Hashgacha Pratis (Part 2): There Is No Affliction Without Sin

We left off last time with the following overview of the topic of Hashgacha from the Sefer HaChinuch:

  • There is no Hashgacha on inanimate objects.
  • There is only general Hashgacha on animals (species).
  • Only Homo Sapiens have Hashgacha on every entity, and every detail.

But this is all only as far as schar v’onesh/reward and punishment is concerned. That is all the Chinuch deals with. For now, I’d like to flesh out this point about reward and punishment just a bit more.

We turn now to Rambam’s Guide To The Perplexed 3:24 to see his words on the subject:

ואמנם מה שהוא מפורסם לבני אדם מענין ה'נסיון' והוא - שיביא האלוה מכות ומקרים באיש מבלתי שיקדם לו חטא כדי להרבות שכרו - זאת פינה לא הוזכרה ב'תורה' בלשון מבואר כלל ואין ב'תורה' מה שיראה פשוטו זה הענין אלא מקום אחד מן הששה מקומות - והנה אבאר אחר זה ענינו. אבל פנת התורה - הפך זה הדעת - הוא אמרו ית' "אל אמונה ואין עול"

People have generally the notion that trials consist in afflictions and mishaps sent by God to man, not as punishments for past sins, but as giving opportunity for great reward. This principle is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture in plain language, (and it is only in one of the six places referred to that the literal meaning conveys this notion. I will explain the meaning of that passage later on.) The principle taught in Scripture is exactly the reverse of such thinking; for it is said: "He is a God of faithfulness, and there is no iniquity in Him" (Deut. 32:4).

ולא כל ה'חכמים' גם כן רואים זה הדעת ההמוני - שהם כבר אמרו "אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון". וזה הדעת הוא אשר צריך שיאמינהו כל בן תורה בעל שכל - לא שייחס העול לאלוה…

The teaching of our Sages, although some of them approve this general belief, is on the whole against it. For they say, "There is no death without sin, and no affliction without transgression." Every intelligent religious person should have this belief, and should not ascribe any wrong to God…

So we know that Rambam wrote (quoting a Gemara) “ein issurim bli cheit” or “there is no affliction without sin” (Guide to the Perplexed 3:24). This is a general operating principle that Rambam assumes. If you see hardship, take for granted that there was sin at some point.

Rambam also discusses the view that God punishes people not because they sinned, but because He wants to elevate them spiritually. Rambam thought such an idea was utterly incorrect and opposite the Torah. It cannot be. We see then that the natural reaction to affliction would be to look to sin.

It is possible that God would cause affliction simply in order to cleanse a person — that is part of sin, and that would be fair game — but there is no concept of punishment or terrible challenges brought upon a person just to make him or her gain something. God does not afflict people unless He has to clean something up, so to speak.

Thus, it is a fair assumption that when something bad happens, there is something that has to be fixed. There is no punishment unless there is a mess. The idea that someone was punished simply in order to have a larger share in the World to Come was atrocious to Rambam. It could very well be that someone is punished here and now as opposed to later, yes, but simply to punish without any sin to rectify is inconceivable.

That being said, of course, find me the person with no sins. I’d love to meet him.

This is not to say that everything bad that happens to a person is necessarily a punishment from God, but only that God does not actively punish without cause/sin. Again, how to understand all of this, and how it fits within the larger context of Hashgacha is still to come. But this is a necessary (slight) tangent along the way.

Amos: 2:6-16 — The Punchline

Modes Of Systematization Of Theological Assertion