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God and Nature

January 16, 2005 | by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

All events, large and small, ultimately result from God's will.

God created the world for a purpose. As Omnipotent and Omniscient ruler of the universe, He therefore extends His providence to all things, overseeing them and maintaining them in a condition to fulfill His ultimate purpose.

God therefore created the present world as a perfect place to fulfill His purpose, with all nature under His command. The causality resulting from the quantum nature of matter gives God the power to control events without altering His laws of nature. Therefore, even when God does not miraculously intervene in worldly happenings, as when things occur through the laws of nature, by accident, or as a result of man’s free will, all happenings ultimately result from God’s will.

Providence extends to people in a very particular manner, leading each toward his destiny.

God created this planet and all that is on it for the sake of man. As a result, His providence extends to people in a very particular and individual manner. Every deed of man is weighed, every hair measured, and every bruise counted, leading each man toward the destiny for which he was born. The prophet thus said, “Great in counsel, mighty in deeds, Your eyes are open to all the ways of men, giving every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his actions” (Jeremiah 32:19).

Everything God created has a purpose to fulfill. Although God is omnipotent and has no need of messengers, He decreed that the world should run according to natural laws. In this way, He makes use of all things to fulfill His will and to guide man towards his destiny. Therefore, everything that may affect man, be it a drop of rain, or a thunderclap, is under God’s direct control.

Even apparent accidents ultimately come from God. God will set up a chain of events, taking account of all possible human decisions, which will place a person in a predicament from which his destiny will ensue. This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, “A man’s very steps are established by God” (Psalms 37:23). Nevertheless, God has also given man wisdom to safeguard his own well being, and has therefore commanded us to avoid needless dangers.

Providence Over Animals

Although animals have a measure of free will, they do not have a highly developed intellect and are therefore not responsible for their actions. Still, God has mercy even on animals, as it is written, “God is good to all; His love is on all His works” (Psalms 145:9)...

God certainly does not guide the destiny of individual animals the same as He guides man’s. He therefore does not extend the same protection to beasts as He does to man. It is only entire species of animals that have a destiny decreed by God, who guides their evolution, maintains their numbers, or decrees their extinction. In general, God has established nature in such a manner that every species is sustained. Regarding this the Psalmist sang, “He provides animals with their food, [sustaining] the young ravens when they cry out” (Psalms 147:9).

Nevertheless, when the destiny of any living creature is linked to that of men, it is also individually judged and guided by God. Therefore, when a snake bites or a bird is captured, it happens only thorough God’s decree. Similarly, the destinies of domestic animals are linked to their owners, as are all their possessions. Indeed, God watches the animals of the righteous to such an extent as to prevent them from doing anything embarrassing to their owners…

Rules of the Righteous

The closer a person is to God, the greater the providence he enjoys, and the more the laws of chance are violated for his benefit. God thus told the Patriarch Jacob, I am with you, I will protect you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15). It is also written, “He protects the feet of His pious ones” (I Samuel 2:9), and “He does not remove His gaze from the righteous” (Job 36:7). One the other hand, the ungodly are abandoned by God, deprived of His providence, and left to the vicissitudes of chance. Regarding them the Psalmist said, “But man does not abide in honor [when] he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:13).

Because of the quantum nature of matter, all the laws of nature are statistical in character, and are binding because the laws of chance are not violated for ordinary persons. However, the perfectly righteous, who enjoy the highest degree of Divine Providence, can experience violations of the laws of nature. Therefore, the righteous are sometimes protected and guided by miracles.

The more one becomes one with God, the more he can partake of God’s power.

Although God created the laws of nature for a purpose, He often overrides this purpose in order to fulfill the destiny of the righteous. As a person approaches closer to God, and his will approaches God’s will, he becomes more and more closely related to God’s purpose in creation. At such a point, the fulfillment of his desires becomes essential for God’s purpose, and therefore, he is allowed to have a share in God’s rule over nature. The more a person begins to resemble his Creator and becomes one with Him, the more he begins to partake of His power. It is almost as if God places His hand over that of the righteous, and allows them to control the elements even as He does. As in the case of the patriarchs and the prophets, God often reveals His plans and acts of providence to the righteous.

It is for this reason that the righteous can often nullify decrees set forth by God Himself. So great is the power of the righteous that they can kill with a mere word or glance. Sometimes this can even happened without their intending it, “Like a ruler who utters something inadvertently” (Ecclesiastes 10:5). With regard to the truly righteous, we are therefore taught, “Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but be careful of their coals that you not be burned. For their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a venomous snake, and all their words are like coals of fire.”

Nevertheless, righteous individuals never depended upon, prayed for, or sought miracles. They fully realized that miracles do not happen every day, and that those which do occur can diminish one’s merit. They also knew that there is no guarantee of assistance to the righteous in this world, On the contrary, God is extremely exacting with them. It was only when all Israel was involved that they did pray for and expect miracles.


Miracles are dramatic evidence of God’s providence. We thus find that God warned Pharaoh before the fourth plague. “On that day, I will miraculously set apart the land of Goshen where My people remain, so that no harmful creatures will be found (Exodus 8:18). Similarly, providence is evidenced by the fact that good and Godly concepts endure and bear fruit, while evil is ultimately destroyed. We are thus taught, “There are many thoughts in man’s heart, but it is God’s counsel that shall endure” (Proverbs 19:21).

Though man was created for the sake of his ultimate future existence, he is still part of this world, and subject to its natural laws. However, the laws of nature themselves were ordained by God to accomplish His purpose, and therefore, behind each natural law is a reason founded in moral law. Furthermore, although events are brought about in a natural manner, the fact that they occur to certain individuals is determined by Divine Providence.

From "The Handbook of Jewish Thought" (Vol. 2, Maznaim Publishing). Reprinted with permission.



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