How G-d Relates to Non-Jews

The challenge by a reader to what I wrote earlier deserves more prominent attention than a comment to his comment:

Your article really encompasses the larger question of how a Jew is to understand God’s relationship with non-Jews. A traditional belief you and I are both familiar with has it that God relates to Jews on an individual level (hashgacha pratis) but to non-Jews on a general level. Really? How are we to square that, then, with the numerous statements of Christian writers down through the centuries in which they described feeling God at their side? That, at certain great moments in their life, they knew God was with them? These statements – and I’ve heard them often, simply from Christian friends and acquaintances – put the lie to the belief that God only intervenes personally with Jews.

I believe that this “traditional belief” is inaccurately understood. There are classic sources that speak of Hashem relating to Jews with hashgacha pratis, unlike his relationship with non-Jews. This cannot (or may not) mean what you imply it means.

Can there be prayer without hashgacha pratis? Isn’t tefillah – at least petitionary tefillah – a request that Hashem intervene directly on behalf of the mispallel? And does the navi not charactierize the beis ha-mikdosh as “beis tefillah…lechol ha-amim?” Does this not mean that He listens to the prayers of everyone and anyone? (This would put us at odds, I imagine, with the contention of a previous leader of the Southern Baptist Convention that “G-d does not listen to the prayers of Jews”) When you say karov Hashem lechol kor’ov, lechol asher yikr’uhu be-emes, whom do you include in “lechol?”

I think that this “traditional belief” – which in itself would not preclude other opinions – refers to the default configuration, as it were. As members of the am nivchar, Jews begin with an assumed position of hashgacha pratis. They can lose good measures of that. See Chovos Ha-Levavos, beginning of Shaar ha-Bitachon, who writes that one of the advantages of bitachon in Hashem is that if one has it, Hashem conducts Himself towards a person that way. If he believes that his life is governed only in part by Divine Providence, and affected by other factors as well, Hashem leaves him under the influence of those factors!

Non-Jews (particularly those of Chazal, who were pagan or semi-pagan) are not “naturally” given to direct “personalized” Providence. That is not, however, a description of permanent status. Any human being who believes in such Providence is met with such hashgacha by G-d. It would seem to me that plenty of non-Jews today firmly believe in such Divine guidance of their lives.

Years ago, I asked a prominent figure in the haredi world how he deals with significant numbers of non-Jews whom he routinely counseled. I asked specifically about people facing tragedy who were firm believers in G-d, while not being Jewish. How would his words of support and/or consolation differ to someone staring death in the face. He responded, “I speak to them exactly the same way I speak to Yidden.”

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18 Responses

  1. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Since making Aliyah I have been more exposed to the mentality that non-Jews are somehow different in kind and inferior. I think it’s a combination of a lack of day to day exposure that we have in the US and the fact that we are surrounded by many non-Jews who really want to annihilate us. There are truly people who believe, as I once heard quoted, that “non-Jews are merely props on the stage of Jewish history”. That’s reflexively anathema to me, and being somewhat of a contrarian it has strongly pushed me in the other direction.

    Though I believe that an individual has “license” in the range from the Rambam to the Ramban to view Hashgacha Pratis as best fits his conscience, your attitude at the middle of that range is, as usual, refreshing.

  2. mycroft says:

    “There are classic sources that speak of Hashem relating to Jews with hashgacha pratis, unlike his relationship with non-Jews.”

    Although some of us may know some GAAP-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles-none of us know CAP-Celestial Accounting Principles. We believe that we are preforming God’s will when we follow halacha.

    There are at least two major schools of thought about hashgacha pratis simplistically one side that not a leaf falls to the ground without it being Gods will and the other side that except for rare individuals like some prophets God does not intervene in this world for individuals-essentially the Rambam’s view. Apparently unlike many the Rambams view was known to me as a youngster and probably accepted by me. It has IMO less problems about theodicy than the other view. Of course, part and parcel with this view has to be a belief in Olam Haemes. As I believe the Rav said that an Olam Haemes has to exist based on logic once one accepts that there is a just God this world does not make sense without an afterlife to enable justice to occur.

  3. micha says:

    I agree that this is one traditional belief among many; that this is the topic of machloqes (surprise!) but is a very real and solidly advocated opinion. It is more common among rishonim to say that all human activity is subject to hashgachah peratis, or that there are criteria for earning hashgachah peratis that cut across national lines. But the Kuzari (12th cent) or the Peri Eitz Chaim (16th cent and quoted by the Tanya) would make receiving Providence a national feature rather than something earned. Yes, if you believe it is non-total and earned, then one could say that Jews are more likely to have earned it; at least back when most Jews actually knew what real Judaism was.

    I would suggest an “earned” model that the intent is kind of straightforward measure-for-measure: If someone chooses to worship the embodiment a natural force (a mal’akh or a pagan god), or worship G-d through a middleman, or ignore Him, G-d will do the same.

    The Rambam’s model is more mystical: knowledge of G-d connects one to Him through which that Divine Influence can flow (Guide 3:17). But in general, I am uncomfortable with the Rambam’s emphasis on knowledge, reducing character, ethics and obedience to Hashem to handmaidens, tools for gaining that knowledge. And historically, I’m far from alone.

    Still, both the VIlna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov believed that every event, even ones that don’t involve people, are subject to hashgachah peratis,. If the Besh”t can say that G-d decides whena leaf falls which way it would land, would he accredit less Providence than that to a pagan? Yes, it’s possible that the leaf didn’t lose the right to such guidance whereas the pagan did, but I think the underlying theology that explains why Hashem guides leaves would still apply.

    Also, given Chaos Theory (“whether or not a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa could be the difference between whether or not a community is devastated by a tornado in the US”), it is hard to say that there could be an event involving only people who do not merit hashgachah peratis. I would think that every act touches some righteous person’s life, somehow. So that while some cruel and pagan person’s experience of the event might not be tailored to him, how could the event itself be solely the product of nature or luck, without hashgachah peratis?

    As for how we should treat them, that is an entirely different discussion.

    As is my wont, let me quote Rav Shimon Shkop’s introduction to Shaarei Yosher:
    האיש הגס והשפל כל ״אני׳׳ שלו מצומצם רק בחמרו וגופו, למעלה ממנו מי שמרגיש ש״אני״ שלו הוא מורכב מגוף ונפש, ולמעלה מזה מי שמכניס לה״אני״ שלו בני ביתו ומשפחתו, והאיש ההולך על פי דרכי התורה, ה״אני״ שלו כולל את כל עם ישראל, שבאמת כל איש ישראל הוא רק כאבר מגוף האומה הישראלית. ועוד יש בזה מעלות של איש השלם ראוי להשריש בנפשו להרגיש שכל העולמות כולם הוא ה״אני״ שלו, והוא בעצמו רק כאבר קטן בתוך הבריאה כולה, ואז גם רגש אהבת עצמו עוזר לו לאהוב את כל עם ישראל, ואת כל הבריאה כולה.

    In English (tr. mine):

    The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.

    The person who could connect to all of humanity and all of creation is above and beyond the one who “only” connects to the Jewish People. Although, being more connected to our own people is part of that, just as we are expected to feel more connected to our nuclear and extended family than to other Jews. (And “the poor of your [own] city come first.”)

  4. Moshe says:

    According to the approach of the Sifsei Chaim to hashgachah, I don’t think there is an issue. Hashem is involved in every last detail on the planet. The difference between Jews and non-Jews is only in whether they are, at least potentially, judged based on their personal merit or only based on how they have fulfilled their mission in the general scheme of things. A non-Jew might pray, and Hashem will favor him because He has decided that he has gained the opportunity to fulfill some role in the general scheme. That general scheme revolves around the Jewish nation as a whole, and specifically its righteous individuals; it cannot revolve around the other nations or their individuals, irrespective of their personal merits.

