On another website, someone quoted the Rambam:

I do not believe that it is through the interference of Divine Providence that a certain leaf drops [from a tree], nor do I hold that when a certain spider catches a certain fly, that this is the direct result of a special decree and will of God in that moment; it is not by a particular Divine decree that the spittle of a certain person moved, fell on a certain gnat in a certain place, and killed it; nor is it by the direct will of God that a certain fish catches and swallows a certain worm on the surface of the water. In all these cases the action is, according to my opinion, entirely due to chance, as taught by Aristotle.
— Moreh Nevuchim 3:17, Friedländer translation

Basically the Rambam holds that mundane things that have no connection with humans are not ordained by Heaven, but things that happen to Humans are.

This seems like a great departure from what I understand to be Divine Providence. Is this universally accepted?

  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/16615/…
    – Menachem
    Jul 31, 2012 at 1:07
  • @msh Nice edit.
    – Double AA
    Jul 31, 2012 at 3:42
  • 1
    deepThinker, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for bringing your interesting question here! Allow me to suggest you register your account to gain full access to the capabilities of the site. I trust someone will provide a sourced, deep, thought out answer soon enough!
    – Double AA
    Jul 31, 2012 at 3:44
  • 1
    deepThinker Why did you add that link back in when the entire quote is already in the question?
    – Double AA
    Jul 31, 2012 at 12:57
  • 2
    The copyright doesn't apply to the quoted Rambam, which is from the (out of copyright) Friedländer translation. Quoting work A in copyrighted work B doesn't protect A under B's copyright. Ping @DoubleAA.
    – msh210
    Jul 31, 2012 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Some time before the 18th of Av, 1943, The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a letter to R' Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva Mesivta Torah Vodaath.

That letter is translated into English in a book called "Led By G-d's Hand".

In the letter, the Lubavitcher Rebbe outlines "An overview of the different conceptions advanced by the Torah sages preceding the Baal Shem Tov, and that advanced by the Baal Shem Tov".

Some of the opinions that are similar to the Rambam include the Shomer Emunim (written by a student of the Ramaz, and cited in Shoresh Mitzvas HaTefillah, sec. 34) and the Ramak (Ein Kol Tamar 5, ch. 1)

You can read the letter for an in-depth analysis of these and other opinions on Divine Providence.

It is important to note, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out:

This must be said: Even according to the opinions which state that Divine providence does not control inanimate objects, plants, and animals agree that G-d knows all the minute particulars concerning these creations, as the Ikkarim, Maamar 4, ch. 7, states: "We are forced to say that His knowledge encompasses every entity found in the world and every event that takes place. Nothing -- neither small nor great -- is beyond Him. Nevertheless, He does not watch over (animals) to grant them reward or punishment for their deeds. Instead, He watches over their particulars insomuch as they are part of the general category, protecting the existence of the species, but nothing beyond that.


The way in which the Creator runs the world is termed in classical Jewish sources as hashgahah (השגחה) which means "supervision." The concept of "supervision" is subdivided into the categories of hashgahah p'rattith (השגחה פרטית), "direct (or, specific) supervision," and hashgahah k'lalith (השגחה כללית), "indirect (or, general) supervision." The former being a direct intervention by HaShem into the events of the world, and the latter being that HaShem has pre-programmed the world - and its various components - to function a certain way and thus they continue in their created path.

It is important to understand that hashgahah p'rattith does not indicate "[something] within God's control/knowledge/domain" and hashgahah k'lalith does not indicate "[something] outside of God's control/knowledge/domain" (has wa-shalom). Rather, the entire world is under HaShem's hashgahah - some things being directly effected and/or managed and others being effected and/or managed indirectly, or it is possible to say "actively" and "passively." However, these are terms used by us in order to facilitate understanding and cannot in their fullness apply to the One Transcendent Creator.

Some common examples of hashgahah k'lalith would be leaves falling from trees, spiders catching flies, bigger fish eating smaller fish, et al. While the Creator is aware of these events and designed the nature inherent in each of them, He does not actively determine which leaf will fall or where it will land, which fly will be caught by which spider, or which fish will be swallowed by another. These are natural events that are a part of the world which He has designed to function in this way. Inherent also in hashgahah k'lalith is the idea of "chance" - which is essentially nature taking its course with the scientific variables being too far beyond conscious human perception for us to know with certainty what will happen next. This concept is expressed by Hazal where it states: "Olam k'minhagho nohegh - the world continues on it's natural course" (b. Avodhah Zarah 54b).

