Hashgacha Within The Embers

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Part of the most recent update from the firelines by Prof. Menachem Kellner of University of Haifa may be a good illustration of the old saw that anyone who believes all the stories about the Besht is a fool, but anyone who believes none of them is a kofer:

Now comes a story almost too good to be true. The Rabbi of Nir Etzion (my friend, colleague and also doctoral student) told me that the fire approached the village on several occasions on Shabbat, from different directions, and each time it stopped at the eruv (=legal fiction “fence” which enables observant Jews to carry in public areas on the Sabbath)! Nir Etzion was spared direct fire damage, but the nearby youth village of Yemin Orde (named after Orde Wingate) suffered great damage and he hopes to be able to help them recover. One of our good friends has grandchildren living there (they are teachers in the school) and their home is still standing, but only barely: collapsed roof, massive water damage – and they are among the lucky ones!

The story, if true, is an example of what we have experienced throughout history. Even at times that we were engulfed in the flames of charon af, we were able to see inexplicable signs of hashgacha peratis at work. That always provided hope from among the embers.

The story is significant in yet another way. My friend Menachem Kellner and I see eye to eye on many important matters. Two areas in which we do not agree at all happen to be two areas closest to his heart: how to approach Rambam, and what Orthodox Jews must believe. It is a testimony to his tolerance and general cheerfulness that he puts up with me. More importantly, in a time of bears dueling on YouTube about emunah, we have become aware of a hardening of antipodal positions. Some on the more conservative side look with suspicion or disdain upon people at the other end of the skepticism/emunah peshutah spectrum. (These feelings are paralleled on the other side, but for different reasons.) Do the “frum maskilim” really believe in HKBH the way we do? Are they so mired in their devotion to laws of nature, predictability, and reason that they have room left for the Hand of the Divine doing the unpredictable?

The answer, of course, is that bnei Yisrael are ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim. Even when we differ in important principles adherence to the bedrock demands of halacha, much of that emunah in HKBH and His providential attention to our needs is alive and well across a wide swath of Orthodox Jews. Yehi ratzon that the tragedy, as so often happens, will bring at least some of us closer together.

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24 Responses

  1. YEA says:

    Please note that I did not, God forbid, mean any disrespect in my last comment. I am just trying to get clarity, and addressing Rav Adlerstein in third person seemed too awkward in writing.

  2. YEA says:

    If I flip a coin and it lands on heads, I see how that can be attributed to hashgacha — some people may say that it was just by chance that it landed on heads as opposed to tails, while others will say that it’s not a mere coincidence. But do you mean to say that if I flip a coin and it lands on the ground — which could not conceivably be by coincidence — that this is also hashgacha pratis? How does that make sense? There’s nothing special about it; it was certain to happen. When you wrote, “Hashgacha peratis deals with ordinary, non-miraculous…events that others would attribute to randomness”, did you also mean to include events that others would contribute to, say, the law of gravity?

    [YA – Definitely, at least in regard to people or things who are assumed to be covered by hashgacha peratis, rather than kelalis.

    Please go back to the Ramban at the end of Bo. I can’t tell you that I have THE pshat in it, but there is a “conventional wisdom,” for what it is worth, on what he means. It sees Ramban as arguing that all regularity and predictability is a facade; the only reality is Hashem’s Will. (I realize that Dr. David Berger has a more “moderate” pshat in this difficult passage, but the jury is still out on it.) We still have a few steps to travel to explain, even according to the Ramban, the difference between hashgacha kellalis and peratis, but at least it might diminish your astonishment that people might attribute lawful, predictable events to, as it were, specific instantiations of Divine Will.]

  3. YEA says:

    I hope one day (b”n) to get around to reading the Tradition article; by that point these comments will be closed. So for now I would like to point out that I only spoke of miraculous intervention because Poshiter Yid mentioned krias yam suf.

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, “Hashgacha peratis deals with ordinary, non-miraculous…events that others would attribute to randomness.”
    This was exactly my point. Nobody would attribute receiving something in the mail to randomness, just as nobody would attribute a comment being posted on CC to randomness (though on Yeshiva World News the comments often do seem pretty random). It is only those things that could conceivably be random that we as believers will attribute to special divine oversight.

    [YA – We are still not seeing eye to eye, whether by Design, randomness, or hashgachah :-) Many in our mesorah, argue persuasively that all things and events, bar none, are micromanaged by special
    Divine oversight. Some see a sliding scale, with such hashgacha dependent on the spiritual level of its recipient, and his belief in such supervision. Still others would limit special hashgacha to a spiritual elite. The Rambam in the Moreh certainly sounds like he embraces the third position.]

