Summary of HaMaspik L’ovdei Hashem of R. Avraham ben HaRambam – Bitachon, by Erich Kauffman, with his notes
1. Definition of bitachon(pg. 83,84): “The main point of bitachon is the strengthening of emunah that Hashem is the Creator and the Sustainer, the One who causes life and death, sickness and healing, wealth and poverty. All the happenings of the world in general and in particular come back to Him, and He is their creator, the One who decrees them and brings them to fruition”. Furthermore “all of the normal means are subservient to His will and come to completion through His desire…The medicine only works with His word… and only causes pain through the will of the Creator…and material wealth will come from these actions [business] only through His decree”.
[1) He says this is one of the Yesodei Ha’emunah that no one argues about. Is it one of the 13 ikkarim and do people argue about the details? 2) Does Ramban/Chazon Ish argue with him regarding the word “bitachon”? 3) He states that only through intellectual understanding can one come to bitachon – first da’as then lev. 4) Viewing hashgacha as such leads to asking Hashem to “not get in your way” however see below #3]
2. The three levels of people regarding bitachon (pgs.84-93): The nevi’im and tzaddikim, the heretics, and normal religious people. 1) Certain prophets at certain times tend to rely on miracles that completely contradict the laws of nature and the normal means (i.e. cause and effect). This level can only be reached by receiving the Divine spirit or prophecy and is not a consistently held level. For someone who has not reached these levels to solely rely on miracles is incorrect, brazen-face, he desecrates the name of Hashem and is abandoned by Hashem regarding the thing he desires. Similarly, for someone who has reached these levels to not trust solely in Hashem is also incorrect (and is a sinner etc). 2) The heretics rely solely on their efforts and the natural laws. This includes people who may pay lip service to Hashem but inwardly do not rely on Hashem. 3) Normal religious people must synthesize trust in Hashem with the reality of the natural world (see pg. 106). In other words, they must combine outer action and human endeavor with an inner belief that Hashem is ultimately responsible for success and failure.
[He attributes this position to his father, the Rambam, on the pasuk Yirmiyahu 17:5.]
3. The system of hashgacha over normal religious people (how hashgacha operates within the laws of nature, pgs. 93-96): The laws of cause and effect were established by Hashem in the beginning and they usually follow according to their course. However Hashem also controls and decides when they will deviate from their natural course. He gives two examples of hashgacha: 1) a normal person who eats healthy will be healthy and vice versa. A sick person can be cured by known means. All of these laws are subservient to His will and function because he allows them to, on most people. But sometimes the laws function differently, even backwards, and therefore a wicked person, who has a decree for punishment upon him, who eats healthy will have the same diseases as a person who eats unhealthy, and medicine will not help. Also a righteous person, who merits good health, can eat unhealthy foods, if he is forced to, and they won’t harm him, or they won’t harm him to the extent that he will become ill. Even if the righteous person does get sick, because of a punishment or a lessening of hashgacha on the person, he will heal easily. Similarly, a normal crop will produce seven to ten bundles but someone who is wicked will suffer losses and a righteous person will have twenty bundles. Therefore a person should trust in Hashem for a good outcome in his endeavors. He should not get too involved with his physical endeavors (since through the merit of trusting in Hashem, he can achieve a lot without much work) and rather he should fear the physical laws of nature and the wicked man (who is coming to fight) only because Hashem can punish him through them. Proper bitachon is to trust in the kindness of Hashem.
