"The Eyes of the Lord Your God are Always upon It"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

“The Eyes of the Lord Your God are Always upon It”

 

Based on a sicha by

HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein

 

Summarized by Yitzchak Barth

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Bereishit 1:3-4)

 

Actualizing things is called “saying”… and maintaining them is called “seeing”… The point is to teach that they exist by His desire, and if that desire would detach from them for but a moment, they would become nothingness. (Ramban, ad loc.)

 

            When the Ramban explains the first verses in the Torah, and has to clarify the meaning of the verb “ra’a,” he explains that when the Torah says, “And God saw the light, that it was good,” it is not referring to “seeing” in the usual sense, namely, observation from the side, but rather to “seeing” in the sense of agreement – assent which makes possible the continued existence of the particular phenomenon. “God saw the light, that it was good,” and for that reason – and only for that reason – the light could continue to exist.

 

What is more, the Ramban seems to be referring not to merely passive support, like that of a table that prevents the objects lying upon it from falling to the floor, but to active and dynamic assent. God infuses all things at every moment and in constant fashion with the possibility of existence. This fundamental belief, that the world would have no existence were it not for the fact that God constantly recreates it, is concisely formulated in a prayer that we recite every day. In the “yotzer ha-me’orot” blessing recited each morning before Shema, we thank God who “in His goodness renews the creation every day constantly.”

 

            As opposed to the Rambam, who minimized God’s active and constant intervention in the world, the Ramban championed this idea also with respect to the issue of miracles. According to the Rambam, God implanted the laws of nature into the world at the time of creation, and ever since then He intervenes in the day-to-day running of the world as little as possible. Even the spectacular miracles listed in Pirkei Avot (5:6) were already embedded in the structure of the world at the time of creation. The Ramban sharply criticizes the Rambam for his approach, asserting that nothing has existence unless God creates it anew each and every moment.

 

In general philosophy, this issue was the subject of a debate between the thinkers of the 18th century and those of the 19th century. After Newton outlined the laws of physics, presenting the world as a well-oiled machine that operates in accordance with principles that were set in motion at the beginning of time, the great philosophers of the period adopted the view that apart from its initial creation, God does not intervene in the universe, and that He certainly does not have to constantly create it anew. In the 19th century, in the aftermath of certain developments in the field of philosophy, many thinkers began to believe in a dynamic and constant creation, similar to the idea that “in His goodness [God] renews the creation every day constantly.”

 

            Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al ha-Tanya, formulates his staunch position on this issue at the beginning of Sha’ar ha-Yichud ve-he-Emuna:

 

It is written: “Forever, O God, Your word stands firm in the heavens” (Tehillim 119:89). The Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, has explained that “Your word” which You uttered, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters…” (Bereishit 1:6) – these words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven and are forever clothed within all the heavens to give them life…

For if the letters were to depart for an instant, God forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become naught and absolute nothingness, and it would be as though they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance, “Let there be a firmament.” And so it is with all created things, in all the upper and lower worlds, and even this physical earth and the realm of the completely inanimate. If the letters of the Ten Utterances by which the earth was created during the Six Days of Creation were to depart from it for an instant, God forbid, it would revert to naught and absolute nothingness, exactly as before the Six Days of Creation….

From the foregoing, the answer to the heretics [may be deduced], and there is exposed the root of the error of those who deny individual Divine Providence and the signs and miracles recorded in the Torah. They err in their false analogy, in comparing the work of God, the Creator of heaven and earth, to the work of man and his schemes. For, when a silversmith has completed a vessel, that vessel is no longer dependent upon the hands of the smith, and even when his hands are removed from it and he goes his way, the vessel remains in exactly the same image and form as when it left the hands of the smith. In the same way do these fools conceive the creation of heaven and earth. But their eyes are covered….

With the withdrawal of the power of the Creator from the thing created, God forbid, the created being would revert to naught and utter non-existence. Rather, the activating force of the Creator must continuously be present in the thing created to give it life and existence…. (Sha’ar ha-Yichud ve-he-Emuna, chapters 1-2)

 

            The words of the Ba’al ha-Tanya give expression to the same idea that the Divine force does not merely buttress and support the created world, but rather it gives life to creation and infuses it with existence.

 

            The Ba’al ha-Tanya stated these words about each and every stone, each and every plant, and each and every animal. This approach undoubtedly applies to man as well, and all the more so to a community, to a state, and especially, to the State of Israel. Already in the Torah we find that God maintains special providence over the people and the land of Israel. In the book of Devarim, the Torah defines Eretz Yisrael as “a land which the Lord your God cares for: the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12). God follows us, as it were, with a discerning eye, a reflection of His constant involvement and intervention in the life of His people and land. While, in general, God in His goodness renews the creation every day constantly, He gives special attention to the people of Israel, to its land and to its state.

 

            On the conceptual level, this belief is certainly deeply ingrained within us. But a question remains regarding the extent to which this idea is internalized in our consciousness. It seems to me that in recent years in particular the feeling of God’s continuous providence has been in danger of fading away and being forgotten. Theoretically, we are all aware of the fact that “an eye sees, an ear hears and all your deeds are inscribed in a book” (Avot 2:1). On the practical level, however, we occasionally forget the eye that is observing our actions, and at times we imagine this eye as the eye of a “big brother,” a threatening eye that stalks us and keeps tabs on everything that we do. Habit and day-to-day concerns suppress the excitement that should take hold of us in face of the creative eye that maintains and renews the creation every day.

 

            We must therefore strengthen our awareness of God’s constant providence and its significance. We often tend to gravitate to the ideas of the 18th century, and imagine ourselves living in an autonomous mini-cosmos. This is especially true regarding our attitude towards the State of Israel.  Many young people relate to the existence of the state as a fundamental and natural given, and not as an awe-inspiring novelty. It is incumbent upon us to renew our “eye contact” with the providential eye. We must internalize the understanding that, without our connection to God who each day anew makes our existence and the existence of the entire world possible, our existence would have no foundation.

 

Unfortunately, it is precisely in times of trouble that we often learn to appreciate the enormity of the gift that we receive each day. At those times, we find ourselves more and more aware of the constant support and assistance that God heaps upon us.

 

            As we celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, let us pray that God should spread over us His shelter of peace and remove from us all troubles and dangers. Let us hope that even when we are no longer threatened by enemies, we shall continue to appreciate God’s providential eye, which oversees our actions, maintains the State of Israel on a daily basis, and watches over us each day constantly from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

 

 

(This sicha was given on Yom Ha-atzma’ut 5761 [2001].)