So, off camera I've been e-mailing back and forth with a reader who has been asking me some really interesting questions. Until now I've not published any of that here. I was enjoying the private conversation. Some of his recent questions have been quite deep and I began thinking that the answers would make good blog posts. So without further adieu, I am going to try and post a few of them along with my answers.
hashgacha pratis, bakashos in tefillah, and emunah in general.
Part 1: Hasgachas pratis
I think that the term hasgahas pratis has suffered the same fate in the Orthodox world that tikun olam has in the non-Orthodox one. Just like the Reformative have appropriated the latter term to mean anything trendy and politically correct, we seem to have taken the former and turned it into a feel-good concept. Look, I caught my bus and made it on time to davening today despite waking up late! Hasgachas pratis! I was supposed to be on that flight that hit the World Trade Centre but I missed it because of traffic. Hasgachas pratis!
From what I've read and understand, this is completely not what the concept is about.
Let's set down some basic assumptions. We live in a four dimensional universe but can only travel in three of them. X, Y and Z are all available and controllable but not T, time. (Unless you have a TARDIS which I don't... yet) One of our psychological limitations is our inability to truly comprehend any entity which does not require three physical dimensions and one temporal one. Yes, we have Einstein's theory of relativity and timespace interaction but on a practical, daily basis we are stuck with what we see. We cannot conceive of an independent entity that occupies only one or two dimensions or one that can travel through time like we do over a bridge.
Furthermore, we accept as axiomatic that God, as First Cause and Creator, exists outside all of these dimensions since, as Creator, He existed before them. What does that mean? Going back to the previous paragraph it becomes obvious: we have no clue. We don't know what it's like to live in a reality independent of time or physical dimension. We can say that He has all of existence in front of Him; all that was, is and will be from our perspective already "is" in front of Him. Just like I can look at a Rubik's Cube on my desk and appreciate it in its entirety. God does that with our universe. Can you understand how? I can't.
This raises some difficult questions. For example, if He's looking at all of existence all at once then what I call the future has, in some way, already happened. Predestination. But what does that do for freedom of choice? I think I'm making a decision but perhaps I'm only playing out my role as programmed. To support that position we have the mysterious statement of Rabbi Akiva in Avos, that all is foreseen but permission to choose is granted. It's self-contradictory.
And if everything has been written then how can there be hashgachas pratis? After all, if my catching the bus this afternoon is a fixed part of the Divine plan then how is my saying Baruch haShem! after running to catch it a sign of Divine attention?
It seems to me that we have to instead see Hasgachas pratis as a different concept.
Consider the final chapters of the book of Iyov. In the book, as is well known, God punished Iyov even though he hadn't done anything wrong. Iyov responds by continuing to believe in God but deciding that He really doesn't do anything for us down here. We're on our own as He sits in Heaven and watches the Sunday football game. Into the picture come four friends who, in varying ways, tell Iyov that God works in a linear fashion. You sin, you get punished. Therefore despite his protestations to the contrary they are convinced that Iyov must have sinned and he's simply living in denial.
Finally, after a lot of back and forth God Himself makes an appearance. He makes it clear He's not happy with the four friends and how they've been insisting Iyov is some kind of menuval. But then He turns his attention to Iyov and things get really interesting.
In a nutshell He points out to Iyov that the universe is really large and really complicated. There are a near infinite number of pieces that have to be kept in perfect order at all times and a simply human being can't comprehend the complexity of the entire system, much less understand how it works. In short, life is a lot bigger than us and we have to accept there is a lot happening out there we don't understand.
Consider this the next time someone else grabs that taxicab and, as you stand on the sidewalk swearing you see it hit full on by the cross-town bus. Hasgachas pratis! If you'd have caught that taxi you'd be dead! God is personally watching over you. Or was the purpose of saving you not because of you but because of a great-grandchild you'll eventually have who fulfills some important destiny? If something bad happens, is it a swipe at you or one of the chess pieces moving in the grand design to put another person into a position to act on something?
Hasgachas pratis isn't about looking at God in a linear fashion. Something good happened to me. Hasgachas pratis! Something bad happened to me. Hasgachas pratis! Me, me, me. It's about understanding that despite running this incredibly large universe, God has assigned a role for each and every one of us. Again, to recall Avos, there is no person who doesn't have a role in Creation. If something unexpected happens to you, good or bad, it is a reminder of that. Coincidences, good or bad fortune, everything might be meant and there may be a bigger purpose at work than can be conceived but you were still an integral part of that purpose. That's the way I think the concept should be understood.