This issue has been anonymously dedicated to Shmuel
Nathan Sheps on
the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah
Last week, we mentioned an article published in Light, 5737 (’77), concerning
Chacham Dovid Nieto. The article describes an accusation of heresy, and
the ensuing controversy, that surrounded the sage.
After being appointed head of the Sephardic community of London in 5461
(1701), the Chacham gave a speech in which he equated Hashem with "Nature."
This appeared to certain members of the community to be similar to the
view of Spinoza, who had been excommunicated for his defiance of traditional
Jewish ideology in 5416 (1656).
However, the Chacham defended his words, maintaining that the idea was
fundamental to the Judaism. To see Hashem as divorced from nature, would
be antithetical to Torah.
When the debate was presented to the Chacham Tzvi (Rav Tzvi Ashkenazi
of Altona), one of the generation’s leaders, he praised Chacham Nieto for
his words, and the matter came to an end.
Hashem and Nature
The Ramban wrote: "There is no such thing as ’nature.’ " In
pervious issues, we have examined these words in the light of statements
from the Baal Shem Tov, the Alter of Kelm, and Rav Yerucham Levovitz.
Rav Nieto showed that the Hebrew word for nature, teva -- had been introduced
only in modern times. It is not to be found in the words of the ancient
sages. "We may infer that Hashem does all that the moderns ascribe
to nature. Thus it may be said that there is no nature but that which is
Providence ("Hashgacha Pratis") which people call teva, nature;
and that is why I said that Hashem and nature, nature and Hashem, are all
the same thing..."
Actually, these words are unlike the ideas that Spinoza had circulated.
Following the direction of Descartes, Spinoza adhered to a system in which
spiritual entities belonged to one realm, and nature to another.
Judaism insists the reverse: The Shema dictates that Hashem is solely
in charge of all.
"Ohr Hatzafon" -- The Hidden Light
The Alter of Slobodka (Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel) described our perception:
We think that there are two separate realms -- the spiritual, heavenly
order, and the physical, earthly one. So, too, regarding actions -- there
are physical actions, and there are the spiritual expressions of the heart
All of this is mistaken, explained the Alter. The heaven and the earth
are not two separate realms, but just as Hashem created the heavens as
the essence of the spiritual, so the earth was created fundamentally spiritual.
As for Man -- the verse states clearly that he was formed "b’tzelem
Elokim" -- in the image of Hashem -- for a supremely spiritual purpose.
(Ohr Hatzafon, section 1, part 2.)
The same spiritual, heavenly, unfathomable force, hidden and concealed,
that forms and unites all the physical parts until they become one body
and one form -- that same force maintains and sustains all entities. (Ibid.,
After the mistake of eating the forbidden fruit, man and his environment
became encrusted in the physical. Yet, this was only in appearance; the
reality was that man and the world still remain essentially spiritual.
In the same way as the universe is fundamentally spiritual, but appears
to be purely physical, so too, with the mitzvos. Even though they are spiritual,
they are clothed in physical form: the basic commandments were written
in stone, and all the mitzvos are to be performed specifically through
the outward limbs. (Ibid., part 2.)
Regarding the Avos (Patriarchs), all their deed were performed entirely
with the inner spirit. Yaakov wrestled with the angel of Hashem, and was
victorious. This certainly could not be construed to be any kind of physical
battle whatsoever -- rather, a spiritual, intellectual struggle... (Ibid.,
This is everyone’s obligation: to lift one’s self
-- and all creation -- to its true essence... (Ibid., part 2.)
We can now understand Chacham Nieto’s stance. The
scientific revolution was taking hold of people’s lives, and swaying them
away from the classical faith -- without their cognizance. The people needed
a reminder that Hashem created the world, and there is nothing that remains
beyond his dominion.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156