Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Miracle Worthy of Elisha

Over at The Yeshiva World, a miracle worthy of Elishah. Unfortunately, a Jewish man drowned on Monday, August 25th. One week later, on Monday, Sept 1, the following happened.

Sources told YWN that approximately 5:00AM on Monday morning, a group of 10 Rabbonim gathered on a boat on the lake, and performed a Segula in the hope of finding the body of Naftali Z”L. Apparently, a flat bread was baked in his Zechus, and the bread was set afloat on the lake with a lit candle on it.

Certain Tehillim and other Tefillos were then said until the bread stopped moving. At that precise location a stone was dropped into the water, and shortly later the body rose to the surface!

May his family be comforted, and the fact that the body was found and may now be buried give them closure.

This calls to mind the story in which Elisha, a miracle worker empowered because he was a Navi Hashem, brought up an axe-head from the water. In II Melachim 6:
א וַיֹּאמְרוּ בְנֵי-הַנְּבִיאִים, אֶל-אֱלִישָׁע: הִנֵּה-נָא הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנַחְנוּ יֹשְׁבִים שָׁם לְפָנֶיךָ--צַר מִמֶּנּוּ. 1 And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha: 'Behold now, the place where we dwell before thee is too strait for us.
ב נֵלְכָה-נָּא עַד-הַיַּרְדֵּן, וְנִקְחָה מִשָּׁם אִישׁ קוֹרָה אֶחָת, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ שָׁם מָקוֹם, לָשֶׁבֶת שָׁם; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֵכוּ. 2 Let us go, we pray thee, unto the Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell.' And he answered: 'Go ye.'
ג וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאֶחָד, הוֹאֶל נָא, וְלֵךְ אֶת-עֲבָדֶיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲנִי אֵלֵךְ. 3 And one said: 'Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants.' And he answered: 'I will go.'
ד וַיֵּלֶךְ, אִתָּם; וַיָּבֹאוּ, הַיַּרְדֵּנָה, וַיִּגְזְרוּ, הָעֵצִים. 4 So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood.
ה וַיְהִי הָאֶחָד מַפִּיל הַקּוֹרָה, וְאֶת-הַבַּרְזֶל נָפַל אֶל-הַמָּיִם; וַיִּצְעַק וַיֹּאמֶר אֲהָהּ אֲדֹנִי, וְהוּא שָׁאוּל. 5 But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water; and he cried, and said: 'Alas, my master! for it was borrowed.'
ו וַיֹּאמֶר אִישׁ-הָאֱלֹהִים, אָנָה נָפָל; וַיַּרְאֵהוּ, אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם, וַיִּקְצָב-עֵץ וַיַּשְׁלֶךְ-שָׁמָּה, וַיָּצֶף הַבַּרְזֶל. 6 And the man of God said: 'Where fell it?' And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither, and made the iron to swim.
ז וַיֹּאמֶר, הָרֶם לָךְ; וַיִּשְׁלַח יָדוֹ, וַיִּקָּחֵהוּ. {פ} 7 And he said: 'Take it up to thee.' So he put out his hand, and took it. {P}
However, the way this "segulah" was performed today strikes me as practical magic, perhaps within applied kabbalah. But it is not a good thing. It approaches witchcraft and divination. There was the divination to find the place of the body and the sinking of the stone (which does sink, unlike a stick) to bring up the body.

This does not seem like my Judaism.

What about the particulars of the case? It truly seems miraculous, no?

Well, they are leaving out or glossing over a bunch of details, which are revealed in the comment section.

1) The park ranger said that it takes about 1 week to 13 days for a body to come to the surface. This was 1 week later, so it is entirely within derech hateva for the body to have come up yesterday.

2) This was not the first time they tried this segulah. They tried it on previous days, with no results. This was the third time they tried it. And I guess, the third time was the "charm."

3) This was kept secret until success, at which point someone leaked it. Had it not succeeded, we would have heard nothing about it. Which means we will only hear success stories to bolster the belief in the segulah, and no contrary evidence. Indeed, even when it worked the first time, the published story made no mention of the previous attempts.

4) The body did not immediately float up. They left the lake at 8 AM and the body was found at about 11:30 AM, which is 3 and 1/2 hours later.

5) They did not find the exact spot. Depending on which comment you are relying upon, the body was spotted floating about 150, or else 300 yards away from where they dropped the rock with the message attached. That is either 3, or 1 and a half, football fields away. If the flat bread segulah was supposed to divine the spot the body was, why did it not float an additional 150 t0 300 yards?

6) Also, Chazal talk about agunah situations involving a body lost in and mayim sheyesh lahem sof and mayim sheain lahem sof. See e.g. Yevamot 115a. Why didn't they use this segulah to simply find the body?

So we have a segulah which looks like divination and witchcraft, and the particulars, when you actually examine them closely, are none too impressive. Of course, when it is told over years from now, these particulars will likely not be mentioned, and it will be much more difficult to discover them. I don't think that this kind of inspirational story is the type that should be spread.

Cross-posted to my new blog, segulahwatch.

Update: In the comment section, moshe points out that this is a mistaken pseudo-scientific belief, based on the properties of quicksilver, and is mentioned in Huck Finn and covered in the New York Times.


Further Update: See DovBear's take.


moshe said...

I'd like to point out that this is a superstition that already appears in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

See here:

moshe said...

Also, see this article in the NY Times - here it is:

Q.Was there a scientific basis for searching for drowning victims by floating loaves of bread containing quicksilver on the water, as the townspeople in Mark Twain's novel ''Huckleberry Finn'' did when they thought the hero had drowned? What about firing cannons over the water to make the body rise?

A.The belief that quicksilver, or mercury, would make bread float to a point over a submerged body was widely held in Britain, Twain scholars say. It was apparently based on hopeful etymology concerning the biblical ''bread of life'' and ''quick'' or ''living'' silver, so called because of the flowing form of mercury. There were anecdotal reports of the method in the 19th century, but no scientific observation, according to Thomas Tenney, editor of The Mark Twain Journal at the College of Charleston, S.C.

He said that scholars had found a pseudoscientific rationale for firing cannon or guns. It was a common and persistent superstition in both Britain and the United States that the concussion of gunfire would break the gall bladder and somehow cause the body to float. Scholars know of no modern report that this method works either.

The New York City Police Department searches for a submerged body by sending down divers approximately where witnesses see someone go under, after allowing for tides and currents.

''There is nothing scientific about it,'' said a department spokesman.


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