic and deal with contradictions and multiple readings)

    1. Harambam - Moshe Halbertal
    2. Minofet Tzuf - Rav Yehonaton Blass
    3. Sod Moreh Nevuchim - Micah Goodman

    The last book has a nice quote - in approximate translation by me - the goal of the Rambam is not to answer the questions but to show us the right way to ask them.

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  20. By the way an online version of the Schwartz edition of Moreh Nevuchim is available at

    http://press.tau.ac.il/perplexed/toc.asp

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  21. Yishai,

    In my mind "Everything that Hashem does, He does for the good" is functionally equivalent to "Hashem made a world where He expects me to good with whatever happens (and that exercise is ultimately for my own good)". I.e. nothing external to me can ultimately be detrimental for my soul if I react correctly.

    Likewise you don't need providence for "anger to be akin to idolatry". If my purpose is to do the best with what I get (including judging others favorably) AND I assume that Hashem is NOT exercising providence, then my anger only makes rational sense if I have another power to be angry at (the inanimate object I tripped over? the weather god that caused the snowstorm that got me stuck in traffic?)

    I cut a line on prayer from my original comment, but essentially without providence prayer becomes a meditation into understanding what Hashem wants out of me and introspection into how well I am doing it and how I can get there. If you pray for Hashem to reveal his providence, but don't know when he does and when you are just guessing/rationalizing, then you are functionally in the same boat. The "ability to know what Hashem's messages mean as the highest stage of emuna" is prophesy. If I pray for Hashem to put in my mind the meaning of happenstance, but I have no way of knowing whether I am receiving ruach hakodesh or just thinking random/thoughts, then what? If I can't "know for sure", then I don't know AT ALL.


    It would be an extremely weak proof to suggest that providence must exist because if you "believe that every time you stub your toe it's sent from above, you are more likely to remember sins you may have committed and repent for them". Attribution of circumstance to providence can be self-motivating, but it can just as easily be used as an excuse to prevent self-improvement -- did you get fired because it was Hashem's plan (punishment for cheating on your taxes? test of emuna because the next job offer requires working on shabbat? a blessing because otherwise you would have got cancer from that asbestos nobody knows is in the walls?) or because you didn't work hard enough and you need to apply yourself better?

    Although I have personally come to a low-providence hashkafa, I also came to the conclusion that for any situation acting rationally and morally on only information I KNOW, I always ended up with the same outcome anyways.

    The only major difference was in how I need to treat prayer -- and even there isn't the value of the exercise figuring out what Hashem wants (and therefore what I truly should want). I think that practically the entire hashkafic difference reduces to personal assessments the likelihood of getting what you desire in your prayers (my low-providence view would still put probability above zero; not sure what your average high-providence probability is or whether it is meaningfully different).

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  22. I find that to understand the Moreh one has to read him from beginning to end very carefully many times. As all versions I can read are translations and I do not know arabic (unfortunately), i look at all translations including Munk's French one (ignoring Friedlander which is clearly horrible and a paraphrase). As far as commentaries - I find the classical ones the most elucidating while the scholarly ones are extremly helpful as they explain many things in light of rambam's sources, culture and milieu. The conclusion of the scholarly ones are very suspect to me because most operate with the premise that Rambam in MN is not the same as Rambam in MT. that is incorrect in my opinion and accept R. Meir Simcha's ( who is probably one of the greatest Rambam scholars ever) position in Meshech Chochma parshat Yitro that Rambam is consistent all over. i have proven this to myself many times and I am firmly convinced of it. Many supposed contradictions I have resolved over time and when I look back I am surprised why it took me so long. there are many more that I have not yet figured out but based on experience I am convinced that it is my shortcoming. There is no way to understand MN without knowing the other writings of rambam including MT, Pirush Hamishna and Sefer hamitzvot. I have clarified things in each one of them based on learning the others.