  4. Miriam says:

    It struck me as odd that in one comment you were quoting Rav Miller opposing these stories, yet in the next you wrote one!

    I also found the idea of such a story rather strange – I wondered whether the magazine ran any simultaneous plea for assistance to aid the displaced fire victims, and meanwhile was baffled why its readership should require encouragement to stay out of the pig farming business.

  5. Ben Waxman says:

    I have nothing against this newspaper. I disagree with the eida on a lot of things but this isn’t the forum for my gripes. I simply think that they are choosing an easy target, “Yeah HaQadosh Baruch Hu is paying back the fri”.

    When disaster strikes, we are supposed to search our actions, not other people’s actions. That is what I find distasteful about this supposed article and the response of some of our rabbanim. When Hazal wrote that the Beit HaMiqdash was destroyed because of sinat hinam, they were referring to their own group. They could have blamed the Tzaddukim, the seculars, the Jews following Jesus, but instead they (essentially) blamed themselves.

  6. Tziki kedera says:

    ben and miryam , if you believe in hasgahah ,it works both way…look at the ikar emunah 11 of the rambam….i don’t know what you have against the eidah …as i said rav avigdor miller tzal was genneraly against all kind of these stories…

  7. Ben Waxman says:

    Perhaps the eidah-dorot magazine could show a little bravery and not choose an ultra-secular kibbutz as its target. Perhaps it could tell us the sins that caused most of the yeshivot in Europe to be wiped out.

  8. Miriam says:

    What happened to Rav Miller and not telling hashgacha stories?

    I’m sure those from Beit Oren, who send their children to the army and participate in the volunteer firefighting corps, really appreciate a charedi magazine helping them cope with their destroyed homes, by printing inspirational stories about the sins of their grandparents.

  9. Tziki kedera says:

    the kibbutz beit oren ,which was almost completly destroyed ,was the first yeshuv to raise pigs in eretz yisroel…there is a long story in this weeks eidah-dorot magazine…

  10. Tziki kedera says:

    rav avigdor miller was very against telling hasgahah stories , saying it is enough to beleive in hashem…2) 2 stories in the modia hasgahah stories i know to be lies ,one of shimon zietlin z’l who was saved from the 1972 munich massacre by becoming a baal thusva…

  11. Miriam says:

    “…several non frum chasunas/chatunot…leading the entire party in the singing of “Anu maminim bnei maaminim””

    A very interesting (and beautiful) twist in modern-day hashgacha – the occasional popularity of frum songs on the regular airwaves in Israel. In this case MBD’s song became the theme for the Beitar league’s Jerusalem soccer team during its run of success a few years ago, hence the familiarity.

    As a Bet Shemesh resident, I love encountering the “mesorati” flavor running through many Israelis. My husband works in Jerusalem, where even the non-frum companies have a family-values atmosphere (working hours that respect life beyond the office). We have little familiarity with more thoroughly chiloni Israeli types in other cities.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    You intellectuals can discuss deep ideas all you want. I was in Israel for 10 days and watched a TV program (while in a hotel, my chareidi son doesn’t have any form of outside news except the traif internet for his wife’s parnassa).The show was about a “wedding singer” and it showed him performing under the chupah and at the meal of several non frum chasunas/chatunot. What struck me was his leading the entire party in the singing of “Anu maminim bnei maaminim” and them singing it with gusto. I hope and pray that deep down, we are all believers, just some of us have a different way of dealing with our beliefs and drawing conclusions from the basic fact of belief. Israel is one lamb surrounded by 70 wolves and in such a situation, it is very relevant to believe in the One Above. As Ben Gurion used to say, “Ain Breirah”

  13. Poshiter Yid says:

    I never said anything about Hashem interfering with things. I said He is the root cause of all things. I agree that what we call normal everyday “natural” occurrences are not miracles. I even think that the birth of a baby is not a miracle. It’s simply how He set up the world to run. But that doesn’t mean He stands by and watches and is nonchalant about it all. It also does not mean that He doesn’t often set things in motion. Getting hit by a car, CV, could be the result of something your great grandfather did 100 years ago. Since Hasehm is not bound by time as we are, what your great grandfather did so long ago is meaningless in terms of how long ago it happened. That’s hashgacha pratis. So if you wrap yourself in 3 layers of clothing and take Vitamin C and go outside in the cold and catch pneumonia, yes you can blame Hashem for it.

  14. YEA says:

    To Poshiter Yid:
    1. The fact that I just insulted you must be hashgacha pratis. [Insult was edited out by CC Editor. This is an example of a different kind of hashgacha!]
    2.Krias Yam Suf was a miracle, a suspension of the laws of nature; If I mail something to your house and it gets there, it is not a miracle; if I mail it and it does *not* get there, that may be Hashgacha Pratis.

