Sunday, August 2, 2009

Divine Providence

The Ralbag's philosophy can often lead people to suspect his commitment to Judaism. This is wrong and shows an immense lack of understanding of his beliefs. It is true that the Ralbag studied Averroes' philosophy and through that he came to appreciate the views of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. However, the Ralbag was often critical of these philosopher's ideas and disagreed with them. On the other hand, the Ralbag was also very critical of the philosophies of earlier Jewish thinkers. He was a free thinker who took all the knowledge that was available to him and used it in order to understand the world. It is unfortunate that his philisophical works have been ignored for so long because there is much to learn from them.

The most controversial aspect of the Ralbag's philosophy was probably his view of G-D. In classical Orthodox Judaism it is believed that G-D is personal and is involved in every single Jewish life. G-D has direct control over your life and gives a Jew reward and punishment based on their good and evil deeds. This is not the view of the Ralbag. However, the Ralbag did not make his view up. In the beginning of the Ralbag's book The Wars of The Lord he points out that there are three possible views of divine providence: 1)The theory of Aristotle asserts that divine providence does not reach individual members of the human race, but only in a general way affects people to make the human race perpetuate. This is similar to how G-D relates to other species; 2) The second theory is that which was mentioned above, the theory of most followers of the Torah that divine providence reaches each and every single individual. They believe that G-D bestows upon them reward and punishment according to what they deserve; 3) The theory of the outstanding Torah scholars (Rambam in the Guide section III:17 and 51, Abraham ibn Daud in Ha-'Emunah ha-Ramah pages 97-98, Abraham Ibn Ezra commentary on Exodus 23:25 and 33:21) who assert that divine providence reaches only some individuals, but not all men. Later, the Ralbag goes on to show why the first two theories are wrong and that the final idea is how G-D governs the world.

The Ralbag brings up several disproofs of the first and second views. I will not go in to them right now, but the overall concept should be presented. The disproof of Aristotle's view is simple, since there is such a thing as prophecy there has to be some level of individual providence. The disproof of the second view deals with the source of evil in the world. The Ralbag proves that it is impossible that evil emanates directly from G-D. Therefore, it is not G-D that causes evil to happen to everyone directly and thereby He does not show divine providence over every single person according to the second theory. However, since G-D does show some level of providence over some people, it must be that the third theory is the correct view.

After asserting that the third theory is the correct way to view G-D, the Ralbag reveals how G-D interacts with the world. G-D exercises divine providence over those unique individuals that have reached intellectual perfection (this is also the view of the Rambam). This providence manifests itself as a communication between G-D and this man by G-D informing the man of the good or evil that is to come upon him. For those that have reached the highest level of intellectual perfection this message is seen as prophecy. However, on lower levels, the Ralbag says, man is endowed with instincts that guide him to pursuits of things that are beneficial to him and avoid situations that are detrimental to him. An example of divine providence that the Ralbag gives is where a man is supposed to go on a caravan, but he gets a thorn in his foot and is forced to stay at home. Later, the man experiences great success because of his remaining at home. Another example is where a man is supposed to take a ship, but gets sick and is unable to travel. Later, he learns that the ship sunk and everyone was killed. These are what the Ralbag defines as Yisurim shel Ahava (Visitations of divine love).

1 comment:

ysprung said...

for more discussion regarding divine providence, see my post