Saturday, October 10, 2009

Anecdotal Evidence: Seductive but Unreliable

As I was in the car heading back from the airport after the TRS-LE7 wedding, I had the following conversation with Meir, the driver:

M: Would you like to put your suit bag in the back?
E: No.
M: (surprised)
E: I have the Rebbe's kapote in here. I can't let go of it.
M: Oh wow! Can I touch it.
E: No.
M: (surprised)
E: Actually, go ahead. Touch it. I don't think it'll get ruined if you just take a peek and give a pat.
(This was followed by a discussion of Reb Yisroel's kapote-related scruples.)
M: Well, maybe this will help me get a shidduch. The Rebbe gave me his beracha twenty years ago, and I'm still waiting.

And then the conversation turned to other things, such as the super-cool symbolism of the number 5770, and my mathematics studies. (The guy remembers that I'm a math major from when he drove me to the airport before Pesach!)

In unrelated news, as Reb Yisroel was deciding to make an exception and send the kapote with me, he told me the story of the only other exception he ever made to his kapote-related scruples: The son-in-law of the shluchim to Cleveland needed a lung transplant. After six months of waiting, the doctors said that if the young man doesn't receive a lung transplant within 24 hours, he will need to spend the rest of his life on a respirator. The Shlucha to Cleveland frantically called Reb Yisrel, and asked him to send them the Rebbe's shirt. They tried to find someone driving from New York to Cleveland, but couldn't. So Reb Yisroel UPSed the shirt (and insured it for $10,000 I think. maybe I forgot the amount). Meanwhile, some dude got killed in a motorcycle crash. As the shirt was going to Cleveland from one direction, the dead guy's lung was heading to Cleveland from the other direction. Needless to say, the son-in-law lived happily ever after. He was hoping that the second time he violated his scruples (and sent the kapote with me) another miracle would happen. It didn't

Last story: a yungerman was sent on shlichus to California in 1951. As Chassidim are wont to do, he consulted with the Rebbe before every move. He followed the Rebbe's advice to the letter... and everything turned out for the worst. For example, there was a building which he had wanted to buy--and he had ba'al habatim ready to pay for it--but the Rebbe told him not to, because it would be too risky. Shortly afterwards, the government bought the building to make a road there. Had Chabad bought it, they could have sold it for a huge profit. I don't remember what other disasters happened, but the point is that the the shliach soon came back East, and spend the rest of his life bouncing around, teaching in Talmud Torahs, shechting animals, and doing nothing too spectacular, while some other young shluchim went to California, did lots of risky things and had tremendous success. He is still mekushar to the Rebbe, but is bitter and confused why the Rebbe didn't let him have success in California. His story is not well known, but I know it because I am related to him.

Do you see a pattern here? The Rebbe gives a guy a beracha and it's fulfilled after twenty years, and it's published in Kfar Chabad magazine and everywhere else. The Rebbe gives a different guy a beracha, and it's never fulfilled, and no one hears about it.
A shliach follows the Rebbe's advice and sees miracles, and the whole world knows about it. A shliach follows the Rebbe's advice and fails, and his own family barely knows about it.
The Rebbe's shirt wreaks a miracle, and Yisroel Shemtov tells and retells the story. The Rebbe's kapote wreaks nothing, and nobody hears about it.

I'm not saying people should start publicizing non-miracles. Who would want to hear the exciting story about the time the Rebbe's kapote didn't make the heretic repent or about the time when the guy didn't find a shidduch? I'm just saying that you should be wary of accepting anecdotes as proof of anything, because you can be sure that there are lots of less exciting anecdotes that you aren't hearing.

27 comments:

  1. I was reading about this topic just today in my psychology book, how people are more likely to pay attention to personal anecdotes, and believe them, retell them, and distort them, even though they are not actual statistics or facts. Because it's more convenient and probably sounds better when retelling it.

    Oh ya, I finally got started on my book. 100 more pages to read for tomorrow.

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  2. Thanks for the link to pictures.

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  3. when you say super cool symbolism of 5770, you mean the regular Faratza and Beis Moshiach, or did you mean something in mathematics?

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  4. Yossi: I actually misrepresented what we were talking about. He spoke about the super cool significance of the year 5770, how it relates to a specific hour of the Friday when Adam Harishon was created.

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  5. A brocha is oros, if there's no keli for what ever reason - be it by over-site or divine decree - then it doesn't become manifest. That doesn't undo other (real) miracles.
    Of note . . . the date here makes me sad.

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  6. Mottel- observant you are. I'm beginning to expect no less.

