Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Proximate vs. ultimate cause in the sending of Yosef

Summary: How Ibn Caspi understands Moreh Nevuchim. I think...

Post: In parashat Vayigash:

7. And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance.ז. וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱ־לֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם לָשׂוּם לָכֶם שְׁאֵרִית בָּאָרֶץ וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לָכֶם לִפְלֵיטָה גְּדֹלָה:

8. And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.ח. וְעַתָּה לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי הָאֱ־לֹהִים וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב לְפַרְעֹה וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל בֵּיתוֹ וּמֹשֵׁל בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

Of course, the brothers did sell Yosef, and thus did send him to Egypt. But that was just the unwitting fulfillment of the Divine plan.

Ibn Caspi makes an interesting diyuk on וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱ־לֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם. He writes:

"וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱ־לֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם; and afterwards, לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה. May that tzaddik, Rabbenu Moshe [=Rambam] be blessed for good, who enlightened our eyes in this, for he made from these two pesukim two parts (in perek 48 from the second volume [of Moreh Nevuchim, here, the very end of the second volume]). And the explanation of this will be written in another place, and you, understand it, if you are able."

A footnote directs us to Ibn Caspi's remarks in Tiras Kesef:

"Regarding וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱ־לֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם, behold the Moreh Nevuchim mentions it in one way, and mentions in another way לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה. And I have already promised you that I would not repeat the words of the kadmonim, but I am hinting regarding this to you because of its greatness and because most people don't understand it. And know that the difference between these two statements are based on the word לפניכם, for this is like the meaning of {Bereishit 46:28}:

28. He sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen, and they came to the land of Goshen.כח. וְאֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו אֶל יוֹסֵף לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו גֹּשְׁנָה וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה גֹּשֶׁן:

Understand in this what you are able."

And here is Moreh Nevuchim:

And Ibn Caspi writes regarding this, in his commentary on Moreh Nevuchim:

"For Yosef's brothers sent him to Egypt by their choice, for they sold him to merchants who were traveling to Egypt, etc. Yet after this, the Rambam mentions another verse about Yosef that it is from that which is 'happenstance'. And this is because there is written לפניהם [sic; should be לפניכם], for this combines with another, and behold, הנה {?} its intent is to the send him before them [as a forerunner], and that they would come after him, etc."

I don't have enough of a grounding in Greek philosophy and medieval Jewish philosophy to claim that I can fully understand the import. I suppose we should look at Abarbanel on this point, or in the commentary of the Ephodi to Moreh Nevuchim on this point.

But there is a difference in philosophy between proximate and ultimate cause:
In philosophy a proximate cause is an event which is closest to, or immediately responsible for causing, some observed result. This exists in contrast to a higher-level ultimate cause (or distal cause) which is usually thought of as the "real" reason something occurred.
And Aristotle distinguishes between four causes, two of which are efficient cause and final cause:
"Cause" means: (a) in one sense, that as the result of whose presence something comes into being—e.g. the bronze of a statue and the silver of a cup, and the classes which contain these [i.e., the material cause]; (b) in another sense, the form or pattern; that is, the essential formula and the classes which contain it—e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general is the cause of the octave—and the parts of the formula [i.e., the formal cause]. (c) The source of the first beginning of change or rest; e.g. the man who plans is a cause, and the father is the cause of the child, and in general that which produces is the cause of that which is produced, and that which changes of that which is changed [i.e., the efficient cause]. (d) The same as "end"; i.e. the final cause; e.g., as the "end" of walking is health. For why does a man walk? "To be healthy," we say, and by saying this we consider that we have supplied the cause [the final cause]. (e) All those means towards the end which arise at the instigation of something else, as, e.g. fat-reducing, purging, drugs and instruments are causes of health; for they all have the end as their object, although they differ from each other as being some instruments, others actions [i.e., necessary conditions].
— Metaphysics, Book 5, section 1013a, translated by Hugh Tredennick[9]
I would understand this as follows. Yes, Yosef's brothers did cause him to go to Egypt. They were the efficient cause, or the proximate cause. If so, what does it mean that וְעַתָּה לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי הָאֱ־לֹהִים? That you should not confuse this efficient cause with the final, or ultimate, cause, which was the Divine plan. Thus, it was really Hashem who sent him.

Of course there are proximate causes, and agents which act whether accidentally or with will. Thus, Hashem tells Eliyahu in I Melachim 17:9:

ט  קוּם לֵךְ צָרְפַתָה אֲשֶׁר לְצִידוֹן, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ שָׁם; הִנֵּה צִוִּיתִי שָׁם אִשָּׁה אַלְמָנָה, לְכַלְכְּלֶךָ.9 'Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee.'

Yet from the description there, it was not a command from Hashem but the widow's choice. And so too by Shimi ben Gera, in II Shmuel 16:10:

יא  וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-אֲבִישַׁי וְאֶל-כָּל-עֲבָדָיו, הִנֵּה בְנִי אֲשֶׁר-יָצָא מִמֵּעַי מְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת-נַפְשִׁי; וְאַף כִּי-עַתָּה בֶּן-הַיְמִינִי, הַנִּחוּ לוֹ וִיקַלֵּל--כִּי אָמַר-לוֹ, ה.11 And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants: 'Behold, my son, who came forth of my body, seeketh my life; how much more this Benjamite now? let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD hath bidden him.

Shimi ben Gera was not a prophet, but rather acting of his own volition. But if it happened, it happened because Hashem willed it to happen. These are some of the examples the Rambam brings in Moreh Nevuchim. And so, it does not matter if, from a human perspective, the humans acted deliberately or accidentally, and whether it was seeming random chance and a multitude of contributory factors. Despite all this, it was ultimately the ratzon Hashem at work.

What of וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱ־לֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם in the earlier pasuk? This would refer (again) to the final or ultimate cause. Does that mean that Hashem sent him in the same sense of the brothers sending him? Or, does that mean that sent Yosef from before his brothers, such that they indeed sent him? Ibn Caspi understands the pattern of שלח ... לפניו as sending a forerunner to prepare the way. And if so, this is a different kind of שלח than in the later pasuk.

That is all for now, for my limited time. You can read Abarbanel at length here, starting in the middle of the first column, beginning with the words ואמנם כח טענת יוסף.

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