Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Creator of (false?) Hope

A number of weeks ago I was visiting a friend of mine in Philadelphia at his parent's house. Turns out the dude's mom is a pseudonymical writer who freelances for all sorts publications, including those of the Jewish persuasion.  Stories of Hashgacha Pratiyus are something she gets a real 'see-puk' from submitting - as they tend to spread hope and inspiration amongst a great many of our brethren.  What can be wrong with a chessed like that?

Essentially nothing.  But I was a little internally nonplussed when she (pretty much) cavalierly indicated that many of the Divine Providence stories that she sends in to her editor are in fact products of her beautifully upbeat and spiritual imagination.  Do the means (story fabrication) justify the ends (her aim to uplift people [and that is assuming that she is really earnest about this 'end', and not doing this for some ulterior motive])?

Remember the Dybbuk tape from a decade or so ago?  After some people played it in my yeshiva, our high school dorm was suddenly lined with born-again angelic saints.  At the time, rabbis stated that no one ever 'flips around' for good due to an open miracle.  Something always goes wrong, and the 'flippers' tend to return to their previous plane .  Real change comes gradually, through extensive soul-searching and copious Torah study.  

In the case of the Dybbuk story, the thing that went 'wrong' was the fact that the story was exposed as being a sham.  We don't have to think too hard about the sense of contempt that such deceit engendered in the hearts of those who shtyged through the motivation of a lie.  What does this sense of animosity breed?  Very likely, not a return to a previous level of observance amongst the deceived - quite possibly a markedly lower one.

Let's say for a moment that the Dybbuk lie was never exposed.  Then we would arrive at a proverbial 'tree falling in a forest without..." and "what you don't know can't hurt you" theoretical backdrop.  In that case, things may have been okay in the sense that contempt would not have developed in those who went through a life-changing experience by listening to the tape  (sure, they may have returned to their previous level of observance over time, but for the more general aforementioned reason that real change does not come through exposure to one big open miracle, but that is off point vis-a-vis the what I am trying to flesh out).  

This being the case, if that were to have happened (read: if the tape had never been discovered to be fraudulent), that may have been okay.  Outside of the fact that the embedded philosophical issues could have easily shifted into an actualized problem:  Just the fact that it was clearly strongly possible that people would learn that they had been lied to must be taken into consideration.  Great, when all is said and done, no one may have found out, but is it really worth taking the risk in the first place?

Therefore, should my friend's mother really be writing that 'fictionally real' story of the guy that just missed his plane and 'oh-how-terrible-but-no-how-incredible-because-the-plane's-pilot-was-a-diabetic-and-went-into-glucose-shock-and-long-story-short-everyone-on-the-plane-died'? 


  1. It gives me comfort to know that in fact most of the stories are made up. I suspected this was the case. They all like to play on people's heartstrings. People are all gullible and want to believe the BS. A rational person realizes this and doesn't get caught up in the nonsensical hype.

  2. My heart yearns they were true. You probably heard what the Satmar Rav ZT"L would say about believing these types of stories, something to the effect of:
    "Anyone that believes them all is a fool, and anyone that denies them all is an apikores." Delicate balance, huh?

  3. That was said about medrashim. Not necessarily Rebbe stories, and hashgacha pratis stories. And I don't think I'd call myself an apikores for not believing a story that may or may not be true.

  4. A: I heard that he said it about Chassidisha Meisalach.

    B: It was not like you said you denied all the stories; ergo I never intimated that you might be an apikores.

  5. I never intimated that you intimated that I was an apikores.

    As for a chassidishe meisa:

    There was once a wagon stuck in the mud and none of the horses wanted to move. They hit the horses and screamed at them for a long time. One person suggested that they ask the famous rebbe of the town for advice as to what to do. They asked the Rebbe and he told them to take the Amud from the shul and put it by the wagon, in front of the horses. They did that and the horses started pulling with all their might until the wagon was out of the mud. Afterward they asked the Rabbe how he knew what to do. The Rebbe replied, "Aleh Ferd loif tzum breitel."

    It really happened.