Monday, January 26, 2009

The Latest on the Mama Rachel Urban Legend

Over Shabbos, I had some people close to me tell me that I was wasting my time debunking this story, but more important, it was not a good thing to discredit it. While perhaps it was not a good thing that the urban legend got started in the first place, one it is out there doing good, one should not discredit it.

A good example of this is over at Mystical Paths, where Reb Akiva talks about the impact it had on secular Israelis; and in the comment section there, how it is encouraging various soldiers to perform mitzvot.

It is a good and valid point, though I do not agree with it. For example, should the Discovery Seminar present the Torah Codes proof, if there is a real possibility or probability it is false, just because it is effective? Though I do not know if they still present it, or if they think that it is false. Can one use sheker to achieve kiruv? Do the ends justify the means? And what happens when some people come to the realization it was false? Do they feel snookered? Even if we are concerned about impact rather than honesty, what effect does this have in the long term?

Meanwhile, Dreaming of Moshiach says "hello" from Yerushalayim. I wish her and her husband hatzlacha on their aliyah. In terms of posts I would like to see from her, I would like to see a post explicitly acknowledging now that she was wrong in identifying Bush as Gog, and that she was wrong in her interpretation of Zohar and Ramchal. I would also appreciate if she would keep up the pressure in contesting the idea that Obama is Gog.

Anyway, in this recent blogpost, she puts forward a version of the Rochel Imeinu in Gaza story:
During the war in Gaza, there was a story that soldiers were saved by the same woman before entering a trapped home (trapped with hidden bombs). The soldiers were about to enter a house and when they tried walking in, a woman stopped them in their tracks and told them that it's trapped and they should not enter. This reoccured 3 times in 3 different locations in Gaza. At the third trapped house, the soldiers asked the woman, "Who are you?" and she answered "Rochel". My brother in law is friends with Rav Shmuel Eliyahu Shlita and the Rav told my brother in law that his father, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu Shlita, prayed to HaShem to send Rochel Imenu to save our soldiers and it was Rochel Imenu, a'h, that stopped the soldiers entering the trapped house.
So she heard it from her brother-in-law who heard it from Rav Shmuel Eliyahu. So it is not first-hand. But the version of the story has her identifying herself as Rachel, unlike the original story, in which Rabbi Lazer Brody suggested it as such well after the fact.

But note how the game of broken telephone operated here. She writes that
Rav Mordechai Eliyahu Shlita, prayed to HaShem to send Rochel Imenu to save our soldiers and it was Rochel Imenu, a'h, that stopped the soldiers entering the trapped house.
But of course, listening to the video in which Rav Shmuel Eliyahu recounts it, it is not so. He did not pray to Hashem to send Rachel. He prayed to Rachel (or requested of Rachel) to pray to Hashem to save the soldiers. He did say in the video that his father said in jest, "Did she tell the soldiers that I sent her," but that is in line with the above.

Meanwhile, everyone misinterpreted Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's remarks, including Nava in the aforementioned blogpost. In an Op Ed in YNet, he explains the meaning of the joke, besides replying to Rabbi Cherlow about the doresh el hamesim. He writes:
ובשולי הדברים, הבהרה חשובה. המשפט "אני שלחתי את רחל לעזור לחיילים" לא נאמר על ידי אבי, הרב מרדכי אליהו, לא באופן ישיר וגם לא ברמז. הוא רק סיפר כיצד התפלל על ציון קברה שלא תמנע קולה מבכי ועיניה מדמעה. הוא ביקש ממנה, כמו כל אדם אחר, שתתפלל ותסייע לחיילים הנמצאים במערכה. לאחר מכן הוא אישר כי הסיפור על האישה שסייעה ללוחמים בעזה והציגה עצמה כ"אמא רחל" אכן קרה.

בשיעור שמסרתי ביום שני הבאתי את דברי הרב, ששאל בחצי חיוך: "למה אתם שואלים, היא סיפרה להם שאני שלחתי אותה?". מי ששמע את השיעור עצמו הבין את "העוקץ" של האמירה ופרץ בצחוק, ואולי מקריאת תמליל "יבש" של הדברים ניתן להבין בטעות את הבדיחה כאמירה יומרנית: "אני שלחתי את רחל". אבל אבא רק ביקש ממנה שתתפלל לקב"ה לשלום החיילים
And as a footnote, an important clarification. The sentence "I sent Rachel to help the soldiers" was not said by my father, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, not in a straightforward manner nor via hinting. He only related how he prayed upon the gravesite of her grave that she should not hold back her voice from wailing, and her eyes from crying. He requested from her, just like any other person, that she pray and {thus} help the soldiers who are found in battle.

