Monday, September 29, 2014

Providence - Again!

Is everything that happens in our life providential? Is it all bashert? Is it all part of God's plan for us?

According to the great rationalist medieval scholars, generally not. (I discuss their views in The Challenge of Creation.)

But it's very hard for me to accept that perspective, because I see so much providence in my own life. I once wrote a post, "Providence In My Life," about how the various nefarious zealots who campaigned ten years ago to destroy Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and myself all met their downfall in ways that delegitimized their "holy" mission. In this post, I'd like to discuss a different example.

Many years ago, when I was in the shidduch parashah, I started out with a very clear picture of what I was looking for. After many, many encounters which I really hoped and thought would work out, but didn't, I was beginning to despair of ever getting married. Then Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein suggested that I meet someone, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. My wife is not someone who conforms to my original (silly) criteria, and she doesn't even particularly like animals, but she is an amazing person who is good for me in ways that I never originally realized were so important.

When we were house-hunting, I very much wanted to find something with sufficient garden space to house my ever-increasing collection of unusual animals. That is not easy to find in Ramat Beit Shemesh, but I had an idea which, while not ideal, seemed to be the only possible option. I worked on it for months, trying to persuade the owner to sell, and it was going through, but then it fell through at the very last moment. I was extremely disappointed, and despaired of ever being able to find the type of place that I was looking for. Then someone showed me a home only a hundred yards from my apartment, which I had never realized was suitable. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

A few years ago, I began developing plans for a Biblical Museum of Natural History. For a year I was actively looking for a suitable temporary site, which was not easy to find. Six months ago I was recommended a building under construction in the nearby moshav of Zanoach. This seemed to be a good, and indeed the only, option, and my partner and I spent a long time working towards it. I even rented two rooms next to the building site and moved my entire collection of animals and artifacts over, in preparation to move into the building. Then, at the last minute, the whole thing fell through, due to technical obstacles. We were pretty devastated. We looked at several alternatives, and nothing was even close to fitting our requirements. I despaired of ever finding a suitable location. My wife pointed out to me that I had also despaired of finding a wife and a home, and that had worked out well, but with ruthless rationalist logic, I responded that this did not necessarily mean that this would happen every time.

Then, at the end of a whole day of scouring completely inappropriate locations, my partner noticed a "for rent" sign. Lo and behold, it turned out to be a building that was vastly more suitable than the one in Zanoach. And the rest, as they say, is history - The Biblical Museum of Natural History.

According to the strictly rationalist Rishonim, it would be wrong to view any of this as providential. But I can't help viewing it all that way!

More details about the museum to come!

68 comments:

  1. R' Natan, I can empathize with your feeling of divine intervention in your cited incidents - particularly, marriage, since it is important to feel that GOD has an input into what happens to you. This is an important basis for finding a relationship with the divine. I have the same feeling that you describe - including an improbable shidduch with another amazing woman. The same feeling occurred after a number of close calls in driving, and other incidents. The realization that GOD does not generally intervene in the affairs of men does not contradict that feeling. There are too many problems with attributing an ordering of the lives of all people to GOD. That would make Him responsible for all the tragedies and evil in the world. I find that idea to be theologically unsustainable in the face of the concept of GOD as compassionate. That many people do not have the sense that they are being looked after is unfortunate. The Maimonidean rationale that GOD is close to those who know Him best is not a complete answer. Those of us who do have that feeling can only wonder why they seem to have been chosen. My own answer is 'zechut avot', meaning that we are involved in a chain of being that is deemed significant even if we may consider ourselves a 'weak link'. In any case, it is important for a religious outlook to cultivate such a feeling.

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rabbi Slifkin. I don't typically question people's faith, because, well, faith is faith and it's mainly irrational. However, someone, like yourself, for whom rationalism is a cornerstone, I feel an obligation to at least point out the paradoxes.

    I was actually just having this conversation with a friend today. We were wondering what causes a "rational" person who sees so much so clearly to draw a line and suddenly suspend their well honed disbelief. And he you are, doing exactly that!

    To me, these examples all seem so obviously not "divine".

    The zealots who attacked you were schmucks. More often than not, schmuckiness catches up with schmucks. So it's it's no biggie that these zealots met some sort of "downfall".

    In the current three examples you used the same term "despaired" each time. Clearly you "despair" way too soon. Each one is a classic case of "finding the thing you're looking for in the last place you look"!

    Besides, just beginning to think of all the free choice God would have to mess with to provide your little providence makes my head spin.

    You're free to think and believe what you want obviously, but this really only separates you, by a few degrees, from so many and so much you criticize.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, interesting observations. You're right about the zealots. And I do tend to despair too soon. But in the case of marriage, while I can't go into personal details, it really was one of the great miracles of recent times.

      Delete
    2. Many people who are blessed with happy marriages believe the way they met their spouse was something miraculous. It's quite a common belief. It is, in fact, the meaning of the famous midrash that all God does nowadays is sit and make shidduchim. It means to say, shidduchim are created through God's direct intervention into nature. Miracles.

      Only the most hard hearted of pedants would insist upon an absolutist, 100% rationalist position. Man is not built for such a viewpoint. We are creatures of contradiction. It's OK to have a generally rationalist bent upon life, but yet reserve the right to view certain events in one's life from a non-rationalist perspective. We can do this, even knowing that life is filled with millions of other individuals who might each be viewing their own status in a non-rationalist way. This paradox is built into the fabric of life.

