Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Prediction that the first Gulf war would end on Purim

The Lubavitcher Rebbe famously predicted that the gulf war would end before Purim. And it did. This is a testament to his prophetic powers. But did the Rebbe really predict this?

Well, here is a recounting of this prediction, from a Chabad site:
A Jewish US Army Chaplain passed before the Rebbe on his way to his assignment in the Middle Eastand told the Rebbe that he was taking a Torah scroll and a Megilla, a scroll version of the Book of Esther, traditionally read on the Jewish Holiday of Purim, which typically comes out in March. The Rebbe told him, on videotape, that he need not bring a Megilla since if anything does happen, it would be over by Purim (which it was).
Very impressive, given that the war ended on erev Purim. However, to throw a slight monkey-wrench into this, I would point out the following:
Two days later, on Sabbath, the 16th day of Adar 5751 (March 2, 1991) the Rebbe blessed the American government and its armed forces. He spoke of the U.S. as "a nation of generosity," allowing and encouraging Jews to live Jewishly in full freedom and prosperity. The Rebbe expressed a heartfelt prayer "that the American troops succeed in their mission in Basra (11)."
This last statement at the time was extremely perplexing. Did the Rebbe not know that the war had ended? Was the Rebbe unaware of the fact that the troops had withdrawn from Basra and from the rest of Iraq? After all, the Rebbe himself had predicted that the war would be over by Purim! Why, two days later, was the Rebbe praying for the success of an American campaign in Basra?
This is indeed perplexing. If the Rebbe told this army chaplain that the war would be over, why did he not know that it was over? Did he not trust his own prediction?

I would add that the Rebbe then discovered his error and had them not publish this portion of his sicha, saying od chazon la'moed, which was later taken by his Chassidim to mean that his own prophecy would be fulfilled, when American troops entered Basra 10 years later. The alternative, which I think is more likely, is that he was referring to Yeshaya's prophecy, which he was darshening at the time in the sicha as referring to present events.

I'll add more to this. We should examine this prediction by the Rebbe that the war would end by Purim. He admittedly does say something of the sort, but not explicitly, and not exactly what you would expect. We can identify the particular army chaplain, and even have his picture, and he debunks this particular story that the Rebbe predicted it would end on erev Purim. From the Jewish Homemaker:

The army chaplain,
Rabbi Jacob Goldstein

Chaplain Goldstein was mobilized during the Persian Gulf War. He debunks a report, often attributed to him, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had declared that the war would end on Purim.
He arrived in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on the first night of Chanukah in 1990, having received orders to prepare for a half-year deployment. The following Sunday, he was able to get to Brooklyn to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told the Rebbe that he would be prepared for Purim and Pesach in the Persian Gulf. The Rebbe reassured him: “Surely there will be a Megillah, but you won’t have to read it.” During the following week, Chaplain Goldstein received revised orders to prepare for a year’s stay in Saudi Arabia. Upon telling this to the Rebbe the following Sunday, the Rebbe responded that the Mashiach would come before the chaplain would go to Saudi Arabia.

That Tuesday, the war began. He was called by the Pentagon and told he was going to Israel to support American soldiers there, instead of to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. wanted a Jewish senior chaplain to run spiritual matters in the Jewish state. And so “at no time did the Rebbe tell me that the war would end on Purim.” But the Rebbe’s words were confirmed. Chaplain Goldstein did not need a Megillah during the war, because it ended on the day before Purim. And he still has not visited Saudi Arabia, and has no plans to do so prior to the Mashiach’s arrival!

And so, context is key. If there was a video of these predictions, it must be noted that the Gulf War had not yet started. And they were not talking of his going to Iraq, but to Saudi Arabia. And he was spared from needing the megillah in Saudi Arabia and having to use it there because of the start of the Gulf War, not the end of the Gulf War. And since he was stationed in Eretz Yisrael, it didn't matter to chaplain Goldstein when the war ended. He was covered at any rate. And, as he notes, at no point did the Rebbe tell him that the war would end on Purim.

Still, it does seem uncanny how the Rebbe's predictions came to be.

But let us consider the time-line, if I can figure it out correctly based on this article:

Tuesday, August 7, 1990 - Operation Desert Shield -- US troops sent to Saudi Arabia as a defense against invasion by Sadaam.

Sunday, December 2, 1990 - Iraqi troops invade Kuwait. 

Wednesday December 12, 1990 - first night of Chanukkah.
This was when chaplain Goldstein arrived at Fort Dix, with orders to go to Saudi Arabia for a half-year, presumably as part of Desert Shield.

Sunday December 16, 1990 - first visit with the Rebbe, who tells him he will have, but won't need, the megillah.

Within that week -- chaplain Goldstein receives revised orders, to deploy to Saudi Arabia for a year.

Sunday December 23, 1990 -- second visit to the Rebbe, who tells him mashiach will come before he has to go to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, December 25, 1990 -- "the war began" -- chaplain Goldstein is told he will be sent to Israel.

The aerial assault begins on January 17, 1991.

As I see it, there are four possibilities to explain the Rebbe's uncanny prediction:

  1. prophecy
  2. inside knowledge / publicly available knowledge
  3. influence
  4. messianic delusions

1) Prophecy -- this has already been covered, but the idea would be that the Rebbe knew something he could not have otherwise known, by receiving messages from On High. Call this prophecy, or call this ruach hakodesh, if you like.

