Sunday, March 11, 2007

Did Rav Nachman of Breslov Prophesy About the Murder of Erez Levanon?

I've seen this at many places, but it traces back to Lazer Beams.

"200 years ago, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev told us that his fire would burn until the coming of Moshiach. He wasn't kidding...

* In Likutei Moharan, first section, Discourse 38:7, Rebbe Nachman makes several astounding allusions to the untimely death of his disciple, Erez Levanon of saintly and blessed memory. First, Rebbe Nachman quotes the Gemara from tractate Bchorot 57 that says, "Erez fell in our place"; terrorists murdered Erez in the groves right below his mountaintop home - "in our place" - in other words, he was a holy public sacrifice for all of Israel as an atonement for the nation's sins.

* Rebbe Nachman writes, "...the tzaddik is known as the Erez (Hebrew for cedar - LB) of Levanon (Heb. for Lebanon - LB).

* Rebbe Nachman mentions "Bat Ayin", the name of Erez's settlement, twice. The second time he mentions Bat Ayin, he juxtaposes it to "Arba Parshiot" - Erez was murdered during the time of year that we call "Arba Parshiot", when we read the "parshiot" of Shekalim, Zchor, Para, and Chodesh.

* Rebbe Nachman says, "The illumination of his face was revealed." Earlier today, I heard the details of the two young men who found Erez's body; their story sends chills up your spine: Sunday, February 25th after dark, when Erez didn't come home, they organized a search for him. They began searching in the orchard where Erez liked to go for hitbodedut (personal prayer). The night was cold, dark, and foggy with poor visibility; in the distance, between the trees, they saw a glow. Erez lay in a pool of his own blood; there was barely a place on his lean and holy body that wasn't pierced by terrorist daggers. Yet, his face was unscathed. Erez was lifeless, but his face glowed like that of Moses when he descended from Mount Sinai.

Moses? Erez was killed on 7 Adar, the anniversary of the death of Moses. Erez Levanon is the numerical equivalent of Moshe, Hebrew for Moses. (משה עם הכולל = 346, ארז לבנון = 346). Erez was undoubtedly a spark of Moses' soul.

Here's something even more mindboggling: Erez used to teach lessons in Likutei Moharan at Bat Ayin. The very last lesson he said in his life was - you guessed it - Likutei Moharan, first section, Discourse 38:7!

My heart tells me that I'm not even scratching the surface. May Erez's blessed memory arouse Divine compassion for his exile-weary people, amen."

Truth be told, I would have found this to be a much more inspiring story had Erez Levanon read this segment of Likeutei Maharan, understood its prophetic message, and worn a Kevlar vest that day. As it was, Rav Nachman is taunting us with this foreknowledge from beyond the grave.

Mystical Paths summarizes it thusly: "There is Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) in this world, make no mistake that every detail of our lives is written..."

Let us examine these extraordinary apparent coincidences, and see if they are really as surprising as it seems at first.

The most extraordinary match-up of them all is that Rav Nachman refers explicitly to the very name of the murdered man, Erez Levanon, writing והצדיק נקרא ארז בלבנון.

Is this really so surprising, though? Note firstly that he does not say והצדיק נקרא ארז בלבנון, but rather Erez BaLevanon. What gives? Well, on a plain text level, Rav Nachman is not talking about a murder at all, but rather intends to explain a cryptic aggada in Bechorot 57b:
העיד רבי ישמעאל בן סתריאל מערקת לבינה לפני רבי במקומנו מפשיטין את המתה ומלבישין את החי אמר רבי נתגלה טעמא של משנתינו חזירין שבמקומנו יש להם ששים רבוא קלפים בבית המסס שלו
פעם אחת נפל ארז אחד שבמקומנו ועברו שש עשרה קרונות על חודו אחת
פעם אחת נפלה ביצת בר יוכני וטבעה ששים כרכים ושברה שלש מאות ארזים ומי שדיא ליה והא כתיב (איוב לט) כנף רננים נעלסה אמר רב אשי ההוא מוזרתא הואי:
The aggada is clearly allegorical, and Rav Nachman explains that it refers to a tzaddik, a righteous man, who descended a madrega, a level, but is still on a higher level than we are on.

(Rav Nachman of Breslov does not mention it, but there is a somewhat likely connection to Zechariah 11:
א פְּתַח לְבָנוֹן, דְּלָתֶיךָ; וְתֹאכַל אֵשׁ, בַּאֲרָזֶיךָ. 1 Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.
ב הֵילֵל בְּרוֹשׁ כִּי-נָפַל אֶרֶז, אֲשֶׁר אַדִּרִים שֻׁדָּדוּ; הֵילִילוּ אַלּוֹנֵי בָשָׁן, כִּי יָרַד יַעַר הבצור (הַבָּצִיר). 2 Wail, O cypress-tree, for the cedar is fallen; because the glorious ones are spoiled; wail, O ye oaks of Bashan, for the strong forest is come down.
which itself is clearly allegorical itself. The tanna is expanding or making use of the theme of the fallen cedar.)

To bolster the idea that the erez represents the tzaddik, Rav Nachman says that a tzaddik, or the tzaddik, is called an Erez BaLevanon. Thus, erez stands for tzaddik. Where does he get this from? From Tehillim 92:13:
יג צַדִּיק, כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח; כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּה. 13 The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
On the level of plain text, Rav Nachman is most decidedly not saying that the given name of the tzaddik who will die (interpreting fall thusly) is Erez Balevanon. Rather, alluding to the pasuk in Tehillim, he is saying that a tzaddik can be called erez, a cedar, and we can then read this into the statement of the Tanna, in order to figure out the allegorical meaning of his statement.

What about Erez Lavanon? What are the odds that he would have that name? Actually, his name is a deliberate pun. His last name was Levanon, and presumably his parents, or the parents of his namesake, decided to make reference to the famous Biblical phrase when giving the name. The ba portion of baLevanon would not be kept, since the last name was Levanon.

So is this really so surprising? Both Rav Nachman of Breslov, in a discussion about a gemara about a fallen erez {which itself, if Zechariah is the initial source of the idea, is an erez of Lebanon) refers to the famous Biblical phrase, and the fellow who died was named after the famous Biblical phrase. One need not ascribe this to prophecy.

While on the subject of those pesukim in Zechariah, I would point out that those pesukim refer to a cedar falling in Lebanon, and the Tanna as well is referring to a cedar falling in Lebanon. Once again, העיד רבי ישמעאל בן סתריאל מערקת לבינה לפני רבי is how that gemara begins, and ערקת לבינה would appear to be Levanon (or so I would guess). And he says פעם אחת נפל ארז אחד שבמקומנו, such that mekomeinu would be arkat Leveina. As such, Zechariah 11:
א פְּתַח לְבָנוֹן, דְּלָתֶיךָ; וְתֹאכַל אֵשׁ, בַּאֲרָזֶיךָ. 1 Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.
ב הֵילֵל בְּרוֹשׁ כִּי-נָפַל אֶרֶז, אֲשֶׁר אַדִּרִים שֻׁדָּדוּ; הֵילִילוּ אַלּוֹנֵי בָשָׁן, כִּי יָרַד יַעַר הבצור (הַבָּצִיר). 2 Wail, O cypress-tree, for the cedar is fallen; because the glorious ones are spoiled; wail, O ye oaks of Bashan, for the strong forest is come down.
is quite a good connection to make.

Which brings us to the next point. Rav Nachman refers twice to Bat Ayin. However, this is in a citation, and he connects it to bein einecha of Tefillin. It is not meant to be a place where a murder takes place, at least not in the plain meaning of his words, in explanation of the cryptic tannaitic statement. Indeed, mekomeinu should be Lebanon, where the tzaddik fell. (And indeed, had an Erez with a different last name been slain in Lebanon, they might be making this very derivation.)

The four parshiyot intended by Rav Nachman are the four parshiyot of tefillin. It happens to also be a phrase that refers to four parshiyot of Shekalim, Zachor, haChodesh, Para. This year, there was a gap, so it spanned a period of five weeks.

The shining face is meant to connote busha.

The fact that is ended up on Moshe's yartzheit (with the shining face), and that the last derasha in Lukutei Mohoran was in this discourse that people try to find connections to, are less probable, but still within the realm of accepted probability.

What we need to consider is that there are many, many, many details associated with this event, and many, many, many details in this discourse. If A does not match up with B, it can still match up with C, and this is important for calculating probabilities. Had he not been slain on Adar 7th, he could have been born on Adar 7. Or he could have been born prematurely at 6 months. If such a detail does not match up, that is not taken as evidence against, but is just not part of the eerie coincidence, and is not mentioned.

As is pointed out, his name is the same gematria as Moshe. Gematria's are easily fudged, as many a person coming up with a silly gematria devar Torah for a simcha knows well. Erez Levanon = Moshe. Why include the last name? If it had not worked out, they could have tried Erez ben X = Moshe. Or Moshe ben Amram. Or Tuviah ben Amram.

And had this particular instance not seemed eerily apt, there are unfortunately many such incidents of Israelis killed by Palestinians. Eventually, a case where you can find such correspondences will pop up.

In sum, I am not at all persuaded.

It is similar to the famous list of similarities between the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations:
Lincon had a secretary named Kennedy who told him not to go to the theater
Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln who told him not to go to Dallas

Lincoln was elected President in 1860, while Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Lincoln's successor - Andrew Johnson - was born in 1808, while Kennedy's successor - Lyndon Johnson - was born in 1908.
Lincoln's killer - John Wilkes Booth - was born in 1839, while Kennedy's killer - Lee Harvey Oswald - was born in 1939.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.
Lincoln's secretary was called Kennedy, while Kennedy's secretary was called Lincoln.
Lincoln's and Kennedy's successors both had the surname Johnson.
The names Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson each contain thirteen letters.
The names John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each contain fifteen letters.

Lincoln and Kennedy were both killed on a Friday.
Both were killed in the presence of their wives.
Both were shot from behind and in the head.
Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and hid in a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and hid in a theatre.
Lincoln was shot at a theatre named 'Ford', Kennedy was shot in a car named 'Lincoln,' made by 'Ford'.
Both assassins were killed before being brought to trial.
Lincoln and Kennedy were both directly concerned with Civil Rights.
Booth and Oswald were both Southerners favouring unpopular ideas.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
Both were succeeded by Southerens.
Both successors were named Johnson.
Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names compromise fifteen letters.

John Wilkes Booth's brother once save the life of Abe Lincoln's son - Robert Todd Lincoln (son of U.S. President Abraham
Lincoln) Edwin Booth, brother of man who assassinated President Lincoln, rescued this Lincoln from a train accident.

A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was in Marilyn Monroe.

which (a list in similar form) is debunked here on Snopes, showing why the parallels are not so compelling.

As they write at the end:
So what are we to make of all this? How do we account for all these coincidences, no matter how superficial they may be, and why do so many people find this list so compelling?

The coincidences are easily explained as the simple product of mere chance. It's not difficult to find patterns and similarities between any two marginally-related sets of data, and coincidences similar in number and kind can be (and have been) found between many different pairs of Presidents. Our tendency to seek out patterns wherever we can stems from our desire to make sense of our world; to maintain a feeling that our universe is orderly and can be understood. In this specific case two of our most beloved Presidents were murdered for reasons that make little or no sense to many of us, and by finding patterns in their deaths we also hope to find a larger cosmic "something" that seemingly provides some reassuring (if indefinite) rhyme or reason why these great men were prematurely snatched from our mortal sphere.

A similar approach is due here as well, in my opinion.


yaak said...

Although I agree with you in your later post about the Nahman - Mashiah accrostic, I have to disagree with you here. There is nothing that is just coincidence.

Just as the Snopes "debunking" can itself be debunked - by using the sum of all the coincidences to see Yad Hashem - the same can be said with Rav Brody's post.

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to formulate a response some time tomorrow.
kol tuv,


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