      Delete
    3. I honestly don't understand why that belief - that when God created the world he organized it such that various seemingly vanishingly unlikely coincidences will arrange (for instance) for Rabbi Slifkin to get married - is somehow incompatible with rationalism.

      Why should such a miracle be paradoxical? God is omniscient. When he created the world he knew *exactly* how it would turn out, including who and when and if Rabbi Slifkin would marry. And he must have wanted it that way, or he would have created the world differently.

      If you want to assign it to an actual intervention-in-nature miracle, I see that as being no less rationalist, provided you understand what a miracle actually is.

      A miracle implies that the world as originally set in motion before the Big Bang did *not* have the outcome in which (say) Rabbi Slifkin got married, and God later intervened to change this. But God is outside of time; for him there's no such thing as "later". So all you're saying is that, when God created the world, he deliberately did so in such a fashion that he would have to and *want* to additionally intervene in specific ways. For an omniscient God who is outside of time, the list of said ways is not only complete and known in advance of the creation of the world - but it is performed at the same (no)time as the creation of the world in the first place! So this is no more and no less an expression of his will than the manner in which the universe was "originally" set in motion; it is no more and no less an intervention in nature than the manner in which nature was created in the first place; it is no more and no less of a miracle than the very existence of the universe - and it is no more and no less rational.

      The only way around this that I can see is to claim that God is neither omnipotent nor omniscient (the one implies the other). Which is antithetical to Judaism.

      Delete
    4. The zealots who attacked you were schmucks. More often than not, schmuckiness catches up with schmucks. So it's it's no biggie that these zealots met some sort of "downfall".
      ..................

      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/08/providence-in-my-life.html

      According to this view, providence does not mean God actually intervening, but rather that He has set things up such that those who engage in evil eventually bring destruction upon themselves, while those who pursue good find peace and tranquility.

      Delete
  3. There are no rationalists in foxholes.
    :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Admittedly I haven't read your book, nor am I the kind of person to read philosophical texts to the extent necessary to be familiar with the medieval rationalist scholars. But I consider myself to be a rationalist, and as a rationalist I have no problem believing that everything is God's plan.

    In fact, I'll go one step further. I have trouble understanding how a rationalist could believe otherwise. If you posit an omnipotent/omniscient God, then you must necessarily believe that even the tiniest aspect of the world must be in accordance with his will; otherwise he can and would change it. ("In accordance with his will" is defined here as "at minimum not something God *doesn't* want".)

    The only conclusion I can draw, therefore, is that positing an omnipotent/omniscient god is somehow incompatible with rationalism. If that's the case, I'd be very curious to hear why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you have trouble understanding it, but the Rambam draws a different conclusion. He pretty much negates most divine providence.

      Delete
    2. What if the omnipotent/omniscient God prefers that the Universe be rule-abiding, perhaps in order to make it comprehensible? Throw in a desire for man to have free-will which can lead down various paths, good or bad, and you can get a wide range of results which may look odd to you. Finally, you can add in the fact that man may not be the most important thing in the universe.

      Here is a fairly simple exposition of this sort: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp148.htm

      Delete
    3. I don't see what the rule-abidingness of the universe has anything to do with this. An omniscient god must know what will happen and when, whether it follows rules or not. That is the meaning of omniscience.

      In any case. A wide range of results doesn't negate the fact that every possible result must be acceptable to God. If even one possible result were *unacceptable* to him, he could with no effort restructure the universe such that that possibility is eliminated, while leaving all other possibilities unaffected. That is the meaning of omnipotence. If God doesn't want outcome X, say, a mad scientist blowing up the Earth, he will have arranged the universe such that the mad scientist is prevented from building or from activating the Earth-blowing-up machine, whether due to a power failure or earthquake or the mad scientist never being born or James Bond swooping in to stop him at the last minute. Alternatively, if the mad scientist actually succeeds in doing this we must conclude that God allowed it to happen, because he *could* have prevented it during creation by arranging for the above means and chose not to.

      Furthermore, I disagree with the very idea that free will for man can lead down various paths, at least from God's point of view. If I am handed a cup of water and a cup of cola and told to choose between them, *everybody* who knows me knows that I will choose the water almost every time because I can't stand cola. I still have free will; maybe one time I *will* choose that cola due to a special confluence of circumstances. It has been known to happen. But somebody who knows my personality and the circumstances well enough will probably be able to guess - with varying degrees of success - when those isolated incidents of cola-drinking will occur. To an omniscient God who not only knows all circumstances but can read my thoughts and is outside of time and knows my decision in advance? The success rate must reach 100%. Therefore, when God set up the universe, he knew in advance which times I will drink cola. That doesn't change the fact that I'm still making that choice.

      This knowledge applies to every combination of decisions made by every single person in the universe, not just cola. When God created the universe, he knew what every single decision made by every single individual would be, no matter how insignificant, from the beginning to the end of time. Which means that the outcomes of every single one of these decisions are implicitly approved of by God (see my final paragraph below); if they were not, God would have and could have created the universe such that a confluence of circumstances would prevent the undesirable decision from being made (e.g., there is no cola available).

      Lastly, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, it doesn't matter whether man is the most important thing or the least important thing in the universe. Even the single most insignificant item on the list of things present in the universe is that way ultimately because when God created the universe he created it in such a fashion that said insignificant item would turn out that way. If the item is so insignificant that it really could have been either way and God doesn't care? Well, he must have cared enough to pick this way over that way. Otherwise it would be that way. He's omniscient and knew which way it would turn out in advance.