    I have read many of professor Kellner's books and articles. Like every one else some are good others are not so good and incorrect. A reat Maimoniean reader is Professor Blidstein who is not only a scholar but clearly a talmid Chacham. Professor Kreissel's work is genrally excellent, professor Davidson explains Rambam well in context of Greek "falsafia" but I do not buy many of his interpretations of rambam himself, Professor Klein Braslavy's work is excellent while Strauss to me is an Am Ha'aretz readingsomeone who has the whole Toirah in front of him at all times. Minofet Tzuf is intersting though I do not believe he understands Rambam as he meant to be understood. He writes and interprets him from a Kookian perspective. Another interesting book ignored by many and very important in understanding many things in Rambam as read by R. Yosef Rozen, the Rogatschover, is Mefaneach Tzefunot by Rav Kasher. Although it ostensibly focusses on Halchik issues it fuses Rambam in MT with rambam in MN and shows how the two are one.

    As far as this post and the preceding one, Rabbi Slifkin is correct. As to the questions of how Rambam handles the quotes brought down by the various commenters from gemara sources see his Iggeret Techyat hametim response to R. Shmuel ben Eli quoting gemarot and sources contradicting his position on it. Basically Chazal have to be carefully read and interpreted as what hits us at first blush is not what they are trying to tell us.

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  23. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    David Gutman's evaluations strike me as very astute. Two recent worthwhile works on the Rambam in English are by Charles Manekin and Tamar Rudavsky. Manekin argues that the Rambam in the Guide is more theologically conservative than in the MT!

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  24. I agree with Guttman that the Moreh must be read very carefully and with reference to the Rambam's other writings. I have read some, but not all of the recent works on the Rambam. I also agree that the Moreh must be read as a whole. For instance, in my earlier post, I referred to other places where the term I translated as "shefa" is understood as intellectual influence. I would be very cautious in relying on R' Yosef Rozen's commentary. (Of interest, is the R' Yosef Rozen's defense of spontaneous generation in his commentary on the Moreh.)

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  25. Two fundamental points about the 13 Ikarim that Kellner is highlighting:

    First: The Ikarim are about thoughts. Those thoughts are only "true" [according to the creator of the Ikarim] if they conform to the particular small definitions of them provided by the Rambam as he explains each Ikar. Furthermore, people do not think anymore in the framework that is explicitly required by the Rambam. Therefore the argument that many Jews make...that the Ikarim are a required way of thinking....is, in fact, followed by nobody. All subsequent arguments produce plenty of heat but no light.

    Second: The particulars of the Rambam's explanation of the Ikar of punishment and reward is that it is that even in his era , considering reward and punishment are really an irrelevance [perhaps even a legal-fiction] but necessary in the same way that reinforcing a child with candy supports the choices that an authority wants the child to make.

    I'm not any kind of Judaics scholar. But as a practicing consumer I sure do appreciate Kellner's approach to the Ikarim. And next time someone tells you "how you have to think" because "the Rambam says so" you can have enough background to appreciate that the same person talking to you doesn't him/herself believe what the Rambam requires. So, if the person is condemning anyone, s/he is condemning him/herself as well.
    Gary Goldwater

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  26. There is also 'Mevich Maskilim' by Toledano. I find it very good. An additional bonus is that he believes that Rambam was a mekubal and tries to prove it. So one gets an exposure to that way of thinking and can get a few good laughs along the way.

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  27. Wow, it seems like the creators of Stargate based their idea of Ascension on Kellner's interpretation of Rambam.

    All joking aside, if I understand it correctly this approach basically says reaching Olam Habah is purely a matter of attaining a certain level of knowledge about HaShem and creation leading to intellectual perfection and that attaining Olam Habah is not a direct result of being a righteous person or following commandments, just that those things help provide a framework for attaining the needed level of intellectual perfection. Theoretically, an evil person, who has the intellectual prowess and the necessary self discipline could attain Olam HaBah.

    Is that a correct understanding of Kellner's position?

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  28. Over Shabbat, I looked at the Yeshayahu Leibowitz book I mentioned, which was on my shelves, and realized this was not the book I was remembering. I think I was remembering a companion book about Rambam and More Nevuchim that I no longer have.

