The Rambam, and many other Rishonim believed that divine providence extends to people in accordance with their righteousness. It follows that they believed that many times, G-d lets things happen according to nature or coincidence.

However, this seems to fly in the face of Mishpatim (21:13):

  1. One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.

  2. But one who did not stalk [him], but God brought [it] about into his hand, I will make a place for you to which he shall flee.

In this Pasuk, the only stated alternative to someone acting on his free will, is that G-d caused it to happen. According to these Rishonim, there should also exist the alternative that it happened by coincidence. How would these Rishonim explain this Pasuk?

  • 1
    Interestingly, some of the Rishonim that one would expect to take this non-literally, actually interpret it simply, such as Rabbenu Avraham ben HaRambam (who himself writes that hashgacha is commensurate to one's greatness) who writes: בכלל חוק זה אמתת אמונה והיא כי כל מי שימות באיזו טיבה שתהיה הרי זה בגזירתו יתעלה והגהדג על ידי הורג במזיד האל יתעלה גזר עליו שימות
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 14, 2016 at 0:46
  • That should read והנהרג על ידי
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 14, 2016 at 1:00
  • Ralbag's first explanation of this phrase is that "that which is by chance is attributed to God". I don't pretend to understand what he means.
    – msh210
    Feb 14, 2016 at 8:49
  • @msh210 My guess is that he means that the pasuk isn't necessarily saying that G-d had to have directly caused it. Rather, it could've happened by chance, but since everything is ultimately from G-d, the Pasuk attributes chance to G-d.
    – user6618
    Feb 15, 2016 at 0:48
  • @mevaqesh Your answer doesn't sit entirely well with me, because the verse is referring to accidental murder, as Y ez mentioned. The Ralbag that msh210 quotes seems to flow a bit better, as it refers to "chance," and not free will.
    – user6618
    Aug 23, 2016 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


R. Ya'akov b. R. Abba Mari Anatoli , writes the following in his Malmad haTalmidim (Parshat Beshalach):

ומה שנראה מקצת כתובי התורה ושאר ספרי הקדש כי כל מה שיעשה האדם או יאמר הכל ברצון השם ובגזרתו וחפצו כמו ... והאלהים אנה לידו... ורבים כאלה. אמת כי הכל יוחס אליו השם ודברו אבל בקצת המקומות בא לפי הרצון הראשון שנתן רשות בידי אדם לבחור בדבריו ובמעשיו אחד משני חלקי האפשר כמו שבא בתחלת היצירה ממנו לדעת טוב ורע. ובקצת מקומות בא לפי דרך הגמול והעונש כי כשיבחר האדם מעצמו הטוב והרע יגמלהו השם להעיר אותו תמיד לעשות כפי הבחירה ההיא כדרך שאמרו שכר מצוה מצוה ושכר עבירה עבירה עד שהחוטא המפליג בחטאיו ענשו שיקשה השם לבו וימנע התשובה כמו שבא לפרעה ולזולתו

In discussing verses such as the one under discussion (Exodus 21: 13), he explains that there are two possible causal relationships that God can have with an event. One can say that God "caused" something inasmuch as he introduced free-will into mankind, which is the ultimate predicate for human behavior, or God can cause something more directly by influencing human behavior.

It seems likely that other followers of Rambam's approach would utilize the same distinction to explain the verse. That is, that God "caused" it indirectly by granting mankind the ability to act independently.

  • 1
    +1. But isn't that a rather counter-intuitive way to read the verse, as it is specifically referring to accidental murder, i.e. not done through conscious decision? Why would the verse link to free-will something done unintentionally? Feb 14, 2016 at 2:00
  • @Yez I had the same question. (I attempted to brunt the force of the question in writing "God "caused" it indirectly by granting mankind the ability to act independently". That is, focusing on the fact that man can perform activities, rather than the fact that these activities correspond to his intent. It seems fairly likely that this latter spin is his intent, given that there are fairly similar statements in the 8th chapter of Shemonah Perakim which seems to have likely been the basis for much of this section of the Malmad HaTalmidim.)
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:16

Exile is only for the criminally negligent. For example, if someone is swinging an axe and the axe-head flies off and kill someone, the person must flee to an ir miqlat (city of refuge). But if the axe head comes off because it struck the wood being chopped, or a chunk of the wood flies off and kills the person, he doesn't need to flee. It has to be the person's direct action, not indirect. Similarly, if someone falls off a ladder and kills another, he only is sentenced to exile if (1) he is descending and (2) the ladder was known to be rickety. (These cases are on Makkos 7b-8a.) It is only for deaths where we could argue that someone who took like more seriously could have prevented the tragedy.