      I read through the chapter at your link and don't really see what it has to do with anything. I'm not talking about good and evil here. I'm talking about outcomes that exist versus outcomes that do not. This is what God wants deterministically, not what God prefers morally. If God created the world and is omniscient and is omnipotent, then every single outcome of his creation of the world is necessarily a conscious expression of his will - because he is the not only the one who made it that way, he has both the knowledge that it will turn out that way and the power to make it turn out otherwise.

      Delete
    4. Yerushalmi, if you want to understand a different point of view, you need to be open to the possibility that the other point of view has different premises. Some comments:

      I read through the chapter at your link and don't really see what it has to do with anything. I'm not talking about good and evil here.

      When Rambam speaks of "evil", he is referring to bad outcomes from your personal PoV (or that of humans generally), not only evil human intentions (although those play a role in creating evil).

      If even one possible result were *unacceptable* to him, he could with no effort restructure the universe such that that possibility is eliminated, while leaving all other possibilities unaffected.

      The Rambam disagrees:

      The first kind of evil is that which is caused to man by the circumstance that he is subject to genesis and destruction, or that he possesses a body. It is on account of the body that some persons happen to have great deformities or paralysis of some of the organs. [...] He who thinks that he can have flesh and bones without being subject to any external influence, or any of the accidents of matter, unconsciously wishes to reconcile two opposites, viz., to be at the same time subject and not subject to change. If man were never subject to change there could be no generation: there would be one single being, but no individuals forming a species. Galen, in the third section of his book, The Use of the Limbs, says correctly that it would be in vain to expect to see living beings formed of the blood of menstruous women and the semen virile, who will not die, will never feel pain, or will move perpetually, or will shine like the sun.

      Remember that to the Rambam, some things are inherently impossible, so omnipotence doesn't help.

      Furthermore, I disagree with the very idea that free will for man can lead down various paths, at least from God's point of view.

      The point is that free will implies that there can be evil as a result:

      The second class of evils comprises such evils as people cause to each other, when, e.g., some of them use their strength against others. These evils are more numerous than those of the first kind: their causes are numerous and known; they likewise originate in ourselves, though the sufferer himself cannot avert them. This kind of evil is nevertheless not widespread in any country of the whole world. It is of rare occurrence that a man plans to kill his neighbour or to rob him of his property by night. Many persons are, however, afflicted with this kind of evil in great wars: but these are not frequent, if the whole inhabited part of the earth is taken into consideration.

      Delete
    5. Lastly, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, it doesn't matter whether man is the most important thing or the least important thing in the universe.

      If a certain level of "evil" is inevitable (no "evil" is impossible), then it most certainly does:

      For an ignorant man believes that the whole universe only exists for him; as if nothing else required any consideration. If, therefore, anything happens to him contrary to his expectation, he at once concludes that the whole universe is evil. If, however, he would take into consideration the whole universe, form an idea of it, and comprehend what a small portion he is of the Universe, he will find the truth. For it is clear that persons who have fallen into this widespread error as regards the multitude of evils in the world, do not find the evils among the angels, the spheres and stars, the elements, and that which is formed of them, viz., minerals and plants, or in the various species of living beings, but only in some individual instances of mankind. They wonder that a person, who became leprous in consequence of bad food, should be afflicted with so great an illness and suffer such a misfortune; or that he who indulges so much in sensuality as to weaken his sight, should be struck With blindness! and the like. What we have, in truth, to consider is this:--The whole mankind at present in existence, and a fortiori, every other species of animals, form an infinitesimal portion of the permanent universe.

      Delete
    6. Your post and the Rambam's chapter you linked to address the question of bad outcomes versus good outcomes. Which is completely irrelevant to my assertion. My assertion can be summed up in one sentence:

      To an omniscient and omnipotent being, any actual outcome is logically equivalent to the intended outcome.

      Forget good and evil. Forget whether we're talking about human intentions versus accidents. Forget whether something is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, from any particular individual's point of view. I did not bring up any of those concepts in my original post, because they're completely irrelevant to what I'm saying:

      God created the universe.
      God, being omniscient, knows about everything that will happen in the universe.
      God, being omnipotent, could have created the universe differently.
      God didn't.
      Therefore, every single thing that happens in the universe is something God intended to happen.

      ---
      As for this:
      "If you want to understand a different point of view, you need to be open to the possibility that the other point of view has different premises."

      I think that's just hurtful. After all, in my original post I said this:
      The only conclusion I can draw, therefore, is that positing an omnipotent/omniscient god is somehow incompatible with rationalism. If that's the case, I'd be very curious to hear why.

      And you said this afterwards:
      Remember that to the Rambam, some things are inherently impossible, so omnipotence doesn't help.

      So not only did I explicitly allow for the fact that somebody might have different premises than I do, but I even successfully predicted what they would be!

      My surprise remains, however, so I really would like an answer: why is omnipotence (and I define omnipotence as including the ability to do things that are logically impossible, so if God can't create a four-sided triangle he's not truly omnipotent) incompatible with rationalism? Positing a God is a fundamentally irrational position to take to begin with, and the one irrational position a rationalist must allow himself if he is to be religious. So why are we limiting the amount of irrationality we are assigning to said position if it's irrational anyway?

      Delete
    7. Finally, you can add in the fact that man may not be the most important thing in the universe.
      ...

      so the rambam is disagreeing with medrash that the world was created for yisroel ?

      (would you be able to answer my dateline query/post?)

      Delete
    8. Rambam understood Medrashim as Rabbinic homiletics, not factual statements.

      Delete
    9. As for this:
      "If you want to understand a different point of view, you need to be open to the possibility that the other point of view has different premises."