  5. ari says:

    While the approach presented may be legitimate, the impetus for the approach, the question of “How are we to square that, then, with the numerous statements of Christian writers down through the centuries in which they described feeling God at their side? That, at certain great moments in their life, they knew God was with them? These statements – and I’ve heard them often, simply from Christian friends and acquaintances – put the lie to the belief that God only intervenes personally with Jews” really serves as a basis for nothing. It is obvious that human beings experience a wide variety of feeling and emotions in range of circumstances. Accepting their reports as thoroughly honest (which I assume they are) we can still ask: how do they know what contact with God feels like.
    This completely invalidates the whole question from the start.
    I would note that the reader is correct in deducing that the corollary of my statement is that a Jew with a “religious experience” similarly cannot know that he is “feeling God”, for at the minimum he might be confusing a mere emotion for the Divine. (Note for example R’ Soloveitchik’s comment in ‘Thinking Aloud’ that upon attending a musical performance he sensed emotions, considered whether he was having an emotional experience and concluded it was a mere aesthetic experience. Note also the quote from R’ Twersky z”l in the Yeted hesped that a person who is seemingly gripped by religious rapture may not be experiencing dveikus at all).

  6. lacosta says:

    when certain branches of haimishe judaism emphasize the animal soul that the non-jew is perforce laden with, it is hard to imagine that there are no negative consequences in attitudes towards non-haredi society… there’s a risk that as time goes on , and balanced [as opposed to only one non-nuanced mehalech] approaches are not taught , the appreciation of the Other will only decrease….

  7. dr. bill says:

    It is fair to say that attitudes toward divine providence and hashgaha pratis have differed widely – extending to every blade of grass at one extreme and restricted to the few during their moments of devaikus at the other. Every POV can quote scriptual, talmudic and midrashic sources. Another example of eilu ve’eilu.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    There is a Mishnah in Avos in which R Akiva posits that while of mankind is created in the Divine Image, there is a special closeness between Klal Yisrael and HaShem Yisborach.

  9. Raymond says:

    Of course G-d cares about both Jews and gentiles, as G-d cares about all aspects of His creation. However, there must be a reason why it was the Jews who were given the Torah by G-d on Mount Sinai, and why we Jews are expected to follow 613 commandments, while gentiles are expected to follow only seven. This tells me that our spiritual potential is greater, and therefore that we Jews have a closer relationship to G-d than do the gentiles. Obviously there are individual differences, depending on how much effort any given person makes toward being close to G-d.

  10. Emunah says:

    Dr. Bill – I recently read the book “Hashgacha Pratis” by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz, where he analyzes many of the differing perspectives on this topic and attempts to synthesize them. I have difficulty accepting the concept of eilu ve’eilu in this area because hashgacha pratis is such a basic part of deepening our relationship with G-d and seeing Him in our every day life. How can you do that if you are not sure how much He actually is in your every day life?

    [YA – One approach might be to understand what is common to ALL approaches! 1) To the best of my knowledge, no one denies the place of petitionary prayer, not that such prayer requests of HKBH that He turn towards the petitioner with hashgacha pratis. That may be the single, most valuable item in this discussion. Davening is always a good strategy! 2) I think that the Chazon Ish’s formulation about bitachon is one that crosses the divide between the earlier, differing approaches.]

  11. mevaqesh says:

    “Though I believe that an individual has “license” in the range from the Rambam to the Ramban to view Hashgacha Pratis as best fits his conscience, your attitude at the middle of that range is, as usual, refreshing.”
    I appreciate Menachem’s humility in prefacing his comment with the implicit disclamer that his views merely reflect his beliefs.
    I would like to note however that the matter is not so clear. Although there is no Shulhn Arukh of hashkafa, that does not mean that views are to be selected according to ones liking. In a halakhic context the choice of e.g. Rambam over Ramban or vice versa based on mere personal bias would obviously unacceptable. Halakha operates by its own internal framework and is not to be exploited on te basis of one’s whim or fancy. Hashkafa too is not a free for all. Just as presumably visitors to this blog agree that conservative or Reform do not reflect valid views, and presumably agree that the more obscure theologians of our past who held views contradictory to accepted views may similarly cease to be legitimate views. Such beliefs include the lack of integrity of the text of the Torah, and corporealism.
    Ultimately the question we should ask ourselves is what the Torah has to tel us about a topic, utilizing Torah’s own dynamic to reach conclusions, rather than independently reaching conclusions and then reverse engineering them into Judaism. THe former is learning, the latter is merely justifying. Hopefully this comment will at least prove thought provoking.

