Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Asking the Igros

Certain Chabad elements believe that we can still contact the Chabad Rebbe. The fact that he died on 3 Tammuz 5754, more than 10 years ago, is no problem. Simply follow the following mystical formula, source unknown. Write a letter with your question on it, fold it and insert it randomly into a random volume of a collection of the Rebbe’s letters. The Ribono shel Olam will guide you such that the answer to your question will be on one of the two adjacent pages you select. For the Internet age, you can go here, and enter your question online and the Rebbe will answer you. Note the hard coded format of the request, as you apparently must accept the Rebbe as the Messiah. I was never aware of this requirement, but I assume it is part of the stricter security requirements when opening such powerful magic to Internet use. After you have entered the request, you click and, voila, the “Rebbe has answered you” with two random pages from the zillions of volumes of letters. If you cannot read the original Yiddish or Hebrew of your answer, no problem. Just go to your local Chabad House. If you do not get a sheepish, embarrassed look from the Rabbi, he might just translate the letter. Based on a random person’s translation of a random letter, written to someone else a long time ago on another subject, you will get something that is relevant to that subject. But certainly, you will see how, in parable, something somewhere on these pages applies to your situation. And this how a true Chassid finds guidance in his or her life.

Is this just lack of intelligence, deeply disturbed personalities, or some other psychiatric condition? Not at all. You have just seen a psychological study of egocentrism in action. While usually hurled as an insult, egocentrism is the very normal, human tendency to believe that everything that we perceive applies to us. The Rambam partially addresses this in Moreh Nevuchim in his treatise on Hashgacha protis. Foretunellers, horoscopes, Nostradamus interpreters and psychics of all flavors exploit this trait to peddle their wares. They are generally reinforced with anecdotal evidence, i.e. stories of successful feats that are “impossible to explain” without accepting the validity of the magic.

The Flaw Exploited
Famed magician James Randi once related how he demonstrated egocentrism to lecture audiences. He would ask each person their birthdate and then issue them a copy of their horoscope, appropriate to their zodiac sign. Each student was to rate the horoscope in accuracy, as to how it related to specific details in their personalities and lives. Ordinarily, about 80% would rate the horoscope as accurate or extremely accurate, especially if the descriptions were positive. He would then have them swap horoscopes with their neighbor. They would discover that they had all rated the same identical horoscope. The essential piece in this trick is that the “sitter” (to use psychic lingo) reveals all of the facts against something very general offered by the “reader”, in this case, the horoscope. Carnival professionals refer to this as “cold reading”, and it is as convincing as any trick that you have ever seen performed.

The Igros
So, at first glance, it is simply a “cold reading” trick. But is there any basis in Judaism for getting answers in this way? As the common person goes, there is no basis, precedent or anything in halacha that would prescribe this as a positive or Jewish method. As close as I could come was this. In the Gemorra, sometimes a person would tell a young child, P’sok li p’sukecha, repeat the verse that you have been learning. In Gittin 58, Nero, a Roman general, is sobered using this method. There we have the random elements, the reader’s general answer, and the sitter applying the details. The Rambam would not hold someone who did this in violation of fortunetelling prohibitions. In having said that, I find no ringing endorsement of this method anywhere in Judaism. I know of no instances where the Chabad Rebbe or his predecessors communicated with the dead, tzadikim or otherwise, with this method or recommended it to anyone.

How can we be sure?
How can I tell if my Igros answer is really unique, or if I am simply performing a trick on myself?

Since there is no standard or precedent, at least make sure you have a consistent asking method. For one, do not just read through until you find something to select as “the answer”. Choose a random place on the page, just like you chose the pages at random and, if the Ribono shel Olam guided you to the page, you can trust that he can guide you directly to the site. Can’t you? Then, derive an answer.

Then consider your answer using the following steps:

First step: Is this a DIRECT answer? If I ask if I should go to New York for Shabbos, does the answering letter say, “you should go to New York for Shabbos” or vice versa? If not, we can all agree that you do not have a DIRECT answer, by anyone’s estimation. If you do not speak the language of the letter, why were answered in a language that you do not understand? Why didn’t the CR just answer in the language in which you asked? I’d have to venture that VERY FEW people get a direct answer.

If you not get a DIRECT answer, then

Second step: Does this parable apply to many situations? BEFORE you ask the Igros, write two or three fictional questions on another paper and put it aside. Then, ask igros. Apply the answer to your situation. Then, honestly evaluate the same pages (or the place on the pages that you have randomly chosen) against the fictional questions as if they were the real questions. Can you make answers for them just as well? Present your fictional questions to a believer as if it were the real question and show them the answer. Can they see the answers?

Third step: Try opening igros for advice by just thinking your question, or put nonsense characters into the online form and think your question. You will often find that the Rebbe can “read your mind” as well as your paper.

Fourth step: Once you have derived and interpreted an answer, try to derive and interpret the opposite answer from the same pages or random place.

Fifth step: Try putting the note into a random secular book of poems, notes, or letters. To be fair, you must try just as hard to get an answer from here as you did from Igros.

Sixth step: Only for the brave. Ask a direct question on the Rebbe's shita or knowledge that only the Rebbe would have and ask for a written source for the shita. For instance, how about a written source for this "custom" of asking igros on behalf of the dead. Verify the answer.

In the end, you may find that asking a question and then rolling the dice to pick a random page and then selectively deciding, based on spacedust, that particular words on the page are the CR’s answer to a question, is not really a great way to make decisions. Those who follow the CR might do better to learn his teachings and try to apply his morals and principles to their situation, rather than to rely on mind games and parlor tricks to convince themselves and others.

22 Comments:

  • By the grace of G-d
    Shalom uBrocha!

    I don't know every single doctor who ever treated the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a and certainly don't know every single treatment used.Truth is it's irelevant to me as a Chossid if the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a ever used accupuncture or any other treatment himself all that matters to me is the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a sugested to various people from time to time to use various types of medicine and sometimes the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a even said not to undergo any treatment (sometimes against the "expert" opinion of renown doctors, as a prophet he can do that you know...) and it was discovered later people were healed without treatment or the diagnosis was totaly mistaken in the 1st place.I read a story where the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a agreed that a person should participate in a trial of an untested treatment for a serious decease something like cancer I think this person was the only one for whom this treatment worked to make a point that in reality the person is healed because G-d wants him to be healed and not because of a particular treatment or a particular genious doctor.It's probably hard for you to accept this since You seem to have all symptoms of the disease described in the second half of the Chapter 8 Likutei Amarim Tanya
    http://www.chabad.org/library/archive/LibraryArchive2.asp?AID=7887
    The cure for which would probably be a miracle thru Igrot Koidesh http://www.igrot.com yet it seems you'll probably not ask a question unless you are sick and tried everything else or in other desperate condition (chas ve'sholom!) somewhat like a Jewish Communist would all of a sudden come to shule and pray to G-d when nothing else would help(It says in Midrash Rabba one must have as much faith in the leader of the generation as one has in G-d which is why I think the anology is apropriate).
    You think there is no source in Judaism for asking questions this way yet even Vilna Gaon used to ask questions from G-d by opening Tehilim at random left a special method of interpreting the answers it's called Garal haGra.Perhaps to be consistent you should make fun of him too as well as Ramban, and all other Rishonim and acharonim who hold like this.Better yet make fun of Urim veTumim which is very similar to this and can be probably made fun of same way like you make fun of Igros by a bigger skeptic then you.:-)
    In fact as a matter of practical halocha it's permited to do so.And the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a himself quotes that in a Sicha see Sefer haSichos 5749 page 489
    see footnote 109 here:

    http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/sichos-in-english/41/34.htm#n109
    or find the expanded uncensored version in original Yidish or Hebrew translation somewhere on http://www.otzar770.com
    or if you want you can read this article in Hebrew listing many sources for this custom in Jewish tradition.
    http://hageula.com/igrot/heb/explain.htm
    brocha ve'hatzlocha:
    Ariel Sokolovsky
    PS:It seems aparent to me that the leaders of the modern Orthodox movement to which you seem to belong teach the most "rational" posible explanations for everything in Judaism to ponder to their particular audience of Jews with the spiritual condition mentioned above in Tanya Chapter 8 and since you were probably educated in this enviroment it gives you the illussion that these explanations are normative Judaism and everything that can't be rationaly explained belongs to the "lunatic fringe".
    PPS:Shmuel haNovi cured Neeman from tzaras by telling him to go dip in Yordan 7 times and the man was angry that he was not getting the cure he imagined and it took his servants to convince him to do the right and smart thing to listen to the prophet of G-d even if his advice makes no logical sense to you.Ne'eman was cured eventualy became a righteous gentile and his grandchildren were high-priests in Beis HaMikdash.Are you dumber and more arogant than an ancient Aramean general, that's the question?:-)

    If you don't object I'm also posting this under your article about "Alternative medicine official Chabad stuff? " bellow since it deals with both of these issues.
    brocha ve'hatzlocha
    Ariel Sokolovsky
    Long Live our Master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!

