Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Rav Kanievsky's Ruach HaKodesh - a mezuza story

This from a little which back:

Life In Israel on Rav Kaneivsky's Ruach Hakodesh, repeating this story:
The story making waves is that there was an avreich in Bnei Brak married for 10 years who had not been blessed with children. 
The avreich went to Rav Kanievsky regularly for a bracha. Rav Kanievsky would give him his usual "Bracha V'Hatzlacha" and then added, cryptically, that he should check what needs to be checked.

The avreich never understood what he was meant to check, but never had the courage to ask for an explanation.

Finally, the avreich got the courage to ask what needs to be checked and what he should be doing. Rav Kanievsky said what do we check? check the mezuzos.

The avreich sent all the mezuzos in his house to be checked. they all came back fine except for one. The mezuza from the door to the bedroom was passul because the words "v'shinantam l'vanecha" (you should teach your children) ran together with no space between the words.

and makes a good point:
Note that you cannot just go to a gadol and expect everything to be solved. the guy didn't understand what Rav Kanievsky was telling him, didn't ask for an explanation, and didn't get his problem resolved. Going to a gadol isn't enough - you gotta get the picture straight, you have to understand what he tells you to do.
I dislike these mezuzah stories, because of the seeming implicit assumption that Hashem makes people suffer because of a sofer's error, and punishes the hapless people who chanced upon that mezuzah in a way which is a word-play on the mezuzah's error. The reason that it is Hashem's greatness that He punishes midah kenegged middah is that people can then identify the error and correct it, rather than that He is clever at wordplay and sadistically punishes people for a typo in a mezuzah.

There is a plausible halachic idea to check one's mezuzah at specific intervals, but this is because the writing might degrade in certain environments and become pasul, not because of fear that the sofer made some initial error which, rather than bringing Divine protection, would bring ironic Divine wrath.

Also, this story brought to mind the midrash about Ashmedai. When Ashmedai was captured by Benayahu ben Yehoyada and was being brought in chains to Shlomo Hamalech, he had a series of reactions to things he encountered. One was that when he saw a diviner speaking about a treasure in a far-off-land, he laughed. Later, he explained why:
Solomon then questioned him about his strange conduct on the journey. Ashmedai answered that he judged persons and things according to their real character and not according to their appearance in the eyes of human beings. He cried when he saw the wedding company, because he knew the bridegroom had not a month to live; and he laughed at him who wanted shoes to last seven years, because the man would not own them for seven days; also at the magician who pretended to disclose secrets, because he did not know that under his very feet lay a buried treasure.

How does this mezuzah story inform us about Rav Chaim Kanievsky's ruach hakodesh? If he really knew that it was the fault of the mezuzot, why bother with the blessing? Why say to check out what needs to be checked, implying that perhaps there was something wrong, rather than saying outright that there was a mezuzah at fault. But more than that -- and this is the parallel to Ashmedai I noticed-- if Rav Kanievsky really knew via ruach hakodesh that the problem was a faulty mezuzah, how did he not see the problem which lay under his very feet, that the person he was speaking to had no clue what he was talking about?! The lack of knowledge of X should tell us about lack of ruach hakodesh powers, just as it did about the magician who pretended to disclose secrets.

That something was discovered that could be interpreted to refer to their particular situation does not really impress me. Why not? Because the idea that one should check one's mezuzot is standard fare. Indeed, that is likely why Rav Kanievsky didn't realize that the guy had no clue what he meant, and why he thought "check what needs to be checked" should be obvious. Many a kabbalist or Rebbe will tell you to check your mezuzot -- and they tell this to people who have problems.

Let us say you have 100 people with problems. Now, those people have several mezuzot in their houses. And some will have been initially pasul, and others will degrade. The halachic reason to check is that in certain locations, mezuzot will degrade. But people do not check their mezuzas until they have a problem and some Rebbe or Kabbalist tells them to, for mystical / superstitious reasons. So it stands to reason that many of these people will have pasul mezuzos, even if it is totally unrelated to their problem. And it also stands to reason that among a population of 100 people with no problems that they would see a Rebbe for, a similar percentage will have problems with their mezuzot.