[1) The foundation of hashgacha is the lack of deterministic cause and effect, i.e. A must lead to B. Hashgacha assumes that A usually leads to B but sometimes it can lead to C or D or E (“open possibility”). There is still cause and effect in hashgacha but hashgacha changes the track on which the cause and effect operates. This is certainly true on the quantum level. See below for more discussion on cause and effect. Also see pg. 123, 126, 134, 138. 2) He states that natural law is steady for most people. Can this natural law change based on where “most people” are holding (i.e. what if most of the world is wicked) or for other Divine considerations? This is especially important for our age of fast-pace technological advancement. See Lubavitcher Rebbe on technology. 3) A very important point that is emphasized over and over again is that not every righteous person merits reward and not every wicked person merits punishment. See Sh’urei Daas I, Hashgacha. 4) What does he mean by “a lessening of hashgacha on the person”? This is found in Moreh Nevuchim but it seems inconsistent with his earlier statements. Also see the middle of pg. 96 for the same phrase. 5) How does Hashem manipulate people who have their own wills? Through the mind (similar to telepathy) or manipulation of quantum material or through previous experiences that Hashem saw in His foreknowledge would later be beneficial? See Michtav M’Eliyahu Chelek I. 6) Are there two definitions of bitachon – trust in the hashgacha of Hashem and trust in the kindness of Hashem? See 105,106].
4. Discussion of appropriate hishtadlus for normal people (pgs. 96-100): Bitachon should not lead one to become lazy and completely passive, waiting for his food to come down from heaven. Besides very special people in very special scenarios, people are not on a high enough level to merit such miracles. Such people will fall into great poverty, will cause a terrible chillul Hashem and are brazen-face to think they are so holy. Even the Tanaa’im and Nevi’im worked. Chazal praise someone who eats from his own labor more than someone who fears heaven. A person must be balanced in his physical endeavors – not riches and not poverty - and seek out a normal livelihood to fulfill one’s needs. This is a true “ba’al bitachon” and from there, if Hashem has kindness and mercy on the person, he will be freed from an abundance of toil. In the future Hashem will increase our bitachon in Him and we will only trust in Him, similar to the nevi’im.
[1) The obligation of hishtadlus can be understood as the obligation to try and place oneself within a certain framework of success. By being a high-tech farmer you have the ability to produce more but it is possible that this endeavor will not be successful. However, generally speaking you will be more successful than the traditional farmer. Another example is a lawyer versus and teacher. Generally speaking, the lawyer makes more money than a teacher. Another example is the different medical opportunities in America and in a third-world country. The possibilities for treatment and cures are radically different. Hashgacha generally functions within the system or framework, the normal possibilities. Therefore he teaches us to work normally – putting ourselves in the normal framework of things – and then to have bitachon. Without our utilization of the natural means we will not get anywhere. Perhaps, though, if we over-utilize this means, in our denial of Hashem, then we will be punished and still not get anywhere! Therefore a normal profession is recommended. This synthesis of unpredictability and determinism is similar to the chaos theory, quantum mechanics or biological systems where the unpredictability has certain limitations and order. At the same time, however, Hashem also places us within certain frameworks – a certain family, economical class, personality, propensity to be healthy or not. See Rambam in end of Shmoneh Perakim, R. Soloveitchik, On Repentance pg. , R. Pincus on Rosh Hashana pg. 2) Why do Chazal praise someone who lives independent from charity more than someone who fears heaven?]
5. Foundations of hashgacha: In order for bitachon to be real and not imaginary we must understand one major principle: The world is built upon cause and effect and there may be many such stages until the desired result comes to fruition. For example, Man is dependent on food from either meat or vegetation. In turn, animals, the food of Man, are also dependent on vegetation. Vegetation is dependent on the ground, water, wind and sun rays. The water comes from rain which in turn comes from the mist in the ground. The mist is dependent on winds and the movement of elements (yesodos). The movement of winds and elements are subservient to the will and desire of Hashem (as attested to by many pasukim). Rain also comes (directly?) from Hashem as many pasukim indicate. Hashem is the beginning of the chain of events. There are three groups of people (three ways to view the world): 1) Those who do not pay attention to cause and effect or only to proximate cause and effect. Their intellects have not ripened and they are like animals. 2) The philosophers who recognize cause and effect and even recognize Hashem as the (original?) First Cause but they do not believe that Hashem changes any natural law and all is determined by cause and effect (i.e. they don’t believe in hashgacha pratis). 3) The religious people who believe in G-d because of intuition or tradition but they do not recognize the existence of cause and effect because they think it will bring them to heresy like the philosophers. They are instead forced to deny that which the intellect testifies to and senses attest to, namely, natural laws and cause and effect. These people are the laughing stock among the intellectuals and cause a chillul Hashem. However, the true religious people recognize even remote (secondary, distant) cause and effect just like the philosophers. However, Hashem gave bnei Yisrael higher knowledge than the philosophers through signs and miracles. Through such proofs we know that although there is deterministic cause and effect, nevertheless Hashem is the One who moves and causes these effects and with His will they move on their natural course and with His will they change from their natural course, and He creates for them a substitute (cause, see pg. 106?). With this understand of hashgacha the religious people are not bothered by science (like Aristotle) or natural endeavors like travels, business and medicine etc. Rather we act like our forefathers who engaged in hishtadlus, but who only trusted in Hashem, and in this merit Hashem exercised His special and miraculous hashgacha over them. Hashem exercises His hashgacha over the one who trusts in Him to the extent that He will “change the orders of creation,” if for nevi’im and tzaddikim, or He will “lower the strength (or disasters?) of nature” for Chasidim and full believers. This worldview is the perfection of intellect and religion together.
[1) On cause and effect in Jewish literature, see Brachos 35b, Rashi there. 2) Does Hashem only intercede in the area of wind and rain directly or are there other areas? Why these areas – because they are the beginning of the chain, or cycle (a closed cycle though, tz”i)? Do rain and wind come Yesh M’ayin or does Hashem take pre-existing causes and redirects them? In modern science wind comes from the movement of air molecules and change of air pressure. Is Hashem intervening on the Quantum level as some have suggested (regarding Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle)? 3) See Ramban, parsha Bo for a similar understanding of the purpose of miracles. However I am not sure if the Ramban understand nature/cause and effect in the same way. 4) What does he mean by the word “Temurah,” replacement/substitute? Does Hashem substitute one effect for another (for example if there are two or three possible effects from a given action than Hashem can choose which ever one he wants)? This is implied by the expression “U’machniah l’fanav es eisanei ha’teva – lowers before him the strength (or disasters?) of nature.”See pg. 109 and see Sh’urei Daas I. 5) He refers to a story of a great sage who didn’t believe in secondary causes, which was a chillul Hashem – who is he referring to? 6) The process to which the forefathers received their bounty can be understood in the following sense: Through bitachon we are nullifying our egos and as such we become vessels to receive the blessings of Hashem.]
6. Levels of bitachon and their results (pgs. 107-133): Bitachon consists of many, many parts regarding the things that a person should have bitachon for and regarding the result that is ascertained through them. This knowledge is really beyond our understanding, so we are only speaking according to our limited understanding and for the sake of strengthening our bitachon. Before discussing the levels of bitachon it is essential to point out that bitachon only “works” for someone who keeps the mitzvos. Hashem will not provide for those who transgress Toras Hashem. Bitachon works for ten things: distancing major and minor damage, ascertaining major, or necessary, and minor, or unnecessary, (whether distant or not distant from the major) things. These five things occur in the material and religious/spiritual areas of life (=10). Bitachon for things of a religious/spiritual nature is more correct and perfect than bitachon for material things. Even bitachon for non-necessary religious purposes (riches for charity) is better than bitachon for necessary material things (food and clothing to not be dependent on others).
1a) Having bitachon that Hashem will distance the person from major damage. In this a person must strengthen his bitachon by supplications and prayers (the outside affects the inside). In this area, bitachon and hishtadlus work together, as explained above. However if it occurs that hishtadlus is impossible (no medicine/doctors or a sinking ship) than one must rely on Hashem alone. There are some sins that hide or withhold the kindness of Hashem from saving someone, even a tzaddik.
[If a wicked non-Jew rises up to kill a Jew, the Jew’s reaction is dependent on his circumstances. If he is in Israel and has the ability to overcome them then he should but if he is in exile than he only has Hashem to rely on and cunningness. If a Jew rises up to kill another Jew, the one being pursued should only rely on Hashem and not rise up against a Jew even if he has the capabilities (1b) however if a Jew rises up against another Jew(s) in matters of religion than he has the law like a non-Jew, if he is beyond hope, and he can fight the Jew if circumstances allow)]. However a complete tzaddik cannot be harmed by any damagers (but he still cannot place himself in danger unless if forced to, for example during religious persecution, see the beginning of the chapter).]
2a) Having bitachon that Hashem will distance the person from minor damage (small disturbances or uncomfortable rain, see Taanis 24b) is not proper unless a person is counted among nevi’im and tzaddikim. To “activate” one’s bitachon in these areas is extremely brazen-face. However, if this minor damage will lead to major damage (minor to major sickness) then he may have bitachon for the minor damage. 2b) Having bitachon that Hashem will distance minor damage in religious areas is appropriate because a small matter in piety will have major effects. It is appropriate to pray to Hashem to distance a person from the smallest damage in religious matters.
3/4a) It is appropriate to have bitachon regarding the acquisition of necessary physicality (food, clothes, shelter) and to combine this with ordinary work, like Yaakov. Just like Hashem created every creation in the world, so too does He provide for them their food (based on Tehillim 137:25, 104:27,145:15, 157:9 and Avodah Zara 3b).
[According to this there are two essential questions that must be asked. First, what is the point of bitachon if a person, and even an unintelligent animal, is promised his livelihood by Hashem? Furthermore, what is the point of hishtadlus if our livelihood is promised by Hashem? Second, the pasukim imply that bitachon is a natural drive within a person, so why is it necessary to try and inspire to have bitachon? Furthermore, why is it praiseworthy to have this trait (Tehillim 84:13, 42:9) if everyone has it? The answers to these questions are as follows: Generally there is a promise of livelihood, however sins can sometimes cause the lack of livelihood and doing mitzvos add to one’s livelihood. One’s livelihood can also come in the merit of bitachon or it at least can make one’s search for a livelihood easier. The opposite is also true; as a punishment for not having bitachon a person can lose their livelihood or it can become difficult to attain it. The second question can be answered in two ways. One could say that the pasukim that say “all” people (and animals?) have bitachon is only speaking about the majority. This majority has bitachon either as a voluntary or forced trait, as a general or specific belief. We see people who are rich and then lose their money turning to bitachon – their bitachon is forced by external circumstances (“no atheists in a foxhole”). This even occurs with idol worshipers – since they believe in Hashem but also believe in intermediaries – they will come to rely on Hashem in difficult times (Yona 1:6). There are people who have a general bitachon in Hashem (Y’shayahu 36:10) and there are tzaddikim who have bitachon also for the details of their life. In the end of the day, most people have some sort of bitachon in Hashem. Another way to interpret the pasukim is to understand that every cause in the world will eventually return back to the Cause of causes. Therefore, whenever someone relies on a proximate or remote cause, he is either intentionally or unintentionally relying on Hashem. Therefore, everybody, in reality, does have bitachon. For example, someone who hopes to amass wealth and trusts in his body or in his partner is really trusting in Hashem who brings wealth into existence and guards it, gives Man the strength to seek it, is the Creator of the raw substance and decides who will receive it. This second approach also explains the pasukim that state the animals, who do not have knowledge, look to Hashem for their food. Ultimately, everything comes back to the Cause of causes. Only someone who has developed their imagination can grasp this. For example, a child looks to his mother to feed him. However, in reality his mother is given money by the father and the father from his boss etc. until we reach the Ultimate Cause, Hashem (see Tehillim 22:10,11).]
Nevertheless, when there are many human intermediaries between Hashem and the person attaining their needs, it is very difficult to see the hashgacha. It is easier when someone works directly with the ground, hunting or fishing. 3b) Another important point is that “needs” are defined subjectively. A king needs more physical things that a complete tzaddik. A married person needs more than a non-married person. Someone who grows up with fine food has different needs than someone who grows up with simple food. Hashem’s hashgacha, therefore, is also subjective based on whether something is essential or extra. Still though, bitachon is intimately tied with the notion of being satisfied with little – with what is necessary. When David said “and He will grant you the desires of your heart,” he was not speaking to a hedonist but to tzaddikim who are asking for necessary physical things or maybe for spiritual things. Paradoxically if a person only desires and trusts in Hashem for that which is necessary, Hashem in his great kindness and compassion may grant him those extra pleasures of life, as He did with the avos.
[1) Tz”I on the statement that one cannot have bitachon while transgressing the Torah. 2) Compare Moreh Nevuchim and Rambam’s letters about his brothers death with the statement here concerning a sinking ship. 3) The bitachon discusses in this part is bitachon b’chasdei Hashem since He has the power. 4) It is not clear if he holds, unlike his father, that there is direct hashgacha over every animal or just over the species. 5) It is implied by the first answer to his two questions that in the merit of bitachon a person might merit an easy profession but they wont necessarily merit money, yesh m’ayin. 6) He also says that not all kefirah/apikorsus stems from “prikas ole,” a subconscious hedonism, but it can also come “m’kotzer da’ato,” limited intelligence. 7) His explanation of the role of imagination in bitachon is the principle behind birchas hamazon – there are many intermediary steps until we get the food but Hashem is “hazan es haolam kulo,” and it depends on the intermediaries to function properly and spread the food. This doesn’t limit our bitachon in Hashem as the creator but He is also the Sustainer of the physical and social/economic world. It is nevertheless our responsibility to send the food around the world, including Africa, instead of trying to find life on Mars. Because of this problem of intermediaries, he admits that is difficult to see Hashem’s hashgacha. It is especially difficult to see hashgacha pratis –Hashem’s unique hashgacha over me – because we see that many people benefit from one cause, intermediary, source. For example, all the students eat from the cafeteria. It is always there and it will always be there unless the school collapses (physically or economically) or the stock market crashes or if my father loses his job and I don’t have money to pay for food. Since those things are relatively constant and assured it is difficult to see Hashem beyond all of these “trustworthy” intermediaries. 8) On bitachon and hashgacha being subjective, see Devarim 15:8 and Rashi there. This principle goes a long way in explaining the world that we live in. Man creates his subjective needs and Hashem is his shadow – He follows us!]
7. The many levels of bitachon and lack of bitachon (133-141): 1) The first level of lacking bitachon is when somebody gives up on attaining his desire. Bitachon is found the heart. Bitachon is that we rely on Hashem in our hearts for our requests, for example our livelihood. Someone who gives up on attaining his desire is not called a “boteach B’shem” regarding that thing. He has “given up on the compassion of the Creator.” 2) The second level of lacking bitachon is when a person only trusts in Man for his livelihood and not Hashem. The levels of bitachon are four: 1) A person hopes and trusts in Hashem, in His great compassion, but he is also afraid that maybe his sings will hold back Hashem’s compassion. 2) A person trusts in Hashem and he also prays to Hashem for the fulfillment of that desire.3) A person fully trusts in Hashem without any doubt that he will attain his desire (this is the level of a navi or it comes from an intense intuitional experience, as discussed in the beginning of the chapter). Similarly, bnei Yisrael is obligated to believe full-heartedly in everything the navi says or said in their books (for example that redemption will eventually occur, although not necessarily in our life times). 4) The highest level - A person detaches himself from his own will generally or in a specific circumstance and “gives it over” to Hashem to decide what to do. He is satisfied with whatever Hashem decrees. The person is passive and is fully confident in Hashem’s running of the universe. “Cast upon Hashem your burden and He will sustain you.”