Monday, May 03, 2010

Hashgacha Pratis? The Volcano Liver-Transplant Recipient

A nice, inspiring story making the rounds is of a Jewish fellow who received a liver transplant because the ash cloud from the volcano prevented the people earlier on the list from getting there in time. One such reaction, from the Five Towns Jewish Times:

With the clear Divine Intervention, this budding talmid chacham received the liver and is now recovering from surgery.

The enormity of this miracle was even greater after the successful liver transplant. The doctors said that the young yeshiva student's liver was so deteriorated and diseased that it was a matter of days in which his liver would stop functioning completely. The doctors unanimously believe that if this young man had to continue waiting for the liver transplant, he would not have made it.
The miracle was extraordinary.  The odds on such a volcano affecting Europe to such a degree are one in a few billion.  Had the ash been blown away any slower, the transplant would not have happened.  It is these types of incidents which must give us all pause.
Not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, it is really a wonderful conclusion for this yeshiva bachur, and he obviously should thank Hashem for this result.

Some people raise issues with such happy crowing, especially in public, since where this bachur won out, all these other people lost out and perhaps died. This was not an inspiring story for them! Perhaps.

But an interesting point for all of us is whether we should really treat it as a clear example of Hashgacha Pratis.

In terms of Divine Providence, the Rambam discusses the views of different groups. And his view, close to the view of Chazal, is that not everybody merits Hashgacha Pratis. The more developed one is, the more one merits it. Meanwhile, a group of contemporary religious Muslim philosophers take the position now most popular in the Jewish world, that not a leaf falls unless it is separately, Divinely directed. Ramban, as well, maintains that sometimes there is hashgacha klalis, and one might end up in such a situation and not merit special hashgacha pratis to save him.

Nowadays, especially with the Small Miracles books, people are encouraged to believe in the hashgacha pratis of everything in life. And this seems a clear indication that Hashgacha Pratis operates.

Here is the "problem", though. It is one of reporting. Let us say you distribute a drug to a million people with a headache. For 500,000, taking the drug just adds a stomachache. For 499,950, no change occurs. For the remaining 50, their headache disappeared. Maybe this is the result of the drug, and maybe not. But these 50 widely and loudly proclaim that their headache is gone, and everyone believes the drug to be effective. And the remaining million - 50 are silent, and are not heard from. This is not precisely the same, but it illustrates the reporting problem.

An event of the magnitude of a volcano and subsequent dust-cloud affected millions of people. Many hundreds of thousands it affected negatively; maybe many were affected neutrally or relatively neutrally. And for some number of people, it affected them positively. This is to be expected in any macro-level event. This is hashgacha klalis in action.

As "Avi" responded at Matzav:
It so happens, that there were two Hemishe Yingerliet, who desperately needed transplants, and could not get to their destination because of the volcano. It was a real tragedy.
I doubt this particular thing happened. But the point is that it may have happened. And it certainly happened to the gentile recipients.

How is this, then, evidence of Hashgacha Pratis?! Of the millions negatively impacted, we hear nothing. Only the few who are positively impacted do we hear anything. And due to the behavior of random chance, and probability as it operates at such large numbers, we expect such an event to occur.

Of course, it could still well be Hashgacha Pratis, masked by this derech hateva. But how can we so confidently identify it as such?

Perhaps someone can present a good argument for this in the comment section...


Devorah said...

I started off wanting to argue with you, but ultimately I think you're right.

Nosson Gestetner said...

Everything is Divine Providence, including the fact that one guy came out on top, and several didn't as a result. The fact remains that whatever transpired, and the way in which it did, was Ratzon Hashem - so really it was Hashgacha Pratis, including those who suffered or lost out.

"it just wasn't meant to be."

joshwaxman said...

i don't know that i agree with this assessment myself, but anyway...

"Everything is Divine Providence"
is one way of viewing it. but then everything is Hashgacha Pratis, and there is no such thing as hashgacha klalis. This is fine according to the Baal Shem Tov (and the Muslim philosophers contemporary to Rambam), but not according various Rishonim.

If there *is* indeed such a thing as Hashgacha Klalis, what test would you apply to distinguish the two?


Nosson Gestetner said...

I don't know the technical difference to be perfectly honest, but on a very simplistic level, I think we can only *really* say Hashgacha Pratis when it happens in our own lives, where we know all the sub-plots.

Otherwise you are inevitably left with the dilemma you presented of one man who benefited vs many who did not.

Adding you to my blogroll. Check out mine!

David said...

The story is not true.

There was such a young man, and his life was saved in Belgium, but it was way before the volcano occurred, and had less to do with miracles and more to do with intervention by the Charedi Health Minister, who used the power, political influence, and finances of the State of Israel to arrange that the young man receive a transplant.

He was unilaterally moved to the head of the list and these extraordinary measures were taken for him because it suited the political interests of the Health Minister.

The boy is from an EXTREMELY influential family in the yeshiva world (begins with a samech and ends with a kuf, four syllables) that is known for their disdain for the medinah.

He received the liver way before the volcano hit, through a special deal with the Israeli gov't, whose taxpayers paid for the whole thing.

We have not heard a word of hakoros hatov to the gov't for having done this for them.

I guess when it's all Min HaShomayim, one does not have to have Hakoros Hatov to anyone anymore, especially the medina and its taxpayers.


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