Now, to make up some numbers, of the 100 people with problems who were told by a Rebbe to check their mezuzot:

80% will find no problem, and will go on to seek the next magical cure, putting this advice out of their mind.
19% will find a pesul in one of their mezuzot, though not one which can be kvetched to relate to their particular situation. This will make for the "weak" mezuzah miracle story.
1% will find a pesul in one of their mezuzot, in a way that can be kvetched to relate to their particular situation. This story will be inspirational, make waves, be blogged about at the various blogs.

Combine this with regression towards the mean, and you can even associate miracle cures with these wonders!

Finally, I would add that I might have interpreted Rav Kanievsky's cryptic suggestion in a different, more practical manner. If his problem was fertility, then perhaps he should not try to only solve it by repeatedly bugging a Rebbe for a bracha. He should also "check what needs to be checked." That is, do hishtadlus by seeking the help of a fertility expert, who could check out if there is any medical impediment. What is his sperm count? Should he be wearing boxers? What is the time of ovulation, and do they need to take special measures because of niddah issues which are preventing conception? One should not only rely on the blessing, but should check what needs to be checked.

I wonder if Rav Kanievsky's suggestion functions as a sort of ink-blot test. If you were told to check what needs to be checked, how would you interpret it?


Ari said...

a couple of points...

The whole idea of checking Mezuzos in certain situations was very much introduced and publicized by the Lubavitcher Rebbe (which at the time received a lot of flack).

In regards to the idea of Mezuzos protecting there is a analogy given: A soldier is on the battlefield and is not wearing his helmet and ends up getting shot in the head. Would one say that the bullet came as a 'punishment' for not wearing a helmet, or is it more logical to say that when one is on a battlefield not wearing a helmet is conducive to getting shot. No one is suggesting that these things are punishments (G-d forbid) but rather that a Mezuza provides shmira etc. in a world where there are all sorts of things that one needs shmira from.

In regards to R. Kanievsky ruach hakodesh (or lack thereof): There is a story about a chassid who wrote to the (previous) Lubaitcher Rebbe asking about his son who was to take a ship to america. The Rebbe told him not to do it but his son went ahead anyway. The ship sank and the son drowned. The father came to the LR and said 'why didnt you just tell me the sink was going to sink!?' The LR replied 'believe me that i didnt know that the ship was going to sink, i just knew that he shouldnt go on it!'

Anonymous said...

I think you will enjoy this one

joshwaxman said...

thanks. it is a good explanation, although i think rambam would still not be pleased. and that this is not how the stories often go.

for example, from the mezuzah blog,

three girls are *guests* at a house, and all three develop leg injuries. and it turns out that the particular room they were staying in had a mezuzah with a hairline crack in the chof of uvelechtecha, "when you go".

why didn't the mezuzah for the entire house afford them protection? and is it really the case that all three were coincidentally deserving of this particular punishment, but that the mezuzah didn't protect them? and if it is pasul, it is pasul in its entirety! why wouldn't all sorts of different troubles befall them? why something related to the particular error? the rather clear assumption is that the particular psul caused this mishap to these three hapless girls who stumbled into this dangerous room! (this despite the identical disclaimer in an earlier post from the same blogger to what you said, that the pasul mezuzah doesn't cause the problem, but rather that there is a lack of Divine protection.) i just don't think the apologetics work out with the particulars of the miracle stories.

i am sure it is possible to kvetch an answer that works with your suggestion, but it would be a kvetch. so your answer is a good one, and perhaps one fit to believe in, but in the actual world of mezuzah stories, this is not what happens.

a related question -- why would this mishap befall these three separate girls when they stayed in a room with a mezuzah which was pasul in this way, but NOT if they stayed in a gentile hotel such as the Marriott which lacked mezuzos entirely? do we hear of any such Marriott tragedy stories.

kol tuv,

Ari said...

regarding your last point the marriot is obviously not mechuyav in mezuzos whilst the house they were staying in was (which is evident from the fact there was a mezuza, albeit one which was posul)

in regards to your many questions about the the three girls... it seems you are trying to figure out a formula as to how much shmira a mezuza provides, under what circumstances, to what extent etc. I think it is somewhat futile to attempt to define these things as we have no way of understanding how exactly they operate. We do know however that we are mechuyav to have one (and a kosher one at that). G-d, in his infinite wisdom, decided not to send us a 300 page manual about all the possibilities and rules of regulations of what happens when one does or does not have kosher mezuza - he did however tell us to put them up. Even if we were to do an exhaustive, absolutely comprehensive study of every person who ever had something bad happen to them and whether they did or didn't have kosher mezuza, we STILL would not be able to come up with a conclusive description as to how 'shmira' works. 'Shmira' (and a lot of other things in Judaism) just don't lend themselves to scientific study.

