Ask The Rabbi

Falling Leaves

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Animals Dying & Divine Providence

Name@Withheld wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

I would appreciate any help which the Rabbi can give as regards to the following point: When a specific leaf falls off a tree or a specific animal is killed by another animal, is there a specific reason or decree why that specific leaf fell? Or is there such a thing as natural occurrences which are random and uncontrolled? I would appreciate any information and sources that discuss and explain this philosophical point which touches on "bechira" (free choice), etc., and thank you in advance. Best regards.


Dear Name@Withheld,

The view that certain events are not individually guided is a view that is accepted by Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed, and also by Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno in his commentary on Chumash. They maintain that the degree of individual Divine Providence is directly proportional to the spirituality and G-dliness of the being. Hence, animals and plants have Providence only on a species level.

The exception would be when the animal or plant interacts with a human being, then there is guidance. For example, the apple falling near Sir Isaac Newton is Divine Providence, whereas an apple falling off a tree in Cortland NY with no human around is a result of the laws of nature that G-d created.

Others, principally the Kabbalists and the Chassidic thinkers, maintain that absolutely everything is a matter of individual Divine Providence.

This argument may not be as extreme as it sounds: Perhaps the Kabbalists agree in principle with Maimonides' concept, however they disagree in that they maintain that everything interacts with humanity on some level, and that even a very subtle and low level interaction with humans requires Divine Providence.

Regarding how there could be an argument in this area: Just as in any area of Torah, different minds see things differently, and as long as they use Torah sources and methodology they are both "the words of the living G-d."


 
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