Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss | Special to JT
In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, Moses prepares the Israelites for their upcoming conquest of the Land of Canaan. After assuring them that God will assist them in vanquishing the Canaanite nations, Moses adds an odd qualification: “Hashem, your God, will thrust these nations from before you little by little; you will not be able to annihilate them quickly, lest the beasts of the field increase against you” (Deuteronomy 7:22).
Wait, what? God is going to help the Israelites miraculously defeat the mighty and numerous Canaanite nations, but He’s going to “take it slow” due to the threat of wild animals?! Just a few sentences earlier, Moses recalled the miracles and wonders of the Exodus, in which God summoned hordes of wild animals to descend upon Egypt. Now wild animals are suddenly a problem?
The medieval Talmudist, mathematician, and astronomer Ralbag (Gersonides, 1288-1344 C.E.) answers this question by invoking a fundamental principle about divine providence.
Even though God is in control and can do whatever He desires, Ralbag writes, “He will nevertheless seek out the most suitable [natural] causes possible, and He will not create a miracle unless necessity dictates it, for He doesn’t hate nature, since He is the One Who set it in order.”
“Thus, He will only oppose it at a time when it is necessary, and in the most minimal manner,” Ralbag continues. “It is for this reason that it was said, ‘Hashem, your God, will thrust these nations from before you little by little; you will not be able to annihilate them quickly, lest the beasts of the field increase against you.’ Even though God is able to destroy [their enemies] quickly and protect Israel from the beasts who increase upon them, He prefers not to do this, since it is possible to enable Israel to reach their goal in another way (i.e. defeating the Canaanites gradually).”
In other words, God is reluctant, so to speak, to interfere with nature, according to Ralbag. The universe and its laws are His creations. They carry out His will, exhibit His wisdom, and reflect His glory, as the Psalmist exclaims: “How great are Your works, Hashem; with wisdom You made them all!” (Psalms 104:24). For this reason, God will only abrogate nature when it is absolutely necessary, with the most minimal intervention possible.
In this case, He was willing to intervene in the war, since that was the only way the Israelites could defeat their enemies, but He was not willing to miraculously protect them from the animals, since the need for this could be obviated by slowing down the pace of the conquest.
Miracles make life more convenient for us, but God has other priorities.
Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss is a rebbi and administrator at Yeshiva Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York. Check out his Torah content on YouTube, kolhaseridim.blogspot.com, and his podcasts “The Stoic Jew Podcast,” “Machshavah Lab,” and more.