Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Individual Providence and Avraham

In Rabbi Carmy's Essay, "Tell Them I've Had a Good Enough Life", he points out a contradiction in Rambam's Guide, and shows how Rabbi Soloveitchik resolves it. In chapter 17, Rambam differentiates between the animal world, which is run on hashgacha klalit, general providence, and the human world, which runs, additionally, on hashgacha pratit, individualized attention from God. However, in chapter 18, Miamonides states that individual attention is bestowed upon one who actively seeks and engages the Divine.

This apparent contradiction is resolved in Halachik Man. Rabbi Soloveitchik divides humanity's existence into two modes. The first is representative of nothing more than an incarnation of the platonic form 'Man'. He is simply an example, an instance of mankind. He lives with no special understanding of any higher purpose, and his existence as a human is analogous to the existence of a cow as a bovine; he naturally participates in the life-cycle and perpetuation of his species. To quote the Rav, he "has never done anything that could...legitimate his existence as an individual." He is not an individual. His reality is mired in the mediocrity of humanity.

On the other hand, a human being can transcend this earthly, animalistic persona. By engaging the universe as a creative, active participant, he elevates himself out of the hum-drum of the species. He thinks, designs, and strives for further understanding of the world around him, his purpose in it, and his relationship to his Creator. Such a person has raised himself out of the mediocrity of his species, and "lives not on account of being born but for the sake of life itself, and so that he may merit thereby the life in the world to come."

And so, one who, through his actions, acts as a creature of the species Man (quantitatively, but not quantitatively, above other animals), is treated with hashgacha klalit. It is a person who sees the glory and grandeur of the calling of Man, qualitatively different from other creatures, who is provided with hashgacha pratit.

Ultimately, the design of Man is to obligate him to strengthen that relationship to God. He is commanded to create, improve and elevate his existence, and, in doing so, to increase the level of providence he is showered with from Above. "When a person creates himself, ceases to be a mere species man, and becomes a man of God, then he has fulfilled that commandment which is implicit in the principle of providence." Indeed, Rabbi Carmy points out, the very act of turning to God at a time of distress, and not discounting the troubles experienced as random occurrences, turns a person into an individual, and allows them to be judged so by Him.

This distinction may highlight the difference between Avraham and his nephew, Lot. Lot's choice to live with the wicked of Sodom for the economic benefits showed himself an excellent example of a human being allowing himself to be led by his animalistic tendencies. He goes where it is most economically prudent, and when there, he does not influence the people to be better, but hides the lessons he learned in his uncle's household from the Sodomites. He is therefore caught in the dragnet of the hashgacha klalit of the war between empires, and is only saved by Avraham. Even from the destruction of the city, he is only saved by the relationship he shares with Avraham.

On the other hand, Avraham, the quintessential Man in search of his Lord, finds hashgacha pratit in his fiery furnace, his battles, and ultimately, his quest for continuity through Isaac.