    I did find a copy of an English translation “The Faith of Maimonides” printed by Adama Books in New York in 1987. And while re-reading it, I noticed the following footnote apropos recent debates on the blog:

    “I recall a conversation I had with the late Rabbi Kook, about sixty years ago, concerning the gap between the world of faith of Maimonides and the world of faith of the Kabbalah, or between “The One God” of monotheism and of the negation of His attributes in The Guide to the Perplexed, and “The One God” of the Kabbalistic doctrine of Sefirot. Rabbi Kook, who was a man of the halachah and a man of mysticism at the same time, was well aware that the “True Teaching” (the term used by him for the Kabbalah) was alien to the greatest authority and teacher of Jewish law, and the little he came to know of it was regarded by him as absolute idolatry. Rabbi Kook recognized that the veil separating the “True Teaching” from idolatry was very thin and could collapse at any moment, and that to separate between supreme holiness and defilement was an extremely hard task which required the most wakeful attention. He therefore regarded it as an act of grace on the part of God toward the people of Israel that he gave us Maimonides, who could not be ignored by all these generations during which the Kabbalah spread among the Jews. During this period, Maimonides’ doctrine of the unity of God served as a brake against the deterioration of the Kabbalah into idolatry.”

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  29. Yishai said:
    Personally, I think there are a lot of things in the Tanakh and Gemara that don't make sense without believing that Providence extends to every event in every individual's life. For example, in Miketz, as soon as Joseph's brothers see the money in their sack they say "What is this that God has done to us?" It only seems proper that we should emulate their faith, and assume all events are caused by G-d for some reason. Much of tehillim seems premised on the fact that everyday problems are sent by G-d.
    Yishai, pls see Mn(II:48) which explains the language of prophecy. Note two things: Rambam is asking the reader to devote special attention to this chapter and his explanation of Bereshis 45, 8 'Not u had send me here but G-d'.

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  30. Excellent blog and post RS!
    As has been mentioned here a major problem faced by us modern students of Rambam is lack of understanding of Greco-Arabic philosophy of that time. How can we fill this gap? I would like an organized study plan. Do u have one to recommend?

    Gut voch to everyone.

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  31. "They did not busy themselves with the art of war or with the conquest of lands,"

    I kind of wonder whether the Rambam would've had in mind Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" or "Yehoshua's conquest of Canaan."

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  32. What is the role of belief in Maimonidean philosphy? As belief is not an intellectually honest, non-rational exercise, would it not be contrary to the very essence of Man (ie. his rationality)?

    I have heard that the Rambam thought there were proofs for Hashem. For example, IIRC he says the motions of the planets are unexplainable by natural laws, which implies the existence of Hashem. I know he also believed that there could be absolute proofs against Hashem's existence (or at least the divine nature of the Torah). IIRC he says that if Aristotle had proven that the world was eternal, it would have disproved Torah MiSinai. Thus it appears the Rambam did not have a system of belief, but a system of rational evaluation vis a vis Hashem's existence and the veracity of the Torah.

    If this is true, what would the Rambam say in a situation where there is neither evidence for or against Hashem's existence (which appears to be the case to many presently)?

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  33. Maverick, that is one of the ways in which we must differ from Rambam. Rambam believed that everything can and should be logically proven, but we know that it can't.

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  34. Yannai, I don't doubt that you can get to a similar result with low-providence beliefs -- and thank Heavens for this, since so many people (unfortunately in my view) cannot bring themselves to believe in the strong version of providence. I do think there are many benefits to the strong version, and a plausible case can be made that this strong emunah and bitachon is the main spiritual goal we should ultimately be striving for (as Breslovers argue, and as Tehillim seems to indicate), but I'm not qualified to systematically defend these claims.

    What I was saying before was that much of our traditional sources just don't make a lot of sense without actually believing that G-d's hand is in everything that happens. While you may have found a functional equivalent to R' Akiva and Nachum Gamzu's dictum, that doesn't erase the fact that the logical interpretation of it is that they meant that G-d really does do everything for the good. The idea that what that really meant is that we should pretend this is so as a mental trick strikes me as pretty contrived -- but I don't think that's what you're saying.

    Likewise, in Sotah 48b we see that someone who worries about his food tomorrow if he has food today is lacking in faith. The most natural interpretation of this too is that G-d gets involved in our daily struggles such as where we get food from -- not only that we should believe this, but that this is actually the case.

    Similarly, think of all the times trust is Hashem is stressed in Tehillim. What is the point of trusting in Hashem so much if He's not actually intervening in our lives except when rare miracles occur?

    While a low-providence faith my result in great personal progress, it seems (to me, and by no means I am a great authority) less consistent with the faith of the Tanakh and Gemara. That said, it may be that it was not until Ramak and Maharal who first put this no-coincidences view into words, beyond what was already said in Tanakh and Gemara (though I would love to find earlier confirmations). So people who intuitively have trouble believing in the strong version can rely on Rambam and others in justifying their view. Thank G-d they do not have to feel like heretics.