, he confirmed that the story about the woman who aided those battling in Gaza and presented herself as "Mother Rochel" indeed occurred.

In the shiur that I gave over on Monday, I brought down the words of the Rav, who asked half-jokingly, "Why are you asking {me}, did she tell you that I sent her?" One who heard the shiur itself understood the barb of the statement and broke out in laughter, and perhaps from hearing the "dry" text of the matters, it was given to understand incorrectly the joke as a pretentious statement -- "I sent Rachel." But father only wanted from her that she pray to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for the safety of soldiers.
I saw the video, and I can see how even listening to the retelling in rapid-fire Hebrew, it was unclear. And indeed people who saw the video, rather than hearing it with inflection, misinterpreted what the joke was.

In even further news, Rav Ovadiah Yosef has endorsed this urban legend, but he skewed the story even further, having Rachel warn the soldiers of three terrorists inside. To quote:
In his Shabbat sermon Shas' spiritual leader described Rachel's role in the recent war. "The soldiers arrived at a house and wanted to go inside. There were three armed terrorists waiting for them there. "And then a beautiful young woman appeared before them and warned: Don't enter the house, there are terrorists there, be careful. - "Who are you?" - "What do you care who I am," she said, and whispered - "Rachel." The rabbi continued to describe how the soldiers indeed found the terrorists inside and killed them. The three were carrying guns, just like the woman said. "Mother Rachel was called to the place, 'Go save your sons.' Ah, praised be His name! God redeems and rescues, and sends angels to save the people of Israel. How we should thank God," Rabbi Yosef concluded.
This is an even further twist on the story. We have the embellishments of the whispering of her identity. And it is, in the more compelling tale, a beautiful young woman. And now, rather than there being three buildings being booby-trapped, we have one building with three terrorists inside. Note also how he eschews specifying exactly who called her there. "Mother Rachel was called to the place," allowing the ambiguity of Rav Eliyahu calling her there, which since has been clarified that he did not. And so Hashem sends angels, in the form of the Imahos, to save the people of Israel.

This is unfortunate, in my opinion. Do I have any faith in Rav Ovadiah Yosef's "confirmation" that the story is true, when he is retelling a story that is even more skewed than before. Rather, he is, likely unwittingly, adopting an urban legend as truth. (I also wonder whether a Sefardic mindset is playing a role in this credulity.)

Meanwhile, what does this do for our belief in the integrity of our mesorah, when we can see the evolution of a story, as false detail after false detail accrues, and is put forth by leading rabbonim as inspirational truth of a nes, that will surely be told for generations to come?


yaak said...

I believe 1 or many versions of the story to be true.

However, regardless of whether it's true or not, I wonder what Rahel Imeinu is thinking about her children in Gan Eden now.

It somewhat reminds me of the case of Tanur Achnai, where HKB"H said "Nitzhuni Banai, nitzhuni banai".

Akiva said...

I saw this happen in the first week of the story, where my children brought it home, each child with additional new details. The story has clearly grown a lengthy beard.

However, Israel has clearly seen niisim in her wars, including stories such as this one (many such stories are told from '67).

Is there something about _this_ story that bothers you, or is it the general concept of niisim that bothers you? Are niisim for the Jewish people no longer fashionable?

Anonymous said...

It's me again.
Are you next going to tell us that Eliyahu HaNavi does not attend all Brisim??!!

Rav Wolfson Shlit"a said that the war of Gog UMagog is going on right now, and it is a war against the Emuna of a Yid (the spiritual component of the war). There are more 'believing' yidden that are right now grappling with their Emuna.

There is no ministering angel over Eretz Yisrael, like all the other nations that have one, it is Hashem Who has direct control over the events/actions/etc. of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

To survive the spiritual war of Gog UMagog a Jew MUST believe that EVERYTHING comes from Hashem, Ain Od Milvado!


joshwaxman said...

"Is there something about _this_ story that bothers you, or is it the general concept of niisim that bothers you? Are niisim for the Jewish people no longer fashionable?"

this is too broad a topic to answer in a comment. bli neder, i will try to put together a comprehensive response. part of it will be a post in the next day or so about a goat arrested for armed robbery. but yes, there are things about this particular nes, and its vector, besides for a specific general approach i take towards this.

"Are you next going to tell us that Eliyahu HaNavi does not attend all Brisim??!!"
I do have an interesting (IMHO) post about Eliyahu at sedarim.