I would be interested to hear your thought on the second thing i mentioned re: the story of the previous LR

joshwaxman said...

"regarding your last point the marriot is obviously not mechuyav in mezuzos whilst the house they were staying in was"
so? if the theory is that this is not *punishment* for not fulfilling, but protection afforded by a mezuzah, in either case there is no protection being afforded! why should this be a valid distinction?

"in regards to your many questions about the the three girls... it seems you are trying to figure out a formula as to how much shmira a mezuza provides, under what circumstances, to what extent etc."
not really. i think that story, if true, was a coincidence which statistically *will happen* given the many mezuzah instances which occur. i brought it down not to gauge the level of shemira. rather, to point out that this type of story should not occur (or rather should not be believed to be meaningful) if you truly believe the apologetic explanation you offered. that is, there is no reason to assume that three random guests all merited this particular punishment. and so the straightforward implication is that a pasul mezuzah is a harmful force in one's home, which will maim and kill, and that to be on the safe side one shouldn't put a mezuzah there in the first place, just in case it is or will become pasul. why invite Hashem's wrath down upon your home?

in terms of the ship story, perhaps it happened. (and we even have midrashic cases of what i term short-sighted foresight.) but i'm also sure the magician in the ashmedai story could present a great explanation as to why he couldn't see what was under his very feet. and regardless, my focus is on the people who place this claim, on Rav Kanievsky's behalf (note that he did not claim this ruach hakodesh for himself), without realizing the potential for coincidence due to the statistics involved, and simultaneously without realizing the glaring flaw in their derivation from the story.


Ari said...

Just realizing that we are operating on two different frames of reference... that being the case, i don't think there is to be much achieved in continuing in this fashion. I (respectfully) withdraw.

All the best

Devorah said...

This is why G-d said to be "simple" with emunah.
If you're going to take everything apart and analyze it, and subject it to scientific tests, which can't be proved either way, then you are just going to make yourself, and your readers, go totally off the derech (if they're not already).
I have experience several miraculous events surrounding my own mezuzah. I can tell you quite a few other stories about other peoples' mezuzot, and the resulting effects on their lives.
Maybe I'll just blog them instead.
In fact, I think I'll do a whole mezuzah post now you've aggravated me with this one.

Rafi G. said...

maybe look at it like this: the punishment is not because of the problem with the mezuza. the person needs to be punished for something, or for whatever reason Hashem decided this specific person would have this specific tribulation, illness, test, whatever.

We know the mezuza provides a shmira on the house. Perhaps it has a certain power to even change and protect from what Hashem would otherwise test a person with. As long as the mezuza is kosher, it provides that shmira.

if, on the other hand, the mezuza is passul, there is no shmira and the person gets whatever it was that was coming his way.

Simcha said...

No Devorah, being "simple" (tamim) means abandoning silly superstitions, not embracing them.

joshwaxman said...

sorry for the aggravation. but then, that is what makes blogging so fun. :)

i think there is merit to both sides. there is merit to simple faith, but *if* (and it is admittedly an "if") misapplied to the wrong things, then it can end up being simple faith in superstition. see what i answer Rafi G., below.

indeed, one could say that, but i don't think it works out with the particulars of the type of mezuza stories which crop up. not to mention that even within this, i would guess Rambam would be opposed, and think it awful how people turned a mitzvah into an amulet. i should make this point into a separate post, i think.


zdub said...

a Mezuza provides shmira

Oh, so THAT'S why we do the mitzvah - a mezuzah is really just an amulet!

Just another example of how Rambam lost and Yehudah haLevy won. The bywords of today's Judaism are superstition, mysticism, and segulahs...


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