    Another thing that troubles me about the low-providence view: it goes without saying that G-d is powerful enough to arrange at least some seemingly random events for a particular (good) purpose, without any violations of the laws of nature occurring. On a large scale, it may be difficult to fathom how this could be arranged, but given all the superlative praises of G-d's power all over our prayers and writings, it does not seem impossible that Hashem would arrange all things providentially in this way. If he can do it, and he is so wonderful and compassionate and so on, why wouldn't He do it? It would seem out of character! Perhaps the message of the Book of Esther is that now that the time of great open miracles has passed, the main way we see G-d's hands in the world is through what seem to be coincidences but in fact turn out to have exactly the needed result. After all, while praying (Nishmat) we thank Hashem for the "innumerable myriads of favors, miracles and wonders which you have performed for us and for our fathers before us," which indicates Hashem performs countless actions for us in the present, including but not limited to miracles.

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  35. (continuing from previous comment...) While a low-providence faith my result in great personal progress, it seems (to me, and by no means I am a great authority) less consistent with the faith of the Tanakh and Gemara. That said, it may be that it was not until Ramak and Maharal who first put this no-coincidences view into words, beyond what was already said in Tanakh and Gemara (though I would love to find earlier confirmations). So people who intuitively have trouble believing in the strong version can rely on Rambam and others in justifying their view. Thank G-d they do not have to feel like heretics.

    Another thing that troubles me about the low-providence view: it goes without saying that G-d is powerful enough to arrange at least some seemingly random events for a particular (good) purpose, without any violations of the laws of nature occurring. On a large scale, it may be difficult to fathom how this could be arranged, but given all the superlative praises of G-d's power all over our prayers and writings, it does not seem impossible that Hashem would arrange all things providentially in this way. If he can do it, and he is so wonderful and compassionate and so on, why wouldn't He do it? It would seem out of character! Perhaps the message of the Book of Esther is that now that the time of great open miracles has passed, the main way we see G-d's hands in the world is through what seem to be coincidences but in fact turn out to have exactly the needed result. After all, while praying (Nishmat) we thank Hashem for the "innumerable myriads of favors, miracles and wonders which you have performed for us and for our fathers before us," which indicates Hashem performs countless actions for us in the present, including but not limited to miracles.

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  36. Maverick wrote: "IIRC he says that if Aristotle had proven that the world was eternal, it would have disproved Torah MiSinai. "

    Actually, Rabbi Triebitz teaches that in Moreh Nevukhim the Rambam expresses that if Aristotle had actual proof that the world was eternal, it would cause him to reinterpret the Torah in a way coinciding with that view, as he could pick out evidence from within hazal in either direction. (and examples are presented throughout the Moreh). The majority view, and the one which came to predominate, (perhaps the more compelling interpretation as well, I don't remember how this was termed exactly) was that the world was not eternal, but there are nonetheless ways to read that view into various midrashim and various views expressed by individual figures within hazal.

    I believe the exact quote was something along the lines of: "the gates of interpretation are never closed."

    Of course the platonic view was certainly acceptable in either case. But he left room for the 'eternal world' view too - if there was proof behind it.

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  37. Very interesting Malbim with a similar model of reward and punishment:
    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2010/12/crime-is-eliminated-only-if-community.html

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  38. Yishai, there are several problems with the system you propose:
    1. The early universe was chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and the intrinsic uncertainty could have resulted in vastly different results. For example, you wouldn't have been able to predict that the Earth would even exist.
    2. Even if you say Hashem had no uncertainty here, the chaotic nature of human history would have prevented planning anything, and Hashem could not have known all the uncertainties beforehand because of free will.
    3. You can't say that Hashem knew all the uncertainties beforehand (including those of free will), he cannot have designed the Universe to account for those uncertainties and give specific results. Besides possibly effectively negating free will, this would create problems with causality and could have created paradoxes. Hashem cannot create paradoxes.
    4. If you want to say that Hashem constantly intervenes in nature, this would mean that Hashem cannot build perfect systems, and needs to adjust them constantly.
    Nireh Li that it would be impossible for Hashem to plan occurrences, and insulting to say that he intervenes to form them. Also, the statements in Chazal about intervention may be similar to the ones about reward and punishment, insofar as that they are not necessarily true but serve to influence the masses.
    That said, if you make the assumptions that Hashem can do the logically impossible and that the only rule of nature is "what Hashem wants to happen happens" then these critiques fall away. I think this is one of the watersheds between rationalism and mysticism.

    @A Talmid: Thanks for the information. Could you give me a reference to where the Rambam made the original statement? Is the statement clear or unclear? If unclear, is R. Triebitz's view the only one, or are you aware of others who interpret this passage differently?

    @Rabbi Slifkin: If purely logical proofs do not exist, and logic combined with the scientific method would not be analogous or a good replacement, what happens to the philosophy of the Rambam?

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  39. Yishai, this post is realy meant to discuss Rambam's approach to hasgacha. Did u see MN(II:48)? Well, there Rambam explains that everything in sifrei niviim relates to Hashem because he is the original source of everything. Weather the immidiate source of action is an animal, a human being or laws of nature. One of the examples he brings is Bereshis 45,8 'Not u had send me here but G-d'. Ralbag on that posuk says that Yosef did not mean it litterally but said it to be mefaes his brothers. This is the rationalist approach.

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  40. While the Rambam is rightly considered a model religious rationalist, that need not imply that all his writings and letters exhibit that character. The citation from his response to the Jews of Marseilles being a case in point. The fact that the Judean kingdom wasn't a militarized society can't rationally be attributed simply to reliance on astrological calculations. The desire for the easy life is always a temptation, and it takes wise and strong leadership to marshal the resources for a sufficiently large and trained military to discourage would-be aggressors. The last kings of Judea were neither wise nor strong. In fact, the statements in the bible suggest that complacency was engendered primarily by false prophets and the belief that GOD wouldn't allow His temple and environs to be destroyed.

    The Rambam appears to be arguing primarily that astrology is both false and extremely harmful. It appears to be a polemic rather than a well-reasoned argument. However, it is difficult, if not foolhardy, to attempt to draw great conclusions from a brief paragraph.

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  41. "Theoretically, an evil person, who has the intellectual prowess and the necessary self discipline could attain Olam HaBah.

    Is that a correct understanding of Keller's position?"
    No, he cannot according to Rambam and Kellner"s understanding of him. I cannot speculate on what Kellner thinks personally nor is it important.

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  42. Yishai said:
    This may be a good start for such an analysis.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/80723/jewish/Brief-on-Hashgachah-Pratis.htm

    Bad place to start if u want an honest, systematic approach that let's the text speak for itself. Lubavitch believes in 'chelek eloka mimaal ki pshuto mammash'. R. Saadia in Emunos veDeos in the first chapter brings 13 reasons why this belief is 'sichlus' and I am yet to see them deal with this. They present this belief as a great new revelation whereas R. Saadia considers it an ancient avoda zora. This is not a place to learn from.
    I think u need to learn the sources and think for yourself. I don't know of a short cut nor am I looking for one.

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  43. Yishai,

    I agree that portions of Tanach (Tehillim for example) point strongly towards personal providence, but in the age of prophesy (and other features like tzaraat, the Schechina over the mikdash, etc) that makes sense since anyone who wanted could directly determine Hashem's personal message to them.

    The Emuna and Bitachon that are your main spiritual goals -- what exactly are the Emmuna and Bitachon in? If the Emuna is that Torah and Mitzvot are a way to develop your soul and find the ultimate meaning of coming closer to Hashem, you don't need high providence. Is your Bitachon that, plus that Hashem will provide X physical need but if he doesn't it's ultimately for your own good too and you should make the best of the situation? Functionally, you get to the same place with just "you should make the best of the situation".

    Sotah 48 is specifically referring to all the phenomenon that were removed form the world along with the Bateiu Mikdash and Prophesy (ie. "Men of Faith") and I think that the simplest reading of the 'bread' line is actually metaphoric. Nevertheless, a low-providence view does not preclude that 'worrying' is, like anger, is a useless trait that at best is a shirking of responsibility, and at worst attribution of power to some improper entity -- there is only action/planning, and doing best under the circumstance.