    By Anonymous Ariel Sokolovsky, at 9:22 AM  

  • Sokolovsky, dear MW, you are welcome here, to post whereever you like.

    I'd like to address your points one by one:

    1) You have completely misunderstood LA ch 8, in my opinion. The Ba'al HaTanya explains that there are forbidden pleasures that cannot be elevated (non-Jewish demons), even by using them for service to G-d and permitted pleasures, that can be elevated (Jewish demons), but only by using them for service to G-d. Then he explains that this extends to secular knowledge. Yet, he clearly holds that secular knowledge, while can impurify at the level of Chabad, nonetheless CAN be elevated, just like physical permissible pleasures can (and should). He even brings examples of using it for G-dly service, like MAKING A LIVING. He offeres the Rambam, the Ramban and others as examples. He, in no way, says that secular knowledge is a "sickness" as you would have it. If we can assume that the Rayatz's library has only kosher books, one would be hard pressed to support any other position. There is a vast array of books on philosophy, science and secular thought in that library.

    2) I think it is truly relevant to look at the dugma chaya of the Rebbe. I would think that a claimed Chasid would care what the Rebbe did, as well as what he could twist out of his words here and there. The evidence is clear that the Rebbe did not believe in magic medicine. If he did, then he was cruel for not giving this secret miracle to the zillions who asked his advice on medical matters. He did not use it, he did not prescribe it, what more is there to say? I think that if he believed in contacting the previous Rebbe through Igros, he should have given that to the people who asked. But he did not. He simply answered, Azkir al HaTzion. I thought a Luby using the Gra as proof was a special touch though, even though he is not a hot issue as Igros is now. I did not argue that it is not permitted. I said it probably is permitted metzad Avoda Zara. I just said that fooling oneself with a well known, well documented, widely exploited, psychological device is not a wise way to make decisions. I think it is a bit kooky to claim that this is the Rebbe answering a question and using anecdotal evidence based on this device. (Note to readers: the Rebbe never ever told anyone to contact the dead through Igros, as far as I know. This method was strictly made up by the Chabadniks, not by the Rebbe.)

    Teh Urim v'Tumim is a particularly bad example. According to Torah SHBP, they actually lit up and answered. The observer did not have to "derive" an answer.

    3) You assert that the Rebbe is a prophet. To my knowledge, he stated one single prophecy over 12 years ago. He said that Moshiach kumt "at at". This is not particularly an original prophecy, but it must come true in order for him to be an actual prophet. Until then you may argue that he is a presumed prophet and that "at at" can be extended indefinitely (see my parable of the $100 promise). I sincerely hope you are right, but you still have the burden of proof that you have not met for calling the Rebbe a prophet. Same goes for the Rebbe as Moshiach. Gezunterheit, but the burden of proof still needs to be met. The Rebbe himself said that all Moshiach work and talk had been in vain, because the actual coming of Moshiach had not happened. It is no less true to today.

    4) I am no more an MO than a Chabadnik, so I think your conclusions there are presumptuous. Nonetheless, being a little rational never hurt anyone. You might try it someday.

    5) I encourage all readers to go to Bostonchabad.com and jewsformendel.com and follow the links. If you have not had the pleasure, I recommend that you are sitting down when you read it.

    In summary, you have supported methods of cure that the Rebbe did not advocate. You have made up a method of contacting the Rebbe, as a regular matter of course and you call yourself a follower of the Rebbe. I say you are leading the Rebbe, not following him. Then you refer to my arrogance? Yet, Chabad is permeated (to borrow a term from Chabad Chasidus) with hubris and haughtiness that is unnerving. You put your nose in the air at non-Chabad learning, at non-Chabad customs, at scholars who do not follow Chabad, at other chasidim, at other Yeshivas un azoy vaiter. To you, the "misdagdim" are only into self aggrandizement, the litvish do not understand what they learn because they do not have Chasidus, the other Chasidim have inferior Chasidus, the term "Modern Orthodox" is an insult, and any person who is not fully frum needs to be taught alef beis (as it is impossible that they already know anything without Chabad help). To deny this is folly! You are running a website that is trying to convert Christians to Rebbeians, for goodness sake! Now you are out trying to convince the world that they are all wrong, and that only you and your band of Anash know the secrets of the universe, against all rationality. Arrogance????!!!!! Maybe a little.

    And once again, I stress and stress again, I have nothing, NOTHING AT ALL, against Chabad, the Chabad Rebbe, or even the Chabad shtick. It is a colorful part of the Jewish mosaic. It has valuable contributions to its credit. But come down off your mountain guys.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:50 PM  

  • is no blog concealed before ariel?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:01 AM  

  • Anon

    Evidently he contacts Igros to keep abreast of new developments in the blogosphere. I, for one, think that Ariel is a pure neshama. He is the real deal. He believes his whacky shtick to the exclusion of all rationality, and won't pretend otherwise.

    Ariel,

    While you are at it, can you refer to the Igros to get a status update on "at at"? Surely, the CR, who was probably the Moshiach centered leader of our times, has more to say on this subject.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:06 PM  

  • I'm not sure that being the real deal is necessarily helpful....

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:27 PM  

  • Anon

    Not for reality's sake, but for disucssion's sake, I would rather talk to an Ariel any day than a guy who tries to couch his nonsensical world view in scientific sounding or rational sounding arguments which fall apart like a sand dollar under lighest examination. Ideas whihc the preacher himself does not truly believe in or live by, but they are part of the PR package.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:21 AM  

  • Nice piece...Not surprised Ariel showed up.

    By Blogger Josh, at 2:52 PM  

  • By the grace of G-d
    Shalom uBrocha!
    You say many things it will take some time to answer all of them let me start with a few now.
    #1 I said you have the problem described in the Tanya chapter 8 as a "diagnosis" based on my observations how you relate to Torah sources with statements which you think contradict modern science.
    #2 I gave you sourses in the Rebbe's Sichos that advocate Igrot and or other forms of goral how you can simply ignore them and say "You have made up a method of contacting the Rebbe" is beyond me to give you the benifit of the doubt I presume you havent't read the linked article that list them.
    #3 You seem to think like a an averege Modern Orthodox would which is why I assumed that.
    #4 You are not saying it but just to clarify jewsformendel.com is a site made by Shmarya it has a link to my site www.BostonChabad.com and a link to my interview with Luke Ford which Shmarya titles "Interview with the saved believer" It's not my site and I have nothing to do with itthough I apreciate free advertising even from such a source.
    #5 "In summary, you have supported methods of cure that the Rebbe did not advocate." I gave you ample sources that Rebbe did sometimes advocate these methods yet you ignore them...
    #6 "3) You assert that the Rebbe is a prophet. To my knowledge, he stated one single prophecy over 12 years ago. He said that Moshiach kumt "at at". " Well this simply proves that you have very litle knowlege about the topic even though plenty of info is found online and offline You never even studied the two sichos you just quoted inside.

    You have even menaged to not notice that my site and few other sites posted prophecies from the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a said and published in 5751 about this 2nd war in Iraq.
    With all of that of course me and others like me are irational and arogant fools and you are very thoughtfull and rational researcher...
    #7 "You are running a website that is trying to convert Christians to Rebbeians, for goodness sake!"
    see quotes from the Rebbe King Moshiach on this issue here
    http://www.noahide.com/rebbe.htm

    If you want me to continue spending time answering your posts at least carefully read them and links I post in them otherwise the only value of this discussion is that it proves my earlier points about the sicknes described in Tanya chapter 8 second part that a person who learned sciences in part not in one of the 6 permited ways suffers obvious consequences ...
    With blessing for purification of your Chochma Bina and Daas.

    Ariel Sokolovsky

    Long Live our Master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 12:40 PM  

  • To my knowledge, though the CR mentioned the Yalkut Shimoni and learned it on Iraq, he did not state it as NEVUA. Only, AT AT did the CR state this specifically. My understanding is that he also told mazkirim that Iraq would collapse later. Taht story however I only heard after the fact, and it was not published anywhere.

    As for magic medicine, nothing in the Rebbe's wiritings or actions, those you posted nor any others that I have seen support these methods as anything other than placebos. Can you quote the exact lines that you think support these methods?

    As for the comment that I think like an MO, I am sure you meant it as a "shot", but I do not consider it insulting. But taking the occasional shot is what we are here for, so go for it. :)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 9:09 PM  

  • "You have just seen a psychological study of egocentrism in action. While usually hurled as an insult, egocentrism is the very normal, human tendency to believe that everything that we perceive applies to us"

    Good point...which is also applicable to the first rashi in bereishis.

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    Jon

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  • 1. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn tz”l, known as, ‘The Rebbe,’ was NOT the Moshiach.

    Those who erroneously believe him to be the Moshiach that Am Yisrael is waiting for today, are bordering on Christianity, and committing the grave sin of Avodah Zarah, Idolatry.

    Idolatry is forbidden in the Torah, and is the Second of the Asseret Hadibrot.
    Similarly in the case of Breslov with Rav Nachman tz”l.

    2. There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person’s tefillot and Hashem.

    If a person chooses to use intercession instead of praying directly to Hashem, this is completely Assur.

    If the leaders of Chabad encouraged people to use the “Igrot” - including Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, tz”l - they were wrong. Using the Igrot is using intercession. Similarly the practices of

    (1) "reading out the Igrot request to a PICTURE of Rabbi Schneersohn tz"l" is direct Avodah Zarah. We are only allowed to pray to Hashem.
    (2) sending faxes to the Bet HaChaim should be stopped immediately.
    (3) Praying directly to the Tzaddik at the Bet HaChaim is wrong. It causes tremendous tsaar to the neshamah of the Tzaddik in Shamayim. We pray only to Hashem – directly ourselves. NO mediator is permitted.

    These practices are abhorrent and against the Torah. They are assur and forbidden, and should all be stopped.

    If the tzaddik advised that people do this in his lifetime – he was wrong. And this must be corrected. Speedily.

    TESHUVAH to Hashem should be done speedily instead - by the whole of the Chabad organisation especially. The whole of the Chabad organisation is currently all refusing to do Teshuvah. Similarly in the case of Breslov, with those who go Uman to pray directly to the Tzaddik – instead of directly to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

    The Torah cannot be mixed with Avodah Zarah. This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah must remain straight.

    By Anonymous Deborah Shaya, at 7:53 PM  

  • 1. The false argument used by Chabad to permit intercession on a person’s behalf, is the act of Calev ben Yefuneh praying at the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron. He prayed for success in his mission of “spying out” the Land, Eretz Yisrael.

    No one can use this as a precedent for asking the Tzaddikim - and specifically, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn tz"l - who are no longer alive physically on earth, to pray on a person’s behalf. This causes them tremendous suffering in Shamayim.
    This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah cannot ever be twisted.

    The reason Calev’s act cannot be used as a precedent, is that NO ONE, can be compared to the supreme Kedusha of the Avot, of Avraham, Yitzchak ve’Yaakov Avinu.

    We pray the Amidah 3 times a day, and we always recall the great merit of the Avot in the very first Beracha. What can be greater than that when we pray to Hashem?

    This does need to be corrected very quickly, to be in line with the Torah.

    2. When people need help, why don’t Chabad teach people to look inside the Torah, which is Eternal and Infinite - instead of letters written to other people by Rabbi Schneersohn tz”l during his lifetime?

    Why doesn't Chabad choose the very greatest of all prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu?

    3. Moshe is the greatest of all prophets, and no other prophet was equal to him.

    “Zichru Torat Moshe Avdi” we are told in Malachi (3:22)

    There simply is no comparison between Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabbi Schneersohn tz”l, although Rabbi Schneersohn tz”l was a Tzaddik and a very righteous and good man.

    Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of all prophets, and we do not even pray in the name of Moshe. Neither do we pray in the name of David Hamelech, whose descendent is the Mashiach.

    However, in the very first Beracha of the Amidah, the silent prayer to Hashem containing our requests, we recall the merit of the Avot: “…..Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzhak Velokei Yaakov….” “….The G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzhak and the G-d of Yaakov…”
    The beracha is concluded with “Magen Avraham.

    In summary:
    (1) We pray to Hashem – at all times.

    (2) There should be NO mediator between Hashem and a person’s tefillot – otherwise this is Assur.

    Therefore the practice of using the “Igrot” for "requests" and "guidance" should be stopped. Similarly the practices of sending faxes to the Bet HaChaim, and praying to the tzaddik at the Bet HaChaim instead of directly to Hashem ourselves - should be stopped immediately. They are abhorrent and against the Torah.

    The reason for this is that these practices use intercession. And the use of a “mediator” or someone to “intercede on a person’s behalf” to Hashem, is assur.
    Teshuvah to Hashem must be done - very speedily.

    By Anonymous Deborah Shaya, at 7:55 PM  

  • Deborah Shaya - you are really stupid

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:16 PM  

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