10. What is the emphasis on (Specific) Divine Providence? How is it different from ‘General Providence’?
When we say that providence is ‘General’, it means that G d is relating to the generality of the creation alone, and not to all of its details. For example, perhaps G d is interested in having a certain species of bird in existence, but it is not important to Him what happens to a particular bird within the species. (Specific) Divine Providence means that there is interest and attention on G d’s part, in every detail of the creation.
Is this concept an accepted Jewish concept or only a Chassidic concept?
The idea that the world carries on under G d’s supervision is one of the basic tenets of the Jewish faith. However there have been differing opinions among the prominent scholars as to how much Divine Providence relates to each creation.
There were those who maintained that the Divine Providence is only on the human race and whatever is involved with it, but the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and how much more so the inanimate kingdom, are supervised by G d only in a general manner, as explained above.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidut, determined that the supervision of the Creator is on all the created beings, including the vegetable and inanimate kingdoms. The reason for this is that the Divine supervision stems from the Creator bringing the world into existence on a constant basis. Since all the created beings are constantly being recreated at every moment, it means that the vegetable and inanimate kingdoms are also part of G d’s knowledge and supervision.
Is this approach really an innovation of the Baal Shem Tov?
This idea had been written before the period of the Baal Shem Tov. The Rebbe in one of his talks quotes the Sages in Chulin (63): “Rabbi Yochanan (says) ‘He presides over the pelican’ (a bird which preys on fish in the sea) he said: “Your statutes are as a great abyss”, and Rashi comments there: “G d appoints the pelican (or cormorant) to judge and revenge the fish in the sea and to kill those who are destined to die.” So it is clear that there is law and judgment also on specific fish in the sea, to the point where G d appoints a specific bird to kill the specific fish which is destined to die.
The novelty in the Baal Shem Tov’s approach is in highlighting the concept and revealing the repercussions of it on our daily lives. The Baal Shem Tov emphasized very clearly and sharply that (specific) Divine Providence is on each and every detail of creation, not only on righteous people, and not only on the human race, but also on the vegetable and inanimate. Put simply; G d relates to each and every detail and it is all important to Him. Moreover, since this is so, we see that all these details are important to the goal of creation.
As the Rebbe writes in “HaYom Yom” 28th of Cheshvan: “The concept of Divine Providence is, that not only are all the movements of the various creations supervised by Divine Providence, which is their very vitality and existence, but each specific movement of a creation has a general relationship to the general intent of the whole creation… by joining and uniting all the specific movements… the Supernal intention (aim) of the whole creation becomes completed.”
We must think about this: If the movement of a blade of grass is supervised by G d and has relevance to the goal of creation, how much more so can we say that the human race in general and the Chosen Nation specifically, are supervised by G d!
Each leaf that is tossed by the wind, every such detail, affects the general aim or goal of G ds creation. When G d first created the world He had a certain goal, and this goal is achieved by means of each and every detail in the creation. How much more so, what happens to every individual Jew is a matter of prime importance to G d.
Regarding the various opinions of respected Torah scholars that we mentioned above, it is important to clarify another point: The Rebbe explains that actually, there really is no conflict of opinion! Those like the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) who are of the opinion that G d supervises the animal, vegetable, and inanimate kingdoms in a general manner but not on the level of specific detail, mean to say that the supervision is hidden. The interest that G d has in them is not really seen, whereas with people, especially the righteous, G d’s supervision can be seen. On the other hand, when the Baal Shem Tov says that there is supervision on all the levels of creation, he agrees that it is not seen.
Although at face value it seems like a serious conflict, in truth, there really is no conflict. All agree that there is supervision on everything, but there is a difference in the level of revelation of this supervision. Supervision on people is revealed, but on the other levels of creation, animal vegetable and inanimate, when they are not in direct involvement with humans, the supervision is hidden.
The aim of Chassidut is to reveal the inner dimensions – so it emphasizes the hidden supervision (Divine Providence) also, that we must (and can) accustom ourselves to seeing in a revealed manner.