      I think that's just hurtful.


      My apologies. This was not intended a personal attack, just an observation that applies to all of us, including myself. My point was simply that if you want to to understand how a "rationalist" could say X, then read one and see how he said it, even if you disagree with his/her premises.

      Forget good and evil. Forget whether we're talking about human intentions versus accidents. Forget whether something is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, from any particular individual's point of view. I did not bring up any of those concepts in my original post, because they're completely irrelevant to what I'm saying:

      God created the universe.
      God, being omniscient, knows about everything that will happen in the universe.
      God, being omnipotent, could have created the universe differently.
      God didn't.
      Therefore, every single thing that happens in the universe is something God intended to happen.


      I presume that you understand that this is precisely what the Rambam is dealing with in this section. On the one hand, he does not want to ascribe evil to God. On the hand, there is evil. How to reconcile that? If you want to understand a "rationalist" approach, pay attention to what he says.

      My surprise remains, however, so I really would like an answer: why is omnipotence (and I define omnipotence as including the ability to do things that are logically impossible, so if God can't create a four-sided triangle he's not truly omnipotent) incompatible with rationalism?

      Because a four-sided triangle is truly impossible (although perhaps not for the reasons that the Rambam thought). The question of course is difficult to answer, because people don't agree on what rationalism is. But let's agree that it includes the notion that what you can learn through logic and investigation should be taken into account in your interpretation of Judaism.

      Positing a God is a fundamentally irrational position to take to begin with

      The Rambam and other rationalist Rishonim certainly did not think that way. So whether you agree with them or not, any result of your premise not likely to be consistent with "Rationalist Judaism" as identified with those Rishonim.

      Delete
    10. Scott M.October 1, 2014 at 12:37 AM
      Rambam understood Medrashim as Rabbinic homiletics, not factual statements.


      Also, the Rambam certainly did disagree with some Rabbinic statements. He would usually then ascribe these to minority positions, not agreed to by majority. This often was not based any textual evidence, but by the fact that he could not imagine the idea (e.g. Astrology) gaining majority support by Chazal.

      In the intro to the Guide, the Rambam ascribes some contradictions in the Midrash to mistakes by the author:

      THERE are seven causes of inconsistencies and contradictions to be met with in a literary work.
      [...]
      Sixth cause: The contradiction is not apparent, and only becomes evident through a series of premises. The larger the number of premises necessary to prove the contradiction between the two conclusions, the greater is the chance that it will escape detection, and that the author will not perceive his own inconsistency. Only when from each conclusion, by means of suitable premises, an inference is made, and from the enunciation thus inferred, by means of proper arguments, other conclusions are formed, and after that process has been repeated many times, then it becomes clear that the original conclusions are contradictories or contraries. Even able writers are liable to overlook such inconsistencies. If, however, the contradiction between the original statements can at once be discovered, and the author, while writing the second, does not think of the first, he evinces a greater deficiency, and his words deserve no notice whatever.
      [...]
      Contradictions occurring in the writings of most authors and commentators, such as are not included in the above-mentioned works, are due to the sixth cause. Many examples of this class of contradictions are found in the Midrash and the Agada: hence the saying, "We must not raise questions concerning the contradictions met with in the Agada."


      (would you be able to answer my dateline query/post?)

      I thought I did respond to all of them...

      Delete
    11. I don't know why you keep bringing good and evil into this conversation. We're discussing whether coincidences can be ascribed to divine providence. What do good and evil have anything to do with anything?

      I repeat my sequence from above:
      God created the universe.
      God, being omniscient, knows about everything that will happen in the universe.
      God, being omnipotent, could have created the universe differently.
      God didn't.
      Therefore, every single thing that happens in the universe is something God intended to happen.


      I did not mention "good" or "evil" in this. We're talking about Rabbi Slifkin finding a house! The Rambam you linked to asks, "Why is there evil?". That has nothing to do with this, and I don't ask that, at least not here.

      -----

      Anyhow. God created everything. To me, that includes even the very concept of logic. God is unbounded; he himself is outside of logic, and he can therefore create four-sided triangles. I believe in rationality in all things except where it comes to God.

      Note that I said "except where it comes to God", not "except where it comes to Judaism". You wrote: what you can learn through logic and investigation should be taken into account in your interpretation of Judaism. I wholeheartedly agree with this. God himself may be outside of logic, but he created a universe and religion that run on it. Halacha, like geometry, results from applying laws of derivation (e.g., Rabbi Yishmael's 13 midot) to axioms (e.g., the text of the Torah and the existence of God) and reaching logical conclusions. I try to be rational within Judaism and within every other sphere of human existence, suspending rationality solely when it comes to describing the abilities of a specific, unique entity who I feel by definition transcends rationality.

      Now, the level of omnipotence I ascribe to God may not even be necessary to the belief that all events are part of God's will! It merely provides a shortcut from A to B. I claim that since there are no limits to God's omnipotence, God could have created any universe he wanted, and therefore a universe identical to our own but lacking Event X could have been created instead. Since said universe was not, in fact, created, we must conclude that God for some reason wanted Event X to occur (God's omniscience obviating any possible claim that he didn't know Event X would occur). Since nothing in this logical sequence is dependent on any characteristic of Event X, the logic holds no matter what Event X is.

      However, one who claims that God is bound by the laws of logic has another step to take: he must first determine whether a universe functionally identical to our own but lacking Event X is or is not logically consistent before he can reach the conclusion that God could have created that universe. Asserting omnipotence beyond logic allows me to skip this step.