The cognate to this is when the Creator specifically intervenes in the lives of certain humans, "bending" the course of the natural world to accommodate them in various ways according to His will. The condition for this type of hashgahah is that the individual draw close to HaShem's will in thought, word, and deed. To the extent that a person trusts in and aligns himself with the Creator at any given moment, he is able to "draw" - as it were - the Creator's specific supervising influence into the events of his life. A common example of this is the life of Yosef haSsadiq in the Tora.

Most Rishonim - if not all - limit the scope of hashgahah p'rattith in some way. And according to the majority of those do, the world and the various creatures which it contains, are governed mainly by hashgaha k'lalith and that hashgaha p'rattith is limited in scope to human beings - specifically the righteous among the Jewish nation. This view is expressed by the Rambam (Maimonides, More Nevukhim, III:17-18), Ralbag (Gersonides, Sefer Milhamoth HaShem, IV), Rihal (cf. Sefer Kuzari 1:109), Ramban (Nahmanides, Pirush Al HaTora - Shemoth 13:15), and those Rishonim who are essentially Maimonidean in their philosophical orientation (i.e. RaDaQ, Ibn Tibon, Sforno, Me'iri, et al).

In fact, the Sefer HaHinnukh (attributed to the Spanish Rishon, Rav Aharon Lewi HaBartziloni) states this limitation quite succinctly:

שיש כתות בני אדם יחשבו כי השגחת הש״י על כל ענייני העולם בין בעלי חיים או כל שאר הדברים כלומר שלא יתנועע דבר אחד קטן בעולם הזה רק בחפצו ב״ה ובגזרתו עד שיחשבו כי בנפול עלה אחד מן האילן הוא גזר עליו שיפול וא״א שיתאחר או יקדם זמן נפילתה אפי׳ רגע וזה דעת רחוק הרבה מן השכל

Translation: "There are sects of people who think that the hashgahah of HaShem Yithborakh is upon all matters of the world, whether animals or other things, that is to say that not even one small thing in the world moves except by His will, blessed be He, and by His decree, to the point that they think that with regard to the falling of one leaf from a tree that it is [Divinely] decreed upon it that it should fall and that it is impossible that it could have fallen either earlier or later than the [Divinely decreed] time of its falling even by a single moment. Such an understanding is very far from intelligent." (Parashath Tazria, [Misswah 169][1])

The idea commonly espoused in the Jewish world today (expressed above as incorrect by the Sefer HaHinnukh), namely that everything in the world and everything which happens in the world is a subject to and governed by hashgahah p'rattith, was virtually unknown until the preaching of the Baal Shem Tov. The adage [apparently] spoken by him varies depending on the source retelling it; at times he said to have attributed hashgaha p'rattith to a turning leaf, a blade of grass in the wind, or to grains of sand falling into a hole. In his estimation, the concept of hashgahah kelalith either did not exist or was an illusion.

Le-'aniyuth da`ati - in my humble opinion - such a stance is in stark contradiction to centuries, if not millenia, of consistent Torah teaching on the subject (not to mention that such a view leads inevitably to the attribution of absurdity - has wa-shalom - to the Creator, may He be blessed, and a host of other philosophical errors). Therefore, it is to be rejected.

Hope this helps. Kol tuv.

  • Did you study all the original sources to arrive at this succinct conclusion? Or, is there a book summarizing all the shittot on the matter?
    – Lee
    Dec 16, 2016 at 4:47
  • 1
    I did study the sources. However, most of what I write here can be found in the Guide to the Perplexed of Maimonides. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Dec 20, 2016 at 17:31

All of human beings decisions (except in extreme situations) are not ordained by heaven because all humans have "bechirah" free will. There is also a Rashi in Masechta Sotah an daf beis amud alef which says that "Hakol biyiday shomayim chutz miyiras shomayim" that means that heaven knows and somewhat controls everything except for your fear of heaven (and how you act about it which is most of the actions you do), as Rashi states further it says these things that heaven decides are if he will be strong or weak, smart or not so, and things like that, but they are not actions like doing a mitzvah or ch"v an aveirah. So now, from this Rashi we see that mundane things about people are decided by heaven. Now what is considered a mundane thing, the weather maybe, that is not controlled by humans so now we bring in the concept of "tevah" the way Hashem programmed the world to run, Hashem may not actively control the weather but it was set in the blueprints of the world that when there is a lot of evaporated water in the clouds, it rain and if its cold enough, it snows, these things are not actively ordained by Hashem but they were pre-set by Him. As was said in the Rambam that was in the question, a spider catching a fly... that it is not controlled by heaven but it was made in the blueprints that spiders will catch flies and other things like that.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .