(hāsh-gā-ḥāh) השגחה root: שגח
Related words: supervision, oversee
What It Is
Generally translated as providence, in theological terms, hashgacha means that G‑d not only knows what is going on down here, but is engaged in supervising it as well. Hashgacha is a kind of two-way interplay between Creator and creation, whereby each one responds and interacts with the other. A form of the word first appears in Psalms: “From His dwelling place He oversees all the inhabitants of the earth.”
Hashgacha is a key distinction between Jewish and pagan cosmologies. The pagan generally also believes in one supreme deity, however, that deity is considered too supreme and exalted to stoop down to supervision of this lowly world. Pagan philosophers such as Aristotle considered G‑d’s wisdom to be engaged only in the ideal, atemporal worlds beyond our own. The narratives of the Torah and its declaration that the one supreme G‑d is the G‑d over all the forces of nature places it in direct confrontation with this way of thinking.
Although, without exception, classical Jewish thinkers acknowledge G‑d’s thorough dominion and omniscience “from the horns of the wild oxen to the tiniest louse,” nevertheless, two distinct approaches to His hashgacha can be discerned within classic Jewish texts:
From the plain meaning of scriptural, talmudic and midrashic texts emerges a view of G‑d intimately involved in every detail of His works, providing even “to the fledgling raven that for which it cries.”
The philosophers of Judaism, however, saw G‑d in a more passive role. To them, the degree of divine supervision corresponds directly to one’s transcendence of earthly matters. A tzaddik is wrapped up in G‑d’s supervision in every detail of his life, whereas a coarse, materialistic person is cast into a world of haphazard, natural causes along with animals and flora. In this lower realm, the philosophers see hashgacha applying only insofar as an event affects the divine plan. Yet, even according to this view, “chance circumstance has its source in Him, for everything stems from Him and is controlled by His supervision.”
The Baal Shem Tov is credited with the reintroduction of the idea of hashgacha pratit—detailed divine supervision of every occurrence and every creature. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the foremost early proponents of chassidic thought, articulated a rational basis for this view, linking hashgacha to another vital theme in Jewish thought, continuous creation.
Where It Takes You
Faith in the Creator’s hashgacha provides the basis for bitachon. Just through your belief in His hashgacha you raise yourself to a level at which G‑d is intimately involved in your life, in an open, beneficial way.
One who believes in hashgacha pratit finds G‑d in all that s/he sees and hears. Every facet of life becomes another opportunity to connect with the Infinite, and thereby another cause for celebration.