  12. mevaqesh says:

    to lacosta: In my opinion you make the same methodological mistake as Menachem. Your focus is not on whether a belief truly reflects the opinion of Torah or not; rather, you have already made up your mind and are focused merely on criticizing those with whom you disaree. I am not addressing your opinion, it may be legitimate or not depending o whether it is the opinion of Torah. I am merely criticing what I perceive as a common error

  13. Jim Baer says:

    Sometimes less is more. God relates to all people as his children. Sometimes a child turns his or her back but a perfect parent leaves the door open.
    God loves his humble children and his arrogant children. Which are we? Jim

  14. One Christianis Perspecitive says:

    How does G-D relate to the non-Jew? Are not the ways and thoughts of G-D higher than those of man ? How did G-D relate to Enoch, Noah, Rahab the harlot,
    Ruth the Moabite, Naaman the Syrian with leprosy, to name a few ? Didn’t G-D provide for the Gentiles during the Temple period to have a very large court for the Gentiles ? G-d desires His Kingdom to include people from every nation and tribe.

    Some ways God relates to Christians is by: hearing our prayers and answering them in accordance with His will and time frame ; He does provide guidance, instruction, correction, discipline and revelation through the reading of His Word. He does provide other ways of revelation but there is no formula or pattern because God’s ways are His ways to use as he sees fit. Everything He does is for His glory and our good – even discipline. Yes, one does know when they are being disciplined by G-D.

    To be candid, most Christians have never heard of the 7 Noahide laws except those who have been in contact with Orthodox Jews via web sites.

    The commandments that we try to follow are; “You shall love the L-RD your G-D with all your heart, all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to pray for each other as well as our enemies. We are to forgive each other as well as all others who have hurt us. Restitution is a legal activity that is outside the act of forgiveness. The act of forgiveness is a sincere willingness to give up our right to be angry. Anger harms those who carry it around more than the one who hurt you, while the act of forgiveness before G-d brings deep permanent healing. We know the Ten Commandments given to Moses and try to honor them with His help. All of these are “things to do” but Christianity involves much more than a work plan of actions. Christianity is relational to G-D and to man via love and submission. He said “draw near to me and I will draw near to you”. He may bring a verse of Scripture to mind, for example, when He desires an action from us or when we seek His help – but that is not all He does. It is not so much an effort as it is a willingness to submit to G-D and be used by Him. Everything is individualized to the person and G-d’s initiative, grace and mercy on His time and for His purpose. Does everything go smoothly. No. We are all imperfect people who struggle against the pull of the secular world and our own foolish desires.

    I don’t know what it really means to be an Orthodox Jew.

    I cannot explain to someone else what it “really” means to be a Christian in a way that they could grasp the spiritual significance of it. All I know is who I was before I willingly encountered G-d and how He changed my heart. Yes, there are still hard places in my heart but I need Him to reveal them. Worship, praise, submit, confess, repent, pray and turn back is the cycle of man, while G-d loves mightily, hears readily, corrects often when needed, pushes one beyond their comfort zone always. This is not formula driven but relationally driven and G-d is Sovereign in all things. He molds and shapes a person bit by bit.

    Could someone explain to me how would you define the Spirit of G-d and the Glory of G-d who presided over the ark in the Holy of Hollies. Are these two words that mean the same thing ?

  15. Emunah says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein – Thank you for your response to my comment above. As far as #2, am I correct in assuming that you meant the Chovos HaLevavos? The way I understand what you wrote above is that there is a postive correlation between bitachon and hashgacha pratis (which would apply to all humans). How does one develop such bitachon? I have heard that a way to do it is to see Hashems Hand in your life; however, it sounds like you would need to have bitachon first in order to have a high level of Hashem’s involvement in your life. Unless it’s what you described earlier – that we all start with hashgacha pratis as a default. I guess I’m having a hard time assessing my “level of hashgacha pratis” and therefore an appropriate mindset to have as i go through life…

    [YA – In #2, I did not mean Chovos Halevavos, but the Chazon Ish. I believe that his formulation is one that cuts across the difference between the way some rishonim saw hashgacha, and the way that has been commonly assumed since the time of the Besht.