      But I suspect this step is just a formality. The sheer number of possible permutations of the number of particles in the universe and their initial states means the answer is probably always yes - God could have created an identical universe without Event X. So even a rationalist placing logical limits on God's power (you) might be able to reach the same conclusion as the rationalist that doesn't (me): that every single coincidence, like every single movement of every single molecule in the universe, is that way because God wanted it that way.

      But you and Rabbi Slifkin claim that this level of divine providence is incompatible with rationality. I don't see why. Are there additional limits you place on God's power that prevent coincidence from being ascribable to him? Or do the limits of consistency and logic already account for it, i.e., the list of possible internally-consistent universes is not so extensive, and often God really could not have made a universe in which Event X didn't happen if he wanted the universe to turn out the way it did? Or am I missing something?

      Delete
    12. I thought I did respond to all of them...

      ...

      except for one at 1:52 am

      Delete
    13. I don't know why you keep bringing good and evil into this conversation. We're discussing whether coincidences can be ascribed to divine providence. What do good and evil have anything to do with anything?

      Because if Divine Providence doesn't cause evil and evil exists in the world, then your premise that everything is the result of Divine Providence is mistaken.

      God is unbounded; he himself is outside of logic, and he can therefore create four-sided triangles. I believe in rationality in all things except where it comes to God.

      Then your position, right or wrong, is not consistent with that of the position of the Rambam and likely not of the other "rationalist" Rishonim reference by the title of the blog.

      one who claims that God is bound by the laws of logic has another step to take: he must first determine whether a universe functionally identical to our own but lacking Event X is or is not logically consistent before he can reach the conclusion that God could have created that universe.

      And the Rambam in fact makes that determination. For example: "We have already shown that, in accordance with the divine wisdom, genesis can only take place through destruction, and without the destruction of the individual members of the species the species themselves would not exist permanently."

      But you and Rabbi Slifkin claim that this level of divine providence is incompatible with rationality.

      1) I'll just speak for myself.

      2) I don't make any claims about what is "rational". I'm only pointing out the the "rationalist" Rishonim, or at least the Rambam, didn't seem to agree.

      Delete
    14. Because if Divine Providence doesn't cause evil and evil exists in the world, then your premise that everything is the result of Divine Providence is mistaken.
      So if I understand this correctly, those first two claims ("Divine providence doesn't cause evil" and "evil exists in the world") are your axioms? These are more basic fundamentals of faith than the omnipotence of God?

      Then your position, right or wrong, is not consistent with that of the position of the Rambam and likely not of the other "rationalist" Rishonim reference by the title of the blog.
      I have no problem with this, so long as it is recognized that my position is a legitimate alternative. Two rationalist people who have different starting assumptions will draw different conclusions.

      "We have already shown that, in accordance with the divine wisdom, genesis can only take place through destruction, and without the destruction of the individual members of the species the species themselves would not exist permanently."
      This in no way reduces the level of divine providence in the world. The only limit this assertion (with which I do not agree) places on God is that, in creating the universe, he must insert some instance(s) of destruction in the human species. But:
      1) Non-destructive Event X's, such as the ones being discussed in this post, were not "forced" upon God's creation by the desire for self-consistency, meaning they are directly attributable to God;
      2) Furthermore, the specific set of instances of destruction that actually do appear in the world were chosen by God. There's no reason any individual destructive Event X is necessary for the survival of the human species, and God could have done without it or replaced it with a different one. So every individual destructive Event X is still directly attributable to God.

      Delete
  5. Belief in an all-encompassing providence that somehow allows for our freedom of choice (to whatever degree) contains a paradox, but that doesn't make it problematic. Rational thinkers should admit that paradoxes can be real but beyond our understanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When there's another option which contains no such paradox then accepting it is indeed problematic within the context of claimed rationalism.

      Delete
    2. A paradox beats a lie any day.

      Delete
    3. What 'lie' are you referring to?

      Delete
    4. Ironically, the Rambam speaks about this openly in Yad Hachazaka, Hilchot Teshuva. He says that this question of divine foreknowledge and free choice is an "unanswerable" dilemma for any human being, ever. The reason is obvious. We cannot understand how omniscience works because our intellect is naturally limited. It is factually *beyond human understanding*. Therefore, even if I knew with certainty that God knows everything, I wouldn't be able to actually *know* it, only to know that it EXISTS. Obviously the concept of foreknowledge and free will contradict each other, but they MUST do so from our perspective. It would be impossible for us to be omniscient and also have free choice. BECAUSE we are not omniscient, we have choice. God, who is omniscient doesn't have free choice. His knowledge doesn't effect us because we are not privy to it, so as far as we are concerned, we are totally free.

      This is not an answer to the unanswerable. I cannot explain how foreknowledge works nor how free choice can both be real and a mirage at the same time. But that is the point. I know that I will never have the answer because they are stuck in a catch 22.

      As far as Occam's Razor, it may be a great tool for remaining a staunch rationalist, but not always the best one for gaining truth. Sometimes when you step back from the painting a few feet, the picture changes. Trying to always look for the simplest theory is what originally led to idolatry and paganism. What if the truth is not the answer that fits neatly into a little box?

      Delete
    5. If one is looking for truth, and faced with multiple options to consider, the first step he should take is to eliminate any option for which known facts "A" and "B" cannot both be true. Either the premise is wrong, or he is mistaken about the truth of "A" or "B" .
      There cannot exist both hashgacha pratit and free will for example. It's questionable whether there really is any free will whatsoever, but certainly not what jews refer to as free will given the additional belief in divine providence.