That question you pose deserves its own post. If true, need we assume it means that he comes *incarnate* to every bris? Or that he is there in some spiritual form?

As far as I can make out, the Midrash (Yalkut, also Shir Hashirim Rabba) merely criticized Eliyahu for criticizing the Jews about abandoning the covenant (bris), as an interpretation of a pasuk in Melachim. And it is the *Zohar* Lekh Lekha, 1: 93a, and Vayigash, 1 209b, which adds the extension that Eliyahu therefore visits every bris. That it then gets encoded into halacha is another story.

*If* in fact the Zohar is the only source for this, as it seems, then yes, I might well tell you this next. (Click on the label "vikuach al chochmat hakabbalah" on the side, for an elaboration.)

Of course, criticizing Zohar would undermine my position in arguing against this present story, and has the effect of making it seem that they are equally plausible to a believer, and equally unplausible to a "kofer." And yet I believe there is indeed a difference between this present story and this background, as above.

I don't know that I would agree with Rav Wolfson, but Emunah in Hashem, and that Ain Od Milvado, is not the same as gullibility in believing every urban legend that develops in the Jewish community. Emunah in Hashem is not the same as Emunah in Rachel Imeinu come incarnate. Indeed, it seems to me to be a *reduction* in Ain Od Milvado, as people will turn to the powerful saint Rachel to magically act and save them.


yitz said...

Josh, Your comment about Rabbi Yosef being from Edot HaMizrach smacks of racism. Perhaps Rafi G's words [Life in Israel blog] are more appropriate:

"Another point I would like to mention is the machlokes between various rabbis on whether we should or should not believe it, on whether it did or did not happen.
"I noticed that the rabbis who said it happened are the great rabbis Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rav Ovadia Yosef. The ones who prominently say it did not happen are the younger rabbis Rabbi Aviner, Rabbi Cherlow and some others.
"I noticed that the ones claiming it did, are older rabbis. Rabbis who are involved in the world of Kabbalah. Rabbi Eliyahu is one of the greatest Mekubalim alive today. Rabbi Yosef is as well.
"The younger rabbis, I would hesitate to call them "second tier rabbis," out of respect to them, but in relation to Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu, I think it is reasonable, are younger, more rationalists, less involved (at least publicly) in Kabbalah. Perhaps because of that they insist it did not happen - they are younger, closer connected to the modern way of thought that rejects these types of stories - our level of emuna in miracles is not nearly at the level of the simple Jew of the previous generations, and the younger rabbis and their way of thought could very well be a product of our lower level of emuna.
"I am not knocking Rabbis Cherlow and Aviner and saying they are no good - I am just saying they are younger, less involved in Kabbalah, have a more "rationalist" and perhaps scientific approach. While Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu are more involved in the esoteric and Kabbalistic worlds. Perhaps that is why we see a "machlokes" between them on this issue."

joshwaxman said...

yes, I saw that post from Rafi G. And there are comments responding, noting e.g. the silence of Ashkenazic gedolim on the matter.

Is the statement "I also wonder whether a Sefardic mindset is playing a role in this credulity" racist? I don't think so. I don't think there is anything inherent in their "race" which causes it. But I do think that there is a difference in Sefardic *culture* in terms of openness to this. And yet, I do believe that Sefardic Judaism as practiced by many today is more superstitious. E.g. the belief in the power of the Hamsa, and the acceptability of it. There is a reason in a recent election that Shas was giving out kemeyot.

That is not to say that certain subgroups of Ashkenazim cannot also be superstitious.


Anonymous said...

Just to lighten the mood:
Unconfirmed: Yad L'Achim on a rescue mission to release Rochel Imainu from Gaza.

yaak said...

Rav Weintraub thinks she might be a sheid (or shida) - see here and pages 6-7 of the documents.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

A further word of advice regarding those who masquerade as a ‘dayan’ ‘rabbi’ or false ‘mekubal’:

1. Do not ever ‘kiss the hands’ of these men (which they might offer to you in public).

2. And do not be duped into queuing and waiting, to see them for their ‘brachot’ (‘blessings’). They peddle ‘brachot’ purely for their own selfish gratification and ‘kavod’ (‘honour’).

Their duplicitous behaviour is nothing short of deception and cunning. In short they are abhorant and causing so much harm to amm israel. They prey on the vulnerable, and those who are naïve, unsuspecting and trusting of these pedlars.

Rabbi Nathan Glick said...

I have always wondered why in all tellings of the tale the woman identifies herself as "Rahel Immenu". If she really was Rahel she wouldnt call herself "our mother" Since she is not her own mother.


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