    I am curious if Rav Adlerstien agrees with you or if he thinks that this is another example of how Kupat Ha’ir brochures, in his words, “play on the fears and vulnerability of their audience.” You seem to be vulnerable to just about anything.

    I am about to click the “Submit Comment” button. If this causes my comment to be submitted for moderation, I will be in awe of the tremendous hashgacha. Imagine, I hit the submit button, and it submits! — Must be in the merit of money I once sent to Kupat Ha’ir, although, in truth, I can’t remember ever sending anything to them.

    [YA – I think, YEA, that you really should read that Tradition article I referenced in some earlier comment. You seem to be confusing Divine oversight with miraculous intervention. Hashgacha peratis deals with ordinary, non-miraculous (except in the sense of the Ramban at the end of Bo – maybe) events that others would attribute to randomness. The object of Hashgacha treats every occurence in his/her life, whether pleasant or otherwise, as something “directly supervised” by Hashem. If that occurence is positive, he thanks Hashem for it; if negative, he accepts it as an expression of an inscrutable Divine Will at work, rather than being behind a cosmic eight-ball. Believing in, or interpreting, “signs” from Heaven does not directly follow from belief in Hashgacha]

  15. YEA says:

    “The purpose in writing novels about hashgacha is to teach us to believe in it and savor it”

    I’m still not sure why an untrue story of Divine Providence would teach me to believe in Divine Providence; at most it would teach me that there is such a concept, not that there is such a reality.

    [YA – Because it would drive home the point that a frum Yid looks at all the events of his/her life as orchestrated by HKBH, Who often employs convoluted means of getting things done. See the Hirsch Chumash, Bereishis 45:11 (which just happens to be the subject of my weekly Rav Hirsch shiur on Torah.org this week).]

  16. Poshiter Yid says:

    I heartily agree with the Rav. I take it even further. The fact that you got the Kupat HaIr mailing is hashgacha pratis is as plain as day. Not all hashgacha pratis has to be some miraculous 1 in a million unbelieveable event. Perhaps it was in your mailbox for the same reason it’s in mine, to give you an opportunity for a itzvah. Just because it happens to many Jews doesn’t make it any less Divine in nature. Does the fact that the entire Bnei Yisrael witnessed krias Yam Suf make it less a wonder than if 1 person had seen it? On the contrary! It makes it MORE wondrous! And stubbing your toe in your living room or tripping over your child’s toys also comes from above. You can call it Nature or the way the world runs, but ultimately it is run by a primary force, Hashem. I believe that to think Hashem put the natural laws into effect and then went off to take a shvitz somewhere is kefirah.

  17. Miriam says:

    Personally the biggest “1+1=2” hashgacha I see in the fires is yet another message that we haven’t gotten things together nationally – an even more pointed message to compound the minimal rain we’ve seen this season.

    I was also imagining that Nir Etzion eruv was likely along some natural line, a change in slope or different density of foliage. But hashgacha isn’t usually a simplistic if-then – sometimes hashgacha is that 25 years ago a community happened to build itself along a natural line that offered some buffer from today’s fire.

  18. Doron Beckerman says:

    A wise, well-respected Orthodox Rabbi blogger suggested that the effect of this Rambam, Rationalist extraordinaire, might get lost in the untranslation…

    איגרת תחית המתים

    וזה גם כן תועלת גדולה, רצוני לומר, היות השמיעה מתקנת עניני עולמות, והמרי – מפסידם. וכבר זכר בתורה שהוא מופת מתמיד, רצוני לומר, תקון הענינים עם העבודה והפסדם עם המרי, אמר (דברים כ”ח מ”ו): “והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם”. ומפני זה אמרו (נדרים ל”ג): אין מזל לישראל! רצונם לומר, שתקונם והפסדם אינם לסבה טבעית ולא על מנהג המציאות, אלא נתלים בעבודה ובמרי, וזה אות יותר גדול מכל אות. וכבר בארנו שזה בדין צבור ובדין יחיד, כמו שיראה מן המעשה ההוא והוא נאות לאומרו “ובזרעך עד עולם”, ומן המאמר המפורסם באומה (ברכות ה’ א’): ראה אדם יסורים באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו. והוא הענין בעצמו הוא המכון גם כן באמרו (דברים י”ד י”ט): “אשר חלק ה’ אלהיך אותם לכל העמים תחת כל השמים ואתכם לקח ה’”, רצונו לומר, שעניניהם אינם נוהגים ענין מנהג שאר האומות אבל יחדם השם בזה המופת הגדול שיהיו פעולותיהם תמיד נקשרות בתקון עניניהם או בהפסדם

