The Principle of Specified Providence (part 2)
One of the principal theological innovations of Rabbi Yisroel of Mezibush – the founder of Hasidism, known universally as the Baal Shem Tov – is the principle that Divine Providence extends even to the most apparently insignificant of events. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn:
The Baal Shem Tov says that G-d moves many diversified causes in order to carry out a specified providence for even the smallest of created beings. In order that a fallen leaf, which has already blown around in a backyard somewhere since autumn a year ago… should be moved from one place to another… To this end, a strong wind breaks out in the middle of a warm summer day, moving heaven and earth, and thereby is the ordained providence fulfilled for that fallen leaf…
In a lengthy discourse (Lekkutei Dibburim Vol. 1, page 164), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak dispels the sense of helpless and arbitrary insignificance normally conveyed by the ‘leaf in the wind’ metaphor, and in its place builds a model of elaborate providence. The image is now used to exemplify an irreplaceable component in a carefully ordained plan; a grand design in which each and every created being is endowed with its own unique significance relative to its station. The millions of small events, apparently swept together at random by the great gusts of world shaking events, are in fact precisely ordained, designed to fit together like the pieces of some great puzzle. There is nothing which is not a priority.
When applied to the story of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s life, this model fits like a glove. Some of the most earth-shattering milestones of modern history; the social and political upheavals that began to plague Tsarist Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, the First World War, the Rise of Communism, and the Second World War, swept Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak from the provincial village in white Russia where he was born, to the tottering grandeur of Tsarist St. Petersburg, to the darkly secretive silences of communist Leningrad, to Riga, the Holy Land, Warsaw and ultimately to New York.
Another may have seen himself as a helpless leaf, powerless in the grip of such powerful winds. But Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak saw each new situation into which he was thrust as a provident opportunity, orchestrated with a demanding – if sometime unfathomable – deliberation. For him there was no such thing as default. Each new circumstance carried with it the weighty import of a Divinely ordained mission – it was his responsibility to set his own concerns aside and meet the need of the hour, however difficult.