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Fundamentals of the Jewish Faith

Chapter Six: Divine Providence (Part 1)

Perhaps the most daunting thought of all is that we could actually be fully and essentially alone in life -- and not just for a bit, or for this one lifetime, but always, forever and ultimately.

To be sure, we all need time away once in a while: hours, days or weeks to be alone with our own thoughts to set things straight and go on reinvigorated. But the idea that we’re all essentially alone, like strands of hair floating about in the great cosmic dust somewhere off in the distance and thus of no ultimate consequence, is utterly unsettling. And while it’s not spoken of in such terms, it seems clear that the great preponderance of what many of us do is somehow a deeply unconscious reaction to the thought of such aloneness. (It explains many childhood nightmares for example, adolescent excesses, adult bravado, and more.)

But the Jewish Tradition declares resolutely that we’re not at all alone. For G-d’s presence surrounds and infuses us wherever we are, and can be found in every corner of our being. And not only is He with us, but the truth of the matter is that He also and always interacts with us, to our great relief. For the thought that He might only be “sitting” there, indifferent and mute to our joys and sorrows, and not joining in, is worse yet than the idea that He’s nowhere to be found.

Take heart, though, because as Ramchal put it, “G-d is constantly interacting with His creations”.

But not only does Ramchal assure us that we’re always linked to G-d, he likewise makes the point that G-d is also always “sustaining and governing” us moment by moment, and forever steering humankind toward “the purpose for which (we) were created”.

Now, that brings us back to a number of ideas we’d already come upon. For we’d learned earlier on that the reason why we were created in fact was to draw close to G-d (see Ch. 3). And we saw that we do that by associating with holiness as much as possible and avoiding unholiness (ibid.). We’d also come to see that we’re free to opt for holiness or not to, which brings us back to the Divine merit-system and to free choice (see Ch. 4). In any event, one of Ramchal’s points here is that while we’re free to choose to draw close to G-d or not, He is all the same nudging us in that direction all the time.

But Ramchal’s statement also makes another point, which is that our connection to G-d hinges on our freely willed interactions with Him. For, given that we’re free to choose our actions, thoughts, and words; since those choices occupy the greater part of our waking hours; and since G-d’s interactions with us mirror our interactions with Him (see Ch. 4), it follows then that He interacts with each one of us differently each and every moment, either drawing closer or withdrawing. (That’s also a comforting or daunting thought, depending on the sort of person one is of course.)

We’re also told that G-d likewise interacts with other beings who aren’t free to opt for closeness to Him (i.e., inanimate objects, animals, or angels), but that His connection to them is different accordingly. We’ll explore that next.


Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.


 
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