2) Knowledge -- Eizehu chacham, haroeh et hanolad -- who is wise? he who can figure out consequences. And chacham, einav berosho -- a wise man, his eyes are in his head.

It was common knowledge that if the US would attack Iraq, Iraq would attack Israel:

The Iraqi government made no secret that it would attack Israel if invaded. Prior to the start of the war, Tariq Aziz, Iraq's English-speaking Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, was asked in the aftermath of the failed U.S.-Iraq peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland by a reporter. “Mr. Foreign Minister, if war starts...will you attack Israel?” the reporter asked. His response was, “Yes, absolutely, yes.”[58][59]
Five hours after the first attacks, Iraq's state radio broadcast a voice identified as Saddam Hussein declaring that "The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins." Iraq responded by launching eight Al Hussein missiles into Israel the next day. These missile attacks on Israel were to continue throughout the six weeks of the war.
And he knew, due to the invasion, and the way that diplomacy was not working and the way the coalition was forming from various nations, that an attack on Iraq was imminent. It was just a matter of time, as the situation was coming to a head. And in such a situation, the US would want a presence in Israel, as indeed it did. And if so, it would need their chaplains there. So the Rebbe merely assessed to situation of the world as it stood at that time.

I don't know how long it was until the good chaplain was to deploy, but let us say it was a month. The Rebbe thus calculated and figured that he would not be deploying to Saudi Arabia, and expressed this as that mashiach would come first.

Another possibility, along the same lines, is that the Rebbe was privy to secret information from human beings. He was not some random rabbi living in Crown Heights. He sent shluchim all over, and presumably had friends in high places. They might well have let the Rebbe know that a war was imminent. If so, any highly placed politician who could put 2 and 2 together could have told the chaplain the same thing.

3) Influence -- if he indeed had friends in high places in the US government, he could have called in a favor at the Pentagon on behalf of a Lubavitcher shliach. This is outside the realm of possibility for common folks like you and me, but as the leader of an influential group of voters at the national level? Then he could reassure this chaplain with some level of confidence.

4) Messianic delusions -- the Lubavitcher Rebbe's words lend themselves to this interpretation, so I will float this theory. Yet I find it unlikely.

Recall that this was at the height of messianic fervor. The Rebbe believed that his deceased father-in-law was the mashiach. And possibly that he was the mashiach.

In the time of mashiach, Chazal say, all holidays will be nullified except for Purim. But this may mean that the joy will be equivalent, or that the redemption will be Purim-like. So the Rebbe would be saying that though the chaplain had the megillah, he wouldn't need to read it.

And as a follow-up, the Rebbe told the chaplain that mashiach would come before he was deployed to Saudi Arabia. If a typical person said this, it would be the equivalent of "heck will freeze over before you are deployed to Saudi Arabia." But perhaps the Rebbe's intention was absolutely literal, that the chaplain was due to be deployed to Saudi Arabia on day X, but before day X mashiach would have arrived. And that would prevent any deployment. He could believe that if he assessed that the situation in the Persian Gulf was leading to the World War III, that is, the war of Gog and Magog.


Garnel Ironheart said...

It'll be over by Purim can mean anything. Had the war ended 2 weeks before Purim he'd have been correct.

Devorah said...

So much energy exterted trying to prove the unprovable.

When Moshiach gets here, and we have techias haMaisim, you can argue the point with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. But by then it won't really matter, will it?

yaak said...

I say: let's get Chaplain Goldstein deployed to Saudi Arabia right away!

Yodea Davar said...

This Purim anecdote is small change. Let's focus on the Rebbe's consistent public message leading up to the war and its miraculous outcome.

מלחמת המפרץ - חב"דפדיה.

נס פורים 5751 - חוברת על ניסי מלחמת המפרץ.

Michael said...

How about that it is illegal for a Jew under any circumstances to enter the kingdom of Saud, and thus the Pentagon needed to issue him other orders. Even flight attendants on commercial airlines must remain aboard the plane for the duration of any layover or maintenance, and even then face the very real possibility of arrest and execution. That is fairly common knowledge.

SoMeHoW Frum said...

See this link for some interesting... grunting

"I have not confirmed this but i heard that one time when the Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked why he is against giving land for peace in Egypt he said something like: who knows what will happen next year or in 30 years from now! The "next year" was when Egypt's President Sadat was assassinated (1981), and the "30 years from now" is 2011."

joshwaxman said...

excellent point, which is indeed much simpler than anything i said here.

SoMeHoW Frum:
that quote was actually what led to this particular post. see this other parshablog post, and the comment section there.

it looks like the gruntig quote addressed a deficiency in the initial quote. the initial quote, according to Mystical Paths, was “What will happen if in 30 years time the present strongman of Egypt is overthrown by those who are opposed to the Peace Treaty?" no mention about "next year".

My guess -- but this is a guess -- is that people started with this 30 year quote. and then someone pointed out that the "present strongman" did NOT last 30 years, but was indeed taken assassinated the next year. This would mean that the Rebbe's prediction was NOT eerily accurate. To account for this, the quote was emended to include "next year" or "30 years from now", and without the reference to the "present strongman".

kol tuv,


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