Monday, May 3, 2010

De'ja Vu in the Clouds

On my previous post, one commenter weighed in with a very legitimate concern. It was a bit windy but I will quote the beginning which basically characterizes the whole comment:

I have a real problem with these stories in general, and I guess this case really underscores why. Just imagine the other stories that are not being circulated on the internet. Young mother/child/groom/ whoever on waiting list, desperate for transplant, the right liver finally available and s/he finally on top of the list - but could not fly to Belgium due to the volcano and, r"l, passed away.

If I understand him right, his question is based on the assumption that this story is meant to be drama with a happy ending which we are celebrating. Thus he is disturbed at the idea of celebrating one person's triumph at the expense of others.

My response was that his sentiment is valid, but his assumption is wrong. Here is part of what I wrote:

In any case, a story such as this one has (at the least) three very important messages; two of wich I expressly emphasized in my post.

1) It shows the gevurah of HKBH that He runs the world and He decides who lives and who dies. And it doesn't matter what policies or lists are set by the Humans down here, it is His list that counts.

2) HKBH treats some of his children with Midas Hadin and others with Midas HaRachamim. And, what's more amazing, the very same instrument that will be Midas Hadin for those of His choosing will be Midas HaRachamim for those of His choosing.

3) As the Gemara in Berachos (10a) says: Even if a sharp sword is laying upon one's throat, one should not abdicate himself from Rachamim.

In other words, the theme of this story is not a drama with a a happy ending, but a very important lesson in Gevuras Hashem. We are celebrating HKBH for showing the world who is Boss, not really celebrating the winning liver recipient for his triumph (though we share his joy).

What took me by surprise was the next comment. I couldn't understand how it was different from the first. And it came a whole day later. An excerpt:

Or how about the waiting potential recipients who lost out...the same questions could be asked about them if they should die as a result of what happened. Maybe they were Jews, or maybe they were Tzadikei Umot HaOlam (Righteous gentiles), and how about their families? How are they supposed to feel?

De'ja vu!

I figured that perhaps he hadn't read the earlier comment when he wrote his but I wasn't sure. So I formulated a response to the second fellow in my comments section. But then I had a sinking feeling that this is indicating a pattern. Who knows how many people read the post and didn't read the long windy comments and are bothered by the same question?

And so, instead of posting the response in the comments, I thought I should do up a new post and "tell it to the world". Here is the response exactly as I had initially written it for the comments:

I am having a lot of trouble understanding your comment. Have you read the existing comments to this post or did you immediately write your comment after reading my post without seeing the comments?

I see your comment as identical to that of NCO Chassid. The exact same taana: "Why are we cheering the winners at the expense of the losers?" Is your comment any different?

And the same response applies: This is meant to be a lesson in Gevuras Hashem not a drama with a happy ending.

But, both of you have helped me understand the answer to a different question that nags me when I hear stories like this:

Why did HKBH need to strike this fellow with a liver ailment and then "move mountains" (literally) to fix him up? Why not just keep him healthy in the first place (and either keep the German out of the morgue or let someone else get the liver)?

And now I see that HKBH does things so that these stories will be told. This unfortunate fellow may not be so unfortunate. He actually has the great merit to be a privileged agent of HKBHs messaging service.

What is more unfortunate is that HKBH needs to orchestrate these performances in this manner. Because, as these two commenters have convinced me… many of us just don't get it.




joshwaxman said...

"If I understand him right, his question is based on the assumption that this story is meant to be drama with a happy ending which we are celebrating. Thus he is disturbed at the idea of celebrating one person's triumph at the expense of others."

My guess is that you are not understanding him correctly.

Rather, his point is (or well *could* be) that this does not necessarily demonstrate Hashgacha Pratis at all.

There is some major event. It effects hundreds of thousands of people. For some large percentage of people, it effects negatively. For some large percentage of people, it effects them slightly in either direction. None of those people are posting their stories on the Internet. For some vanishingly small number of people, it effects them positively. Those stories get proclaimed on the Internet as examples of hashagacha pratis for positive benefit. But how can you know this, and that the person was not just the lucky recipient of hashgacha klalis, when you start out with so many people effected by a macro-scale event?

that is what i think he he meant by
"and we are encouraging people to identify (as if they could!) `hashgacha pratis' in their lives"

and if it *wasn't* what he was asking, it still is a good question.

kol tuv,

Yechezkel said...

>>My guess is that you are not understanding him correctly.

Anything is possible in this mysterious world of ours (with the exception of facilitated communication). Perhaps our Chassid will check in and settle the score!

joshwaxman said...


and to the substance of this idea? (after all, Rishonim did believe in the idea of hashgacha klalis in many situations...)


Y. Ben-David said...

The fact is that every time I hear stories like this, I IMMEDIATELY have the thoughts, "what about the Holocaust, what about the Holocaust, WHAT ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST!?" running through my head. True, through out history many individual people suffered from disease, pogroms, oppression, exile and the such. But the Holocaust is a gigantic black hole...calculated, industrialized murder and torture on an unprecedented scale. And it struck the very center of the Jewish world...the top scholars and the most pious, learned communities. I find thinking about it too much is not good for my mental and spiritual health.

Maybe many observant Jews succeed in putting it out of their minds, or ignoring it (even though halacha demands we confront it every year in the run-up to Tisha B'Av), but it is always out their, hovering over us.
I particularly respect Rav Eliezer Berkowitz because his writings ("Faith After the Holocaust" and others) are infused with a deep conciousness of it (he barely escaped its clutches himself) and yet it did not diminish his love and enthusiasm for Torah and love of the Jewish people. However, his writings do show a deep seriousness and I strongly feel he would have been troubled by the story told here, just as I and others have been.
To tell the truth, I have always had problems with those who push the line "Judaism is fun" along with "Uncle Moishie"-type songs. I have tried to teach my children that we follow the Torah because it is true and it is right, not because we enjoy it, because, frankly, observing Torah and mitzvot is not always fun or convenient. It is for this reason I have always opposed those whose educational approach includes telling untruths to students , "in order to keep them frum", because if Torah is truth, what kind of an example is it if parents or teachers are found to have deceived their students? Simlarly, I have no patience for religious anti-Zionists because one of the ways I overcame the Holocaust "black hole" was by seeing how G-d gave "Am Israel" another chance with the rise of the state of Israel.

The bottom line is that educators and Rabbis need to be very cautious in how they try to use emotions in order to supposedly strengthen faith and yirat shamayim. They need to stand fast on the truth and not use stories that open up serious questions which bring the very things they are trying to push into question, without them being able to confront those that arise.

NCO Chassid said...

Just a little housekeeping comment: The original criticism of the hashgacha pratis story was not written by me. I found it at the Daas Torah blog, who in turn got it from Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, [ ]who in turn found it as a comment. I reprinted it for you because I was very interested in your take on it. I just rejoined the conversation now. Thank you for discussing it at length.