    Again, my thesis is that high- and low-providence outlooks are functionally equivalent. I agree that high-providence is possible, I just don't extract any more personal meaning from that scenario and I feel that the downside of that outlook (attempting to attribute specific meaning to events) outweighs the benefits (motivation). If Hashem is constantly intervening to create the perfect series of circumstances for the development of my soul, hopefully my attempt to do the best with random circumstance is enough.

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  44. Y. Aharon: "The Rambam appears to be arguing primarily that astrology is both false and extremely harmful. It appears to be a polemic rather than a well-reasoned argument. However, it is difficult, if not foolhardy, to attempt to draw great conclusions from a brief paragraph."

    I am just-short-of-certain of the following: The letter doesn't offer philosophical arguments, because it's composed for readers who haven't mastered logic (Aristotelian). (There's hardly anything in it that you'd have to tell a logician.) A crude précis of the letter might be: "Here's how to stay out of trouble until you become philosophers (Aristotelian)." Perhaps the letter is preparing the readers to infer that they ought to establish contact with real philosophers. The letter is constructed as musar offered by a tsadik, who can speak authoritatively because he has the emunah of his readers. (BTW, in terms of types of thought known in the modern West, Aristotelian logic is most like mathematical physics.)

    One of the unifying themes of the letter is analogous to the unstated theme of the late Dr. Richard Feynman's famous Appendix F to the Challenger Commission Report: some judgments must be reserved to minds with the appropriate קניני הנפש. If you judge physical phenomena of O-rings non-physically, you kill people with space shuttles. Analogously for political phenomena judged by non-metaphysicians.

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  45. Yannai, I see what you are saying, and I am impressed with how well-thought out your views are. I just think it's better to have simple faith that G-d provides for us -- after all, why do we thank Him for our food in Birkat Hamazon if it's really a combination of chance and our own efforts that brings us food?

    One more thing: the problem of what our daily circumstances are meant to be telling us is not that big of a problem. This is because the main point is not to figure out exactly what everything means, but to trust in Him that everything is for the best and interpret everything positively and be happy and worry-free -- not because we should think that way for our own character development or even mental health (as the psychologists say) but because that's really the way the world really is. "Happy is the man who trusts in Him!" (Tehillim).

    Maverick, I'll just say that I find your proof that a high-providence world is impossible (and insulting to Hashem no less) to be highly unconvincing. None of your reasons strike me as logically required or empirically provable.

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  46. I'm not quite sure I understand the Rambam here, but I'm reminded of a section of Josephus, and I'm curious about the limits of Rambam's thoughts.

    In one area of Josephus, Josephus writes how the Jews were defending Jeruselem and thwarting all attempts of the Romans to build siege machines. (This was early on, many many years before the actual destruction.) However, the romans saw that the Jews did not do anything on Shabbat to stop the building of the seige weapon, and so the romans didn't build anything during the week, and only built the seige weapon on Shabbos.

    Based on this rambam, it would seem to suggest that the walls were breached because of the observance of Shabbat!

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  47. Ameteur, I don't understand your question

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  48. "Ameteur, I don't understand your question"

    It was an observation, not so much a question.

    However, if I had to word it into a question, I would ask if it is reasonable to believe that the Rambam felt that the reward for keeping Shabbat would be the loss of control over the temple.

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  49. This is not reward but consequence of incorrect actions. They should have been fighting. According to Rambam the reward for mitzvos is the actualization of the self. He uses the word reward but really means the outcome or result. This is explained in Hakdoma to chelek. Ayen shom.

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  50. Following up on my earlier post: I pointed out earlier that R' Slifkin, if I remember correctly, has written that the strong-providence view that there is no coincidence is a recent view first introduced by the Besht. Above I quoted Ramak, a century or two earlier, saying the same thing. I've recently noticed a much earlier date to this theological view (aside from statements in the Gemara such as those of Rabbi Akiva), in Chovot ha-Levavot, written in the 11th century, before the Zohar appeared. Rabbeinu Bachya says:

    "We ought to trust in God with the trust of one, fully convinced that all things and movements, together with their advantageous and injurious results happen by the decree of the Eternal, under His authority and according to His sentence."

    This seems equivalent to the Besht's statement that Providence even determines when each leaf falls from a tree. The above quote is in the context of a discussion of predestination versus free will, in which he notes the existence of camps on both sides.

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