      Delete
  6. Even according to the most extreme rationalist, while God may "generally not" intervene providentially in human affairs, that doesn't mean that He never does. There are exceptions to every rule. The fact that you see these events as the result of Divine action on whatever level may be the result of an overweening arrogance - or of a particularly well-honed sensibility. Don't Chaza"l tell us that there are bas kols (mini prophecies) issued regularly but only those sensitive enough perceive them? Maybe God gently nudges events in a particular direction, and only the most exquisitely perceptive of us note it?

    Of course, on the other side, we have those who constantly, loudly and insistently interpret God's intention in every event. Always in support of their particular agenda. Amazing how attuned they are to the Divine will...

    (Did you mean Shmuel Kaminetzky or Natan Kaminetzky?)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rabbi Slifkin: Your stories are truly inspiring, but if you are seriously using them to argue for a supernaturalistic conception of providence, then you without doubt realize that your evidence is all anecdotal.

    I would argue in a Maimonidean fashion that the providence you experienced was, at least partially, a result of your intelligence and thoughtfulness to seize the opportunities that came your way.

    Lawrence Kaplan

    ReplyDelete
  8. Not sure I understand the irrationality of what Scott M. is talking about. If (and I repeat IF) one believes in a theistic diety (not deism) than by definition this diety would take special concern for those involved. Rabbi Slikin is simply being consistent with theism. Scott's issue seems to be theism in general, not THIS particular instance of Slifkin being irrational

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Holy, your assumption is problematic. You used the term "special concern". As a parent I have special concern for my children, however I do not manipulate their every move. I may get involved here or there to guide them, or I may not. And it's exactly the level of God's "involvement" that's at issue. A believing Jew has a full range of choices on the issue which goes basically from Rambam's virtual elimination of divine providence (and miracles) to Ramban's belief that God controls everything... every movement even every thought. Pretty much by definition a rationalist has to lean toward the Rambam end of that spectrum. The more divine providence, ie manipulation you see, the less rational you are. As divine providence increases so do logical problems involving free choice and theodicy.

      Every believing person, at some point, must suspend disbelief. For the rationalist, wherever you draw that line, there will be conflict. That's what I believe Rabbi Slifkin is expressing here. He states clearly that rationalists do not believe that everything is providential yet it's "hard for him to accept" as he struggles with "wanting" to see divine providence even were it's not rational to do so, e.g. with the zealots.

      I actually believe that if he really sat down and thought it through, he'd even be able to see a "naturalistic" explanation for the "miracles" of his meeting his wife. But he doesn't want to, and that's fine. We all have to draw the line somewhere.

      Delete
    2. So your main issue is not whether one believes in God but R' Slifkin being inconsistent?

      Sorry, I'm just trying to understand the problem. Manipulation is not in of itself irrational. You personally may not LIKE that level of involvement (and how it relates to free will), but it doesn't equal irrational. Again, if you don't believe in God in the first place, than the conversation is pointless. It's not divine providence that is the core problem, but the divine itself.

      The only thing this post has shown is that R' Slifkin (like the vast majority of theists) don't hold to Rambam's quasi-deism.

      Delete
    3. I don't have a "problem", but yes I was pointing out Rabbi Slifkin's internal inconsistency, which he clearly understood and appreciated.

      You're right, manipulation, in and of itself, *may* not be irrational. Certainly if there were proof for it, it wouldn't be. However, generally in our religious world there is an inverse relationship between how high a level of divine providence one holds and a rational approach to religion.

      As for what I "like" that's irrelevant. Nobody "knows" how much or even if God is involved in our day to day lives. I, like everyone else, have whom to rely on to choose the level I'm comfortable with and that makes sense to me.

      Don't get all hyper about it. This is something that anyone who fancies themselves a "rationalist" (like myself) has to struggle with. Like I said before it's very clear from his writings that R. Slifkin shares in this struggle.

      Delete
  9. Rav Slifkin: There is such a thing as good Mazal. From my point of view, you've had a lot of it. And may you continue to have lots of good mazal ! :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. The 3 examples you list match the 3 listed in Sotah 2a as being the 3 things which are predetermined: a wife, a house, and a field (place of work.) Looking forward to visiting the museum.

    ReplyDelete
  11. you must be a tzaddik

    ReplyDelete
  12. I don't understand why you view unexpected fortuitous events as being directed by God. Certainly over many years everyone has some "good luck". This doesn't mean that God intervened in the natural order for the specific benefit of this person. Why would you think that you deserve such intervention anyway? Do you also view unexpected negative events as being caused by the providential hand of God? They should be no different, but I have never heard anyone say, "Things were looking good, but then something bad happening unexpectedly - what hashgacha!".

    ReplyDelete
  13. Can't help but paraphrase from a Tim Minchin song (my changes in brackets)...

    Thank you, [Rabbi Slifkin], for showing how my point of view has been so flawed
    I assumed there was no God at all but now I see that's cynical
    It's simply that his interests aren't particularly broad
    He's largely undiverted by the starving masses,
    Or the inequality between the various classes
    He gives out strictly limited passes,
    Redeemable for [museum real estate impasses]


    Seriously though, congrats on finding a site!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm disappointed in your having fallen prey to this, R' Slifkin.

    Your recognition has merely aligned with your preconceived emotional positions -- in other words, you claim to perceive the universe in a certain way because you arrive with the unshakable presumption that the universe is already this way.

    I'm very surprised that you posted this, in fact. This retrospective anecdotal review of events fails to meet any statistical significance, as it always will. Observers and heralders of such divine intervention fail to halt at the obstacle of publication bias (in that you don't mention all the things that didn't work out well in the end) and the the more seriously skewing results of what we might call a retconning bias (in that, in a display of fervent piety, individuals might, and often do, try their utmost to seek ways to explain bad things in good ways to push their position that it "all ends well afterall" and everything can be unicorns and rainbows if you just look at things in he proper perspective). Not to mention that upwards of 75% of American football touchdowns made follow with a kneel and a prayer thanking the "sweet baby Jesus" for intervening to help make the completion -- does that mean that the God of Moses helped you find an appropriate location for your zoo while Jesus helps the wide receivers catch the ball and enter the endzone?

    I sincerely hope your ardent rationalist followers happen to miss this post, or else you run the risk of them banning your books as well. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, do we vote "kefirah" if we think this post is too "irrational"?

      Lawrence Kaplan

      Delete
    2. The criticism reminds me of the episode in Kings where the nation of Israel splits. The northern tribes are upset at Rehobam for not meeting their demands. Nothing supernatural there. Yet it says God was responsible for it due to Solomon's sin. So now, presumably, someone CAN say this doesn't meet any statistical significance. After all, nations split all the time and nations remain together all the time. It follows than, that God would and could not be responsible for this event.

      Delete
    3. Preconceived emotional positions, unshakable presumptions, retrospective anecdotal reviews of statistically insignificant events, publication bias and Temujin's favourite, retconning (i.e., retroactive continuity) bias. These are excellent points, worthy of adding to one's growing notes and if one may add social anthropological jargon, emic (the involved participant's) versus etic (the outside observer's) perspectives which also bedevil our attempts to interpret events.

      Still, as this man contemplated clicking the "kefira" button for the first time, he recalled the many times he recited the prayers for forgiveness and livelihood at the weekday mincha with sincerity and hope and decided not to. Complicated stuff, what?

      Delete
    4. Some would claim that just as every blade of grass has a supervising angel encouraging its very growth, every leaf has been predestined to land upon its particular spot on the lawn, perhaps also directed by its very own angel in air traffic control. Others balk at this, and refer to divine intervention as serving the needs of the nation, or at least the person -- but not the leaf and not the bedbug and not the snail.

      It just seemed to me that R' Slifkin was being quite disingenuous when positing that he sees so much providence in his life, with these events serving as evidence. For they are most certainly not evidence of anything other than, perhaps, confirmation bias -- he wants to see God directing his life, and so he does -- just like the football player who sees Jesus (or Allah) in his touchdown.

      Delete
  15. Not to mention that upwards of 75% of American football touchdowns made follow with a kneel and a prayer thanking the "sweet baby Jesus" for intervening to help make the completion

    75% of statistics are made up on the spot :). In any case, there is room for optimism here, as there is a trend towards more purely monotheistic touchdown celebrations as evidenced by this story: NFL: Husain Abdullah penalty wrong

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I figured it was accurate enough. The point is still valid even if it's 7.5%.

      Delete
  16. It is Rational Providence.
    Ester Hicks teaches 'Law Of Attraction' many of her videos can be found on Youtube.
    She explains, how one's thoughts, beliefs, desires, and emotional feelings determine what events and experiences will occur in one's life, as well as why certain desires do not manifest.

    Becoming acquainted with 'Law Of Attraction', will uncover a new facet of thinking and making Rational a bigger factor in the way one sees everything. E.g. New understandings of Gemaras, events in scripture, and tefillah/meditations. Not to mention why one deal fell through and afterwards a vastly more suitable opportunity became available. and why the zealots met their downfall.

    Your next blog will be, 'Was it, Law Of Attraction or [foresight] intuition?'
    o

    ReplyDelete
  17. I fail to see a problem with this post. No religious, feeling person can be a strict rationalist. It is logical to posit that the universe came into existence from the will of a Being who is outside of time and capable of actions totally outside of human experience. However, to further state that this Being has had no further input into creation is a statement of belief - one that religious people (other than Deists) do not accept. On the other hand, to ascribe all events in the universe to the directive influence of that Being is highly problematic - if not illogical. It involves, among others, questions of theodicy and accounting for the vast number of tragedies and suffering that happen on a daily basis. I would find it difficult to relate to a Being capable of causing so much suffering on a continuing basis. The other position, that of limited or personal providence is far more attractive. However, limiting such providence to those intellectually equipped and religiously inclined is also not realistic or desirable. There is much anecdotal evidence which would contradict such a view. Rather, we should cultivate and treat such perceived providential treatment as a mystery and as a great gift rather than trying to rationalize it away. R' Natan is a believing and practicing religious Jew with a rationalist bent, as are many of us. Just accept that and move on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said.

      Just one more point: Divine Providence is something we believe in because it says so in the Torah. If it didn't say so, we would not necessarily be able to derive it from our experience in the world.

      However, given that we do believe in it, the only rational reaction to receiving Siyata di'Shmaya (help from Above) is gratitude.

      May you be inscribed of a year of great Siyata diShmaya in everything.

      Delete
    2. Where does it say this in the Torah?

      Delete
    3. D Rosenbach -
      I can see one of two options here. Either you are not being serious or you have not actually ever opened a Tanach. Pretty sure just about every event in Tanach either explicitly or implicitly supports the idea of divine providence on at least some level. If you want concrete examples - Yetziat Mitzrayim for explicit, Megilat Esther or Megilat Rut for implicit. But open to a random page, and you are likely to find an example.