    [The Torah informing us of] this is also of great benefit, i.e., that heeding [the Word of G-d] affects the worlds’ affairs being in good order, and disobedience – ruins them. The Torah already mentions that this is a constant wonder, i.e., matters being in good order by service [of G-d], and their ruination by disobedience, as it states (Deut. 28:46) ‘And they shall be a sign and wonder for you, and for your descendants ever after.’ It is for this reason that [Chazal] say (Nedarim 33) “There is no fate for Israel”, meaning, their good fortunes and ruination are not due to natural cause, nor are they attributable to the course of reality, but they are dependent on service and disobedience, and this is the sign which is greater than all signs.
    We have already explained that this is [true] for the community as well as the individual… and thus “for your descendants ever after’ is appropriate. [This is also expressed] in the famous statement – (Berachos 5a) “If one sees tribulations befalling him, he should examine his deeds.” It is this same idea that is intent of [the Torah] stating – (Devarim 14:19) “Which G-d distributed to all the nations under the entire heavens; but G-d has taken you”, meaning, that their affairs are not conducted in the manner of the other nations, but G-d made them unique in this great wonder, that their actions are always linked to their affairs being in good order, or ruined.

  19. YEA says:

    While we’re on the subject of hashgacha pratis, has anyone ever read any frum novels? If yes, can someone please explain to me, what in the world is the point in a fake hashgacha pratis story?
    The following is from Artscroll’s description of a Yair Weinstock novel: “It is a tale of dedication and treachery, and, above all, a story of the incredible Providence that watches over the Jewish People and every Jew.”
    And regarding Nachman Seltzer’s The Network: “with its heart-thumping, page-turning excitement, its surprise-after-surprise plot twists, and, yes, its subtle but important messages of faith and Divine Providence, Nachman Seltzer has, indeed, created the ultimate novel.”
    Are there really intelligent people who read these novels and say to themselves “wow, look how everything worked out, it can’t be coincidence!”?
    And it’s not — the hand of Yair Weinstock was watching over them from the very start.

    And, of course, there was the Kupat Ha’ir pamphlet which, as best as I can remember, stated, “it is not coincidence that you now hold this pamphlet in your hand”. Duh, you mailed it to me. But, of course, they were trying to make it sound like there was some grand Divine Providence in the fact that I, a person who experiences personal problems, should happen to have chanced upon the one instruction booklet on how to solve those problems.

    world is the point in a fake hashgacha pratis story?

    [YA – I can try. Sorting out what we ought to believe about hashgacha is a perilous affair, made more difficult by well-intentioned people of all stripes who are absolutely certain what the proper take is. Like most areas of machshava, the safest approach is “machlokes Rishonim.” A good introduction to two very different views is available in Tradition 43:2 (Summer 2010) in an article by Rabbi Daniel Stein. (It is brief, and there are pieces that are missing, but it is a good point of entry into the sugya. I do take issue somewhat with his take on Maharal.)
    Leaving the ultimate resolution to Moshiach (bv”a), a popular source on bitachon is Chovos Ha-Levavos, which has to be one of the world’s oldest best-sellers. Among other things, Rabbenu Bachya argues that hashgacha and bitachon waltz together. The more a person believes in hashgacha, the more hashgacha is made available to him. If it were possible to quantify things, we could imagine a person believing that the Hand of G-d determines his state of affairs in the amount of 7.3 points on a scale of ten, and ascribing the other 2.7 to randomness, the IRS and his mother-in-law. According to Rabbenu Bachya, HKBH will then allow 27% of the factors in his life to be governed by extraneous factors, while contributing 73% through hashgacha. If the person believes in a lesser contribution through hashgacha, and sees his well being determined by the roll of the dice, Hashem will leave him to contend with random forces. Should he believe that no other force affects him at all save for Hashem’s micromanaging his affairs, then Hashem will indeed microsmanage his affairs.
    In other words, the more room you make for hashgacha in your life, the more there will be.
    We are not here to debate whether Rabbenu Bachya was right or wrong. His approach, however, is a popular one, including among some mechanchim and perhaps even novelists. The purpose in writing novels about hashgacha is to teach us to believe in it and savor it – and thereby, to enjoy more of it.]

  20. YEA says:

    “anyone who believes all the stories about the Besht is a fool, but anyone who believes none of them is a kofer”

    Do you really believe the second part of this statement? (I believe the first part).