Given that the person must carry a measure of culpability, a literal read of this verse doesn't seem tenable.

Perhaps the verse is a source for the Kuzari's idea in 5:20 (slightly de-thou-ed from Hartwig Hirschfeld's 1887 -- and therefore public domain -- translation; formatting with bullets, mine, but the text mentions "three other categories" so I know the intent was to list 4 items):

... My opinion is that everything of which we are conscious is referred to the Prime Cause in two ways, either as an immediate expression of the divine will, or through intermediaries. An instance of the first kind is found in the synthetic arrangement visible in animals, plants and spheres, objects which no intelligent observer would trace back to accident, but to a creative and wise will, which gives everything its place and portion. An instance of the second kind ... is to be found in the burning of a beam.

You may even discover the causes of their causes till you arrive at the spheres, then at their causes, and finally at the Prime Cause. One might justly say that everything is ordained by God, and another is equally right in making man's free will or accident responsible for it, without, however, bringing it outside the divine providence. If you like, you may render the matter more intelligible by means of the following classification. Effects are either of divine or of natural origin, either accidental or arbitrary.

  • The divine ones issue forth actively, having no other causes except God's will.

  • The natural ones are derived from intermediate, preparatory causes which bring them to the desired end, as long as no obstacle arises from one of the other three classes.

  • The accidental ones are likewise the result of intermediary causes, but accidentally, not by nature or arrangement, or by will power. They are not prepared to be brought to completion and standstill, and they stand apart from the other three classes. As regards the arbitrary actions, they have their roots in the free will of man [see below -mb], when he is in a position to exercise it.

  • Free will belongs to the class of intermediary causes, and possesses causes which reduce it, chainlike, to the Prime Cause. This course is not compulsory, because the whole thing is potential, and the mind wavers between an opinion and its opposite, being permitted to turn where it chooses. The result is praise or blame for the choice, which is not the case in the other classes. An accidental or natural cause cannot be blamed, although some of them admit a possibility. But one cannot blame a child or a sleeping person for harm done. The opposite was possible just the same, and they cannot be blamed, because they lack judgment.

Notice Rabbi Yehudah haLevi here has his protagonist classify free will choices as being indirectly from G-d, as are arbitrary actions. Which would fit ascribing murder by criminal negligence -- somewhere in that spectrum between choice and arbitrary -- to Him.

  • +1 This also sounds similar to the Ralbag that msh210 quoted in the comments to the question: "that which is by chance is attributed to God."
    – user6618
    Feb 21, 2016 at 0:19
  • Given that the person must carry a measure of culpability, a literal read of this verse doesn't seem tenable. A literal read if the verse need not conform to the derashot.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 23, 2016 at 16:04
  • @mevaqesh: More to the point, halakhah conforms to derashah, not peshat. If peshat, the literal read, had to conform to the derashah, they wouldn't be distinct levels of scriptural meaning. What I meant here was that if the pasuq intended to lay all "blame" on G-d, the man wouldn't be getting exile. Just as in cases where there was less of a criminal negligence edge to his role (see prior paragraph). Aug 23, 2016 at 18:39
  • @MichaBerger hat I meant here was that if the pasuq intended to lay all "blame" on G-d, the man wouldn't be getting exile Not necessarily. The case could easily be made that the pshat of וְהָי֨וּ לָכֶ֧ם הֶעָרִ֛ים לְמִקְלָ֖ט מִגֹּאֵ֑ל is that the point is protection from angry relatives; not punishment. Note that although Chazal refer to it as גלות "exile" which implies a punitive measure, I think the Torah only refers to it as ינוס; fleeing, and מקלט; protection.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 23, 2016 at 18:53

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