Hi Skeptitcher Rebbe:
I am a sort of BT - enjoying your blog. I spend time with Chabad. I like the Chabad / Lubavitch distinction you draw. Never thought of it that way, but it is a good insight (your wife's I guess).
Anyway: stories of the Rebbe. What are your thoughts? There just seem to be some very amazing ones.
There is one on the Chabad site that kind of blew my mind, because I know the family somewhat. It is the one of Diane Abrams who naturally conceived a child at the age of 50 after visiting the Rebbe who knew (somehow) that she wanted another child.
How do you feel about Rebbe stories? I can never help but be respectful of him.
Thanks for visiting. I have heard plenty of stories about the Rebbe and the supposed miracles that occur. The Rebbe probably gave hundreds of blessings and had hundreds of interactions every day. Out of all of those interactions there are bound to be some who have had something positive happen to them after the encounter. It's like playing the lottery, someones got to win.
The stories that are told are only the positive ones about the blessings that come to fruition because those are the ones that are inspiring. There is no reason to tell a story about a person who went to the Rebbe and then nothing happened, there isn't any kick to that, no punchline. Similarly you wont ever read a news article about a person who played the lottery and didn't win anything (maybe you will on The Onion).
In addition to this you have all sorts of things that could happen. Sure you got a brachah from the Rebbe, but then you could get pregnant, get a bank refund, not get hit by a bus, have a smooth drive to work, find a job, etc. and there is no way to distinguish what the brachah was for so anything good at all that happens is attributed to the brachah and anything negative that happens is simply ignored and not spoken about. It's a cognitive bias called selective perception and it is really very common.
I have heard some stories where there are people who claimed that the Rebbe gave them specifics and things came to be just as the Rebbe claimed. One such story is about a person who comes to the Rebbe and says that a friend of his has some sort of disease and must have a very serious operation done. The Rebbe tells him that his friend will have the surgery and have a full recovery after 3 days and be home from the hospital after that. Not only this but the Rebbe informed the man that he should call his friend and tell him what will come to pass. The man did not want to call his friend and tell him the story. Maybe he didn't want to inform his friend so as not to get his hopes up only to be dashed when the event doesn't occur as described, