You can read the other parts in this series here.
Thus far in our studies of Hashgacha Pratis we have seen the very basics, and then moved on to Rambam in order to explain the concept at length, in its various details. Being the “supreme rationalist” that Rambam is often painted as, some might write his position off as being just that — merely a “rationalist” perspective on the matter; sterile and devoid of all emotion. The fact of the matter is, however, that far from being unique in his approach to Hashgacha Pratis, Rambam is in fact quite normative amongst the Rishonim. Indeed, we shall now examine the perspective of Ramban (Nachmanides), the “supreme Kabbalist”, on the topic of Hashgacha Pratis so as to compare his perspective on the matter to Rambam’s. After all, Rambam and Ramban are two of the absolute greatest and most revered of our sages. If both the “rationalist” and the “Kabbalist” giants of the Rishonim agree on the matter, it is safe to assume that such is the proper Jewish tradition and view of the matter.
Ramban lays down his approach to Hashgacha Pratis in commenting on a posuk in Iyov:
He [God] does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous…
Recall, this is the very posuk that Rambam uses as a major source for the idea that a person’s knowledge of God is commensurate with his divine protection, and that only from a truly righteous and constantly connected man does God never remove his eyes. Ultimate righteousness in Rambam’s view is knowledge of God, not just the observance of the mitzvos. Now we shall see what Ramban does with the same verse:
This verse explains a very big idea under the rubric of Hashgacha, and there are many posukim about this, for people of pure faith believe in God’s supervision and protection of homo sapiens, as it is written “… God’s eyes are open to see the ways of man to give to a person that which is his due, and to give him the fruits of his efforts” and David also said “God sees all hearts and all inclinations of thought does He understand”. We have not found in all of Tanach that God will supervise anything that does not speak, rather, for such things, He preserves only the principles of science, or the “natural order” of things.
Ramban thus far absolutely echoes Rambam.
It is thus permitted to slaughter animals and bring them as sacrifices on the mizbe’ach. And the reason for this is known and clear: namely, that only man, who is capable of recognizing God, receives divine supervision and protection, and not all other creatures and creations that cannot speak and do not know their creator. It is for this reason that God protects the righteous, for his eyes are always on God, and so God’s eyes are always on him “from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” The supreme pious person, who is totally connected to God, with everything in God’s service, and he will never walk away from his mind cleaving totally to God in whatever he does, will constantly be protected from all haphazard issues of time, even natural occurrences, through a miracle if need be. To the extent that man has knowledge of God, so too will be his divine protection.
As Ramban continues to essentially rehash Rambam, it is worthwhile to point out here that this supremely righteous individual, who never removes his thoughts from God, could only be Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Rambam describes that even prophets were in a state of fluctuation, but that, in theory, if one was totally and always connected to God, then he or she would receive constant divine protection and would be forever protected from the laws of science and nature in any way that would be found disturbing.
The one who is far from God in actions or thoughts, even if he or she is not (necessarily) deserving of death from his or her sins, he or she will be sent out and dependent solely on natural occurrences. And there are many verses to this effect. Those that are close to God receive protection, while those that are far from God are left to chance and happenstance and are not saved from damages, as if they are treading carefully in the dark and so as not to fall have to move slowly and carefully. And there are many verses to this effect.
It is interesting to point out that the implication from Ramban’s words at the begging of the above quote seem to imply that one could even die prematurely due to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, when not under God’s protection. However, one who is constantly protected by God could, let’s say, walk precariously through an unsafe neighborhood assured in the knowledge that no harm will befall him or her.
Since most of the world is somewhere in between, we thus need armies to protect us. And there are many verses in Tanach that elaborate on this idea. And this is because we are not all connected to God. If we were, we would not need such protection. Further, we do not let just anyone fight; if someone is not properly fearful and in awe of God, we send him away from the battlefield. If they are worthy, they will not need many soldiers or arrows, because God will be with them. If they are not worthy, they can have many people and it will make no difference, as they will be left simply to the natural course of things.
(At such a time, military victory was dependent on righteousness. Such an age we live in no longer.)
It is thus evident from Ramban’s position that he is in complete agreement with, and essentially just echoing, Rambam’s position on Hashgacha Pratis. Don’t take my word for it, though, as Ramban says as much himself:
And this idea (of Hashgacha Pratis) was explained beautifully by the Rabbi (Rambam) of blessed memory in his book “The Guide For The Perplexed”.
And it is because of all of this that Eliyhu tells Iyov “from a tzadik He will not remove His eyes” for God does not remove his eyes from the righteous for even the slightest moment, but rather watches them constantly.
I think Ramban’s words are clear. We cannot say that there is really any sort of argument here between Ramban and Rambam. Ramban states unequivocally that he gets his ideas straight from Rambam.
The Pious One & The Professor
Ramban does do one thing that Rambam does not, however. Ramban employs repeatedly the terms “tzadik” and “chassid” (which denote religious piety, namely, the observance of mitzvos) whereas Rambam does not really do that, but instead speaks only of one’s yediyas HaShem, knowledge of God. Ramban’s usage of the terms “tzadik” and “chassid”, though, incorporate the idea of yediyas HaShem as well, as expressly stipulated. I bring this up because there are those that look at Rambam’s usage of yediyas HaShem divorced of religious piety, and Ramban here would clearly say that such a view is preposterous. That is to say, one cannot exist without the other. There is no such concept as piety or righteousness divorced of an understanding of, and connection to, God. And there is no concept of closeness to (or yediyas) HaShem without the elements of piety and righteousness. Despite how Professor X or Y might interpret Rambam in the Guide as implying that the observance of mitzvos is not “technically required” for closeness to God, Ramban’s read of Rambam here makes such an approach absurd. In short, Ramban is a far better interpreter of Rambam.
To conclude: In regards to the matter of Hashgacha Pratis, the two medieval titans of Jewish tradition are in agreement. Indeed, with almost no exception, all medieval Jewish sages echo some form of Rambam/Ramban’s approach. It would do us well to believe and perpetuate the same understanding of this fundamental of Jewish tradition as was espoused by the greatest of its bearers.
(Thank you to Daniel Shlian for assistance in attaining a digital copy of Ramban’s commentary to Iyov which seems to be mysteriously missing from the entirety of the Internet.)