Friday, April 30, 2010

"The Great Miracle of the Volcano Shutdown"

Below is a story and a response. The response is not mine, but it is so good I thought it worth sharing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Great Miracle of the Volcano Shutdown

A universal crisis, millions of people stranded, billions of dollars lost, and one volcanic eruption in Iceland causes chaos across the European continent. Within all this tumult, one Jew merits a smile from the Creator of the World, as if G-d was whispering to him - My son, the whole world was not created except for you כל העולם לא נברא אלא בשבילי.

The story begins with a young Yeshiva student, an 18 year old Yerushalmi, who was mortally ill with fulminate hepatic failure.

With little hope of receiving a liver transplant in Israel, Rav Firer sought to send the boy on an emergency flight to Brussels, the world center of liver transplants. The only problem however, is that Brussels under no circumstances transplants non-EU patients, in order to save the scanty supply of livers for Europeans. Nevertheless, it was decided to send him to Brussels despite this knowledge.

The young student had no choice but to include his name on the long waiting list for a liver transplant. In the meantime, he tried to maintain his learning despite the illness, consciously aware that it would takes weeks, months, and even years till he will be able to be given a new liver. Many patients were on the waiting list, and his name was somewhere on the bottom... And when his turn would finally arrive, it had to completely match his blood type and other medical criteria. If not a perfect match, he'd need to continue waiting ... for a miracle.

However, רבות מחשבות בלב איש ועצת ה' היא תקום Many thoughts in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of H-Shem shall stand. H-Shem had a different plan for this young Yeshiva student and H-Shem's loyal servants produced avalanches of hot ash, rock and gas, causing Europe to completely shut down its skies into a no-fly zone. It was during this time that a young Yerushalmi was sitting in the yeshiva learning Torah in the capital of Belgium.

During the course of the shut-down airspace above Europe, a person died in the hospital in the capital of Belgium, a person who had agreed to donate his liver to anyone that might need it. Astonishingly, a liver that was perfectly parametric for our young Yeshiva student.

Health authorities in Belgium began searching the liver transplant waiting list, but ‘unfortunately’ not even one patient was able to fly into Belgium for the healthy liver due to the volcanic eruption.

As they advanced further on the waiting list, they reached the young Yeshiva student, but it was not offered to him due to his lack of citizenship. As the clock closed in on the deadline for time within which the liver would still be viable, however, no one else was able to arrive in Belgium for the transplant except this young Yerushalmi.

With clear Divine Intervention, this budding talmid chacham received the liver and is now recovering from surgery.

The enormity of this miracle was even greater after the successful transplant. The doctors said that the young student's liver was very deteriorated and diseased, and it was a matter of days before it would have stopped functioning completely. The doctors unanimously believe that if he had had to continue waiting for a transplant, he would not have survived.

Who can understand the Ways of HKB'H?


I have a real problem with these stories in general, and I guess this case really underscores why. Just imagine the other stories that are not being circulated on the internet. Young mother/child/groom/ whoever on waiting list, desperate for transplant, the right liver finally available and s/he finally on top of the list – but could not fly to Belgium due to the volcano and, r”l, passed away. I don’t know what happened to whom regarding this liver, but neither do those circulating this story know whose heart could be breaking as they read it. Hashem’s ways are indeed mysterious and above our logical comprehension systems. But let’s not pretend that the hashgacha always works out for the apparent good of everyone affected.

I happen to think we in our generation, and especially from an educational standpoint our young people, are more in need of examples of tziduk hadin and moving forward in life despite disappointment, loss and suffering, than we are in need of further gushes of chicken soup for our already entitlement-ridden souls. Because this genre has become so ubiquitous, and we are encouraging people to identify (as if they could!) ‘hashgacha pratis’ in their lives, I fear we are weakening rather than strengthening the kind of emuna needed to make it through the real lives most of us lead, the ones in which people die, illness hurts, and hopes are dashed, at least sometimes. I find these kinds of stories dangerous, not only because they promote magical thinking and reinforce theological beliefs of dubious basis in authoritative Jewish sources, but because they reinforce some sort of fantasy that we can ignore the gemara about kesheim shemevarchin al hatov etc. When young people raised on this intellectual diet of gruel actually encounter challenges in life, will they have the keilim, and the examples, to integrate them into their mindset and avodas Hashem? Will they conclude, consciously or unconsciously, that they are unworthy because miracles didn’t happen for them? Will they feel cheated out of the hashgacha protis they have been guaranteed and end up angry at their religion r”l?