    As far as acquiring bitachon, I don’t think I can offer any special insight. What seems to work for many people is much study of the classics and modern classics on the subject. You start with Chovos Halevavos (the whole sefer, really. Not just Shaar HaBitachon. The earlier sections are a necessary precursor to understanding bitachon). Continue with, perhaps, HaEmuna v’haBitachon (attributed by some to Ramban). Moving ahead many centuries, seforim that seem to work for people include R Dessler, the Sifsei Chaim, Nesivos Shalom, and R Pincus. There are those who are privileged enough to be able to throw themselves into the study of Nach; great people have argued that there is no better way to acquire bitachon.

    You can understand why some have called the acquisition of bitachon one of the hardest mitzvos to fulfill. ]

  16. DF says:

    Thanks for the longer response to my earlier post, Rabbi, I read it while we were in the delivery room last Thursday.

    The view you describe, of a default position of hashgacha for Jews, can be countenanced. It runs into some problems when we contemplate Jews whose family has not been observant for generations, vis a vis religious gentiles whose own ancestors have been devout for all that time. Does the Jew in such a case still get the benefit of the default factory mode, rather than the Gentile? Still, one can envision such a framework. But that is not the way the average yeshivah-trained person thinks, and it is not the way it is presented from the pulpit, especially the “black hat” [now called “charedi”] pulpit. No, the view presented, as Menachem Lipkin so aptly quoted above, is that non-Jews are merely props on the stage of Jewish history. And, of course, as in any other proposition in life, they can cite sources to back them up. So absurd and insulting is this notion that it colors anything else I hear from the man who expresses such a view. For if that is truly what a man believes, how can I trust his intelligence or judgment on any other aspect of Jewish life?

    That’s why we need a return to such discussions in Jewish communal life. We’ve slipped away from God by focusing on the minutia of Jewish life. We’ve listened to too many tapes of R. Wein saying הלואי את אותי עזבו ואת תורתי שמרו. It’s a great quote, from a great man, but there’s a flip side to it, and we’re seeing it.

    [YA – I stayed with you most of the way – till the end. I don’t see why superficial, uncritical thinking has to be conflated with dikduk in halachah. This is not the place for it, but there is much to be said for such precision, and even for the steady increase of chumros through the centuries, a phenomenon noted already (approvingly) by the Shalah HaKadosh. [One of my favorite pieces more than peripherally related to this is Rav Kook, Eyn Ayah, Shabbos daf yud, number 14, pgs. 9-10.] Such meticulousness does not endanger critical thinking – neither in the careful reading of texts, nor in understanding how their superficial treatment in public leads to mockery and dersion of Torah from both without and within. My preference would be to keep the dikduk as well as demand more critical, nuanced examination of Chazal. As Maharal explained, his problem with literal readings of Chazal was not the message per se, but that they missed the real kavanah of Chazal, which was a good deal deeper.]

  17. Shades of Gray says:

    Two articles on the Chazon Ish’s view of bitachon on the RCA website:

    R. Daniel Stein, “The Limits of Religious Optimism: The Hazon Ish and the Alter of Novardok on Bittahon,” Tradition 42;1 (Summer 2010)

    What Makes a Belief ‘Traditional’? The Case of Bittahon by Gidon Rothstein November 8, 2010

  18. lacosta says:

    to menachem shlit”a

    there is no doubt in my mind that there is ample hashkafic daas tora to consider non-jews as animal souls ,etc. that wasn’t the issue. the issue was what are the practical results that ensue when people receive a [ derech yisrael saba] totally non-nuanced education … the gdolim may not endorse the behaviour of the street , but they may not necessarily step in to alter its source…

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