השגחה פרטית, Hashgacha Pratit, the reality that God continually oversees every detail of Creation, is both a foundation of traditional Judaism as well as one of the hardest concepts for modern man to accept. It’s not necessarily a stretch to grant God the ability to have created the universe, it seems, but to keep track of everything within it is, we realize, a different order of endeavor. One implication of this principle is that nothing is random and arbitrary, but, rather, intentionally directed. However, just because we, as humans, are limited in our ability to comprehend such an achievement doesn’t make this reality impossible. If nothing else, we must admit that we can’t prove that it is beyond the ability of a very powerful being. So, in at least token humility, let’s work with that assumption.
When you examine the concept more deeply, it follows that absolutely everything we experience as unique individuals has been specially selected for each of us. Digging a little deeper than the initial “wow!”, we might then ask why each experience we have has been directed to us. In other words, what are we supposed to learn from each moment? Likewise, we can ask that about the “bigger questions” such as Creation itself.
Much has been recently written, not only within Judaism, but also in both metaphysics and science, linking spiritual ideas and allegories to the Big Bang Theory of Creation. This enables many modern people in our society to be at least less uncomfortable with God the Creator. But beneath this lies a deeper question. Since we, as traditional Jews, also grant God omnipotence, we have to say that He could have created the Universe in any of an infinite number of processes. Why did He choose a method which is so well described, both mathematically and poetically, as the Big Bang? What are we supposed to learn from it?
I propose that we begin by visualizing what the Big Bang implies. Start with an infinitely small point. It begins to radiate out in all directions, gathering speed and momentum until in encompasses infinite space. Now let’s translate that into human terms and begin with the smallest point of reference, each individual self. Let it begin to radiate out to include first family, then friends, then neighbors and community, nation, and finally, all humanity.
I believe that this itself is the moral lesson divinely embedded in the chosen process of creation. As children, we’re only self-aware. As we begin to develop we start to include more and more people into our circle of concern. As we mature, we extend our care and sense of responsibility to our family, then our friends, then our community, our people and, finally, to all of humanity. But the process is always one of radiating out from the center.
It’s necessary to return to the center and to consolidate our gains before moving out to the universal. In order to be at all effective, we need to constantly shore up our foundation, always moving outward from the center. This is the secret Hillel talks about when he asks, “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me, but if I’m only for myself, what am I?”.
A common problem we often encounter, perhaps in arrogance, is to overestimate our capabilities and to rush, prematurely, into realms we’re not yet ready to work in. All too often, the result is disastrous. This is the damage, for example, of very well-meaning Jews putting the welfare of everyone else ahead of Jewish survival. Thinking, somehow, that they’re “beyond all that tribalism”, they mistakenly assume they can create solutions for, for example, Moslems in the Holy Land. They fail to see that the underlying idealism that motivates them is a uniquely Jewish value which would cease to exist if, God-forbid, the Jewish people would cease to exist.
On the other hand, an arrogant disregard for “goyim“, non-Jews, also leads to disaster. Once again, we need to make sure of our foundation, but we also need to imitate the Creator by moving outward from our center. In other words, to quote Hillel, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”
The Torah isn’t telling that it’s easy or convenient, but those criteria have nothing to do with mature and responsible action, but it is telling us that in order to successfully fill our role in Creation, we need to individually and as a people, continuously strengthen our core foundation while expanding ever outwards, as we learn, “כי מציון תצא תורה”, that Torah, which is, ultimately, tikkun (repair), radiates from our very core. Likewise, we can dedicate ourselves to follow the example of Aaron, the High Priest’s holy service on Yom Kippur. He brings a sacrifice first for himself, next for his family and third for the nation.