I don’t know, I just feel sometimes we in the frum community live in a haze of wishful thinking we have allowed and sometimes even encouraged. I don’t mean to be a downer but to say, let’s recognize and fix our problems rather than distracting ourselves from them. For every heartwarming story circulated I’d like to see at least one story that calls us to action, and I mean action to take responsibility for our dysfunctionalities. If only the energy put into the campaign to save Shalom Rubashkin from being overly punished for his crimes could be equally put into a campaign to rid ourselves of corruption and fraud and teach the importance of transparency, integrity, and accountability. I am seriously considering contacting the guy who started the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation and encouraging him to start a new prong of the movement aimed towards Emes and Yashrus.


  1. Rabbi Bechhofer, thank you so much for posting this. I've been having the same visceral reaction to these types of stories for a long time. You've articulated the issue very well.

  2. Thanks, but I can't take the credit. I'm posting somebody else's very articulate and cogent comments!

  3. Thanks so much for posting this - I wish more responses like the one you posted would occur.

  4. Good Post.
    I just feel people don't want to hear the truth, or that there are flaws in the system. So, in my opinion, there will not be a change or a call of action because there are not enough people that want this call of action or change.

  5. I wish I had more time to flesh out my thought on the matter, but the response mirrors my attitude toward pre-WW2 Europe. People think that every Jew was a shas-Jew and that the simple life that people lived back then was closer to the Dor HaMidbar than to the 20th century. For some reason I do not that Europe and Russia pre-WW2 was the golden age of Torah. Maybe I am wrong, but I will keep my doubts until proven otherwise.

  6. What would rabbi Shimon bar Yochai have said? Your no-nonsense bothers me.

  7. My father never likes listening to miraculous Holocaust survival stories. He remembers too many of the ones that didn't end happily and that no one tells because they're downers.

  8. " If only the energy...could be equally put into a campaign to rid ourselves of corruption and fraud and teach the importance of transparency, integrity, and accountability."

    Years ago, the company I worked for decided it needed to register its quality system for compliance with ISO 9000, especially to make its products more attractive to overseas customers. As soon as the top brass noticed that the necessary compliance training other tasks related to registration were getting expensive, they lost interest and abandoned the effort. All their noble words about quality fell into some bottomless pit. Those employees, such as the quality manager, who had been backed the effort felt duped and betrayed. Then the company was bought and the new owners insisted on restarting and completing the effort, on a schedule and no matter what. And was completed successfully.

    Moral: Leaders at the highest level need to put their money where their mouth is. When their seriousness about correcting systemic problems becomes evident through real, obvious action, their followers will be encouraged to follow.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. It is important to realize that life is full of tragedies and stories like these can lead to devastating consequences when they are all a person hears.

  10. I posted a version of the liver transpalnt story on my own blog and somebody reprinted the "response" from your post into my comments.

    I responded first in my comments and then with a fresh post to say that for those who look at the story as a drama with a happy ending, they may feel this way (like your "responder"). But for those who see it as a testament to Gevuras Hashem that He decides who lives and who dies, there is a lot to be inspired from this story.

    I then wrote a follow up post about the Holocaust.

    עיין שם

  11. "There but for the grace of God," said John Bradford in the sixteenth century, on seeing wretches led to execution, "go I." What this apparently compassionate observation really means--not that it really "means" anything--is, "There by the grace of God goes someone else."
    Christopher Hitchens

    Sound familiar?

  12. This is a great post, but all these feel-good hashgacha stories really come from the gemara about R' Akiva in Berachos 60b, where he says "kol d'avid Rachmana l'tav avid" and the gemara brings the story that he couldn't stay in the inn, so he slept outside, and his lamp went out and his rooster and donkey were eaten, and he said, "see, kol d'avid" etc.

    How do we understand this gemara?

  13. I forgot to add the ending of that gemara, which is that he is saved from the bandits that attacked the city.