  21. dr. bill says:

    Believing in hashgakha pratis and attributing any particular event to its consequence are two very different things. The gamut of jewish belief runs from every blade of grass grows only because of a particular application of hashgakha to a belief that God created a world where nature and happenstance by and large rule, a world where, as distressing as it seems, hester paanim is the overwhelming norm.

    What is more uniformly believed is that we can and should react to events, improving aspects of our behavior so that the world might warrant increased Divine hashgakha/blessing. What ought also be more uniform, is avoiding the mistake of trying to understand the ways of God. In instances, where we find gedolai yisroel expressing themselves in so knowing a way, it is often the result of a rather unique circumstance and, I believe, should not be viewed as normative.

  22. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I think part of the reason for the disconnect between the “two sides” of this issue is that some people have become so overly predisposed to seeing “hashgacha pratit” everywhere that they completely suspend disbelief, or at least some healthy skepticism, that fanciful and ridiculous “HP” stories spread like crazy. This, I’m sure, part of what finally lead R. Solomon to berate “Kupat Hair”. In classic “boy who cried wolf” style the proliferation of exaggerated or outright false “HP” stories have hardened some of the most believing souls.

    In the story above there is a lot of information missing, as is typical with HP stories. To R. Adlerstein’s credit he qualifies his thesis with an “if true”. However, there is a huge difference, for instance, if the eruv was bordered by a road, valley, or wadi, as is often the case. Was the full force of the fire approaching Nir Etzion or just a relatively weak fringe? Was there literally no damage whatsoever or limited damage? (Many reports I’ve seen said there was some damage in Nir Etzion.)

    So on one extreme you could have a weak fire stopping at a natural boundary which just also happens to be an eruv border or on the other hand you could have a raging inferno stopping dead at a string hung in the middle of the forest. Though the truth is probably somewhere in the middle so would see even the first example as a clear sign of HP, but would one who doesn’t deserve to be tarred as a “frum maskil”?

  23. Doron Beckerman says:

    איגרת תחית המתים

    וזה גם כן תועלת גדולה, רצוני לומר, היות השמיעה מתקנת עניני עולמות, והמרי – מפסידם. וכבר זכר בתורה שהוא מופת מתמיד, רצוני לומר, תקון הענינים עם העבודה והפסדם עם המרי, אמר (דברים כ”ח מ”ו): “והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם”. ומפני זה אמרו (נדרים ל”ג): אין מזל לישראל! רצונם לומר, שתקונם והפסדם אינם לסבה טבעית ולא על מנהג המציאות, אלא נתלים בעבודה ובמרי, וזה אות יותר גדול מכל אות. וכבר בארנו שזה בדין צבור ובדין יחיד, כמו שיראה מן המעשה ההוא והוא נאות לאומרו “ובזרעך עד עולם”, ומן המאמר המפורסם באומה (ברכות ה’ א’): ראה אדם יסורים באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו. והוא הענין בעצמו הוא המכון גם כן באמרו (דברים י”ד י”ט): “אשר חלק ה’ אלהיך אותם לכל העמים תחת כל השמים ואתכם לקח ה'”, רצונו לומר, שעניניהם אינם נוהגים ענין מנהג שאר האומות אבל יחדם השם בזה המופת הגדול שיהיו פעולותיהם תמיד נקשרות בתקון עניניהם או בהפסדם.

  24. Yehuda Berman says:

    I don’t understand what you mean by “hashgacha pratit” when Nir Etzion is saved and Yemin Orde is not – Yemin Orde is a religious school operated by Aliyat HaNoar for youths whose homes, for one reason or another, cannot properly educate them. Do you think it is less worthy of being saved?

    [YA – Of course not. We are not nevi’im who are privy to the reasons for Hashem’s actions. But I will turn the question on you (and others who submitted similar comments). If a plane crashes, killing 20 people r”l and sparing one, what does halacha call for? To the best of my knowledge, we would recite Tziduk HaDin for the 20, acknowledging the unscrutable presence of Hashem even in what we do not like or understand, in sharp contradistinction to Harold Kushner. We would look tragedy in the eye, and say that it cannot shake us loose from the conviction that Hashem is just, in a way that we simply cannot and will not understand during the mortal phase of our existence. We would then find ourselves at a seudah in the Bais HaMikdosh, partaking of the korban todah brought by the survivor. We would listen to his story (see Sforno on the pasuk), taking strength from a different facet of Divine Presence. We would not see Tziduk HaDin, but thank Hashem for His compassion. We would not compare the worthiness of the survivor with that of those who perished. And if he, or someone else, could point to some special merit that just might have been what tilted the scales favorably in his direction, we would likely listen to the theory, just as those theories were offered frequently in the Gemara by those touched by special Divine beneficence.]