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  7. Most people are immune to these Rebbe storie anyway. It is interesting to hear that some brochos didn't come true.. that's a first to hear.

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  8. Some chassidim were once sitting around discussing the miracles that their respective Rebbeim could do. When it came to the Lubavitcher he told a story about how he lost his whole business and all of his money because he listened to The Rebbe. So they asked him "Nu what is the miracle?" and he responded "I'm still a Lubavitcher!"

    Mofsim and rebbishe stories are nice and a relevation of Godliness but are certainly not the ikkar. Also the fact that sometimes some segula doesn't work or a Bracha is not fulfilled isn't even evidence against whatever is represented by that thing working.
    When a Rebbe gives a bracha or an eitzah he doesn't guarantee you the results and that they will definitely come out the way you want it.

    If something miraculous will happen every single time one of two things will happen.
    Either we will completely lose all bechira or we will be ch"v traumatized and break.

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  9. Some years ago I had a taxi driver taking me to the airport after chaf-beis-shvat. He too mentioned looking for a shidduch, so maybe it was the same guy. Or maybe the same story for every taxi driver...

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  10. Modeh B'MiktsasOctober 12, 2009 at 3:31 PM

    Feivel, Satmar tells that one too. As does everyone else except Breslov.

    E: I thought you tried to keep kfira to the minimum?

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  11. Mottel: I was just noting that sometimes miracles don't happen. Why that is, I leave up to you.

    Modeh: That story was about a specific guy who was in the wood buisness. I think it was Shmuel Gurary, maybe?

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  12. There's nothing wrong with what you point out. The only thing that annoys me, is that due to the stupidity of the DiBification and BTization of Lubavitch, we think that such points are problematic.
    It was Gurary indeed in Modeh's story.

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  13. Modeh B'MiktsasOctober 12, 2009 at 9:49 PM

    I think it's just how chassidus, or faith in general works. I've told it about myself and various jobs or scores or whatnot I've davened for and not received.

    Mottel: What's your problem with BTs?

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  14. Feivel - it's easy to deflect attention from non-miracles by saying not to focus in on them, but that's not a satisfactory answer. If there is no assured way to achieve success via a rebbe and sometimes things don't come into fruition, then the whole thing is a wash. What's the point of asking for a bracha if there is a, let's say, 50/50 chance of success? It also tends to indicate that when something "miraculous" does happen, it cannot be attributed to the rebbe's doing. You cannot selectively choose stories with which to confirm the potency of a rebbe's actions, while deflecting attention from the vast instances of no positive outcome.

    The same question goes for brochos generally and davening ...

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  15. 1. Just because you don't get the outcome you desire does not mean you were not successful.

    2. 50/50 is much better odds then you have got without.

    3. I am not deflecting attention and there is no such thing as a non-positive outcome.

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  16. Modeh: What's wrong with DIBs? Sadly the education given to most BTs is very superficial -it turns the Rebbe from being a Rebbe to being a Hocus Pocus or the like. Since complexity is it, then a faith based entirely on mofsim that can't be understood, ironically, in the sechel of ChaBaD. It is to such beliefs that E's questions pose a possible problem.

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  17. Mottel1:the B part
    2:Well, I won't get started on the alte machleikes

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  18. F- All three responses were deflective of the question. And if those are the answers, then they raise a storm of other theological questions, chief of which is "why bother?"

    Anyways, we all know - or should know - that this isn't getting settled here.

    You also know 50/50 was obviously a made up number. Statistically, it is probably much lower. Not that statistics are available or anything.

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  19. Basically it comes down to "you pray to God because he's God whether or not you get what you want". This does not transfer well to rebbes.

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  20. Mottel: don't overgeneralize. The over reliance on mofsim comes from the flag-waving dibs, not all of them. And don't blame BTs. Blame those who should have educated them.

    Modeh: you'd be surprised how well it transfers to Rebbeim.

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  21. nemo: nice to hear from. You give it those silly fundis!

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  22. e: Well it shouldn't. עייו פיהמ"לרם פרק חלק

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  23. That's lazybochurspeak for a source. Since everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about I feel no need to spell it out.

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  24. Well, I've got nothing I'm interested in adding to this discussion, but all I can say is: Man, those were some kick-a-- pictures of the TRS/LE7 wedding! I'd definitely want that photographer by my wedding (if, that is, such an event ever takes place)...

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  25. Shriki, if you thought the pics were good, you should've seen the wedding itself!

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  26. e-Check this: http://altishalioti.blogspot.com/2009/10/miracle-chassid.html

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  27. The chasid is still nameless! Although she does write which rebbe it was...

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Forth shall ye all hold.