Thursday, July 29, 2010

G-D Works Through Nature

This week's Parsha, Eikev, reveals to us something that the Rambam has spoken of for a long time, G-D uses nature to perform miracles. Many people declare that when G-D performs a miracle it is completely unnatural and "magical." The verse says (Devarim 7:20)

כ. וְגַם אֶת הַצִּרְעָה יְשַׁלַּח יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּם עַד אֲבֹד הַנִּשְׁאָרִים וְהַנִּסְתָּרִים מִפָּנֶיךָ:

20. And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish.

Rashi, on this verse tells us what the tzir'ah is based on a Gemora in Sotah: 

The tzir’ah: Heb. הַצִּרְעָה, a species of flying insect which injected poison into them [the Canaanites], making them impotent and blinding their eyes wherever they hid. — [Sotah 36a] 

This is fascinating. Why is it that Moshe needs to tell the Jewish people that G-D is going to incite an insect that will cause a natural disease in their enemies? If G-D works through miracles, why not just say G-D will cause them to go blind and impotent. What is Moshe trying to teach us by telling us that the insect will cause this disease?

It seems to be that there is a very important lesson to be learned. Moshe is teaching us that G-D works through nature. When the Jews are suddenly victorious because a disease has run rampant in the Canaanite land, they should not think this was coincidence, but rather G-D Himself who destroyed their enemies. True, this victory came about in a natural way, but G-D's hand should be clear to each and every Jew. G-D's abilities should not be confined to only the open miracles that it is clear that only G-D could perform, but even the natural happenstances are caused by an intervention by G-D. That is the lesson of the tzir'ah, that G-D intervenes through natural means and that we, the Jewish people, should realize that this is how G-D intervenes in our lives. 

This is similar to the story of Hezekiah when he was being surrounded by the King of Assyria, Sanncheriv. In Melachim II (19:35) it says:

35. And it came to pass on that night that an angel of the Lord went out and slew one hundred eighty-five thousand of the camp of Assyria. And they arose in the morning, and behold they were all dead corpses.  

However, Josephus tells us, quoting the Chaldean historian Berosus as follows:

Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger [by a plague], for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very night of the siege, a hundred fourscore and five thousand, with their captains and generals, were destroyed (Antiquities 10.1.5).

This seems to be a very similar idea. It is not through unnatural miracles that G-D saves the Jewish people, but a manipulation of nature. A Jewish person should realize that, even though nature might do something in his or her favor, perhaps it is G-D's hand. This is what Moshe is teaching us, that we must always be aware that G-D has the power to manipulate nature and His actions are not limited to unnatural events.

However, as the Rambam and Ralbag teach us (In The Guide 3:17-18 and The Wars of the Lord in book 4 chapter 4) G-D only intervenes in nature (gives Hashgacha pratis, individual attention) for the most righteous of individuals. So, G-D allows the natural order to run the world for most individuals, but in the case of righteous people, that is when G-D intervenes in nature. Otherwise, according to the Rambam and Ralbag, there is Hasgacha klalis (general attention) that runs our lives. However, we never know if we are deserving of divine intervention and, therefore, should realize that G-D can be intervening in our lives at any moment.


Tzurah said...

Interesting to compare/contrast with Ramban in this parsha (Devarim 11:13). It's very similar in some ways, but has a slightly different twist (as would be expected). Ramban also makes a distinction between the general population (beinonim) and exceptional individuals (righteous or evil). However, Ramban seems to say that while G-d intervenes *through nature* for beinonim, he intervenes in unnatural ways for both tzaddikim gamurim and reshaim gamurim.

E-Man said...

Excellent point! This is yet another example of the rationalist vs mystic divide. The Rambam could not believe that G-D intervened in miraculous ways for individuals, even the righteous, he hardly believed that G-D changed the nature of the world for NATIONAL miracles. (Same with the Ralbag) To see these opinions just check out the Rambam on pirkei avos where it talks about the 10 things created bein hashmashos between the sixth and seventh day of creation Pereke 5 Mishna 8 (also, this opinion is found in The Guide) For Ralbag, it is all over his book The Wars of The Lord.