      Delete
    4. It is true that the events recounted in Tanach imply incidences of divine providence (in that claims are made that it applied to events that occurred), but the Tanach is very quiet about the prevalence of divine providence (in that it makes very little mention of the notion that divine providence exists for all events that ever occur).

      And so to say that I was at the store today looking for a Diet Coke but all I could find was Diet Pepsi, until I tripped and then upon getting up, I finally found what I was looking for -- the claim that God was evidently there at the Red Sea or that God was evidently there in Shushan has no bearing on whether or not he's evident when I'm searching for a Diet Coke.

      Delete
    5. I checked again and you are correct. Tanach makes no mention of your preference for Coke over Pepsi.

      Delete
  18. The previous comment was mine.

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete
  19. Rabbi believes life is meaningful = dog bites man.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Ever heard of the birthday paradox?
    If you choose 23 people at random, in 50% of the cases 2 will have the same birthday.
    If you choose 70 people at random, 99.9% probability is reached.
    As long as you do not expect a specific outcome (a specific birthday, that is), coincidences ("Hashgacha pratis") occur quite commonly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Re, B'day paradox.
      I don't think that is correct,(yes, I've seen the math) but, it's not what everybody immediately thinks, 366.
      That statistic doesn't allow for incidences of twins, triplets etc. nor seasonal bias.
      The actual number is around 170.

      Delete
    2. You are off by one.
      It's 70, not 170.
      See Wikipedia.

      Delete
    3. You are off by one.
      It's 70, not 170.
      See Wikipedia.

      Delete
    4. People not recognizing the truth of statistical reality does not make something a paradox. The birthday paradox is no more a paradox than the "I can't believe the bus showed up just as I arrived at the station!" paradox. It's merely referred to as a paradox because even above-average people do not possess the understanding to perceive statistical realities.

      If you'd like a paradox, try Grelling-Nelson.

      Delete
    5. Actually, Quine has a nice essay called the "Ways of Paradox" available here: https://math.dartmouth.edu/~matc/Readers/HowManyAngels/Paradox.html. He defines a paradox as "a paradox is just any conclusion that at first sounds absurd but that has an argument to sustain it". This explains why there was once a "Copernican Paradox".

      He discusses why Grelling-Nelson is different and classifies is an "Antimony" or one of a class of paradoxes that "that bring on the crises in thought".

      The Birthday Paradox would be of the "veridical" (surprising, but true) variety in his classification scheme.

      Short and well worth reading.

      Delete
  21. Many good words here. So, as Occam's razor comes a-slicing, what is a single cipher of a human soul left with? A mission statement for every man and woman and a Divine Providence whose workings appear to be uncertain, if not unknowable. With wishes for a good new year to all, Temujin's attempt at a "rationalist" piece of advice: Carry on proudly and bravely lads, let's do our best in everything with a smile and may we remember to offer sincere thanks to God for every dented tin of rations that comes our way and for every moment we can draw breath in peace to squabble over such imponderables!

    ReplyDelete
  22. May we imminently hear more Providentially good news.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Post reminds me of the diffence between a depression and a recession -- when your firend loses his job, it's a recession; when you lose your job it's a depression.
    When things work out for R. Slifkin, it's divine intervention, for others, its simple coincidence.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I concur. Although we usually never get the opportunity to see the big picture that would explain why bad things happen to good people, every now and then we get a glimpse and that is enough for me to have faith that there are (unknown to me) explanations for the other situations.

    I will share one with the list here.

    When I was a child, my family was not religious. We went to the local Reform congregation on holidays, I went to their religious school program where I learned the alef-bet, but that was pretty much the extent of our observance.

    I was going to the local public school for my education (this would be from the first through fifth grades.) I was bullied by some of the local kids. The school and the police were unwilling to do anything. So my parents decided that I must go to a different school. Thanks to the presence of an Orthodox family living a block away, my parents decided to send me to a local yeshiva day school. It was extremely difficult adjusting to such a school, given my comparatively non-existent Jewish education prior to this point, but I worked hard and graduated. Then when I was given the choice to continue on to a yeshiva high school or go back to the public school, I chose to remain in yeshiva and stayed with it until graduation from the 12th grade.

    Today, I am not as observant as my rabbis would want, but I keep a kosher home, I never work on Shabbat or Yom Tov and I learn Torah during some of my spare time. Additionally, my wife, who was not from a very observant home, has become more observant since we've known each other.

    So how does this relate to the theme of this thread? Back when I was that child in the fifth grade being picked on by bullies in the public school, I could not understand why. The world was a cruel place and I was being hurt due to no fault of my own. But looking back at it, over 30 years later, I can see that their cruelty started a chain of events that resulted in my getting a proper Jewish education, my level of Jewish observance being stronger than it would have been, and my wife and daughter being more observant than they would have been.

    In hindsight, I would not want to have changed a thing, but at the time the bad events were happening, I would have had no way of knowing.

    Is it a miracle or coincidence? Who can say. If we didn't have an orthodox neighbor back then (and they were the only orthodox family in our neighborhood), I probably would have ended up at a different school with a completely different life. Did God put them there or is it just coincidence? I choose to believe that this is one of God's hidden miracles because such a small thing (the family living down the block) ended up having such an incredible result.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Like R' Slifkin's, my own hashkafa combines rationalism on scientific questions with mysticism on divine providence. I don't think this is contradictory or even unusual. For example, Rav Hirsch certainly had rationalist scientific ideas, and many statements in Horeb seem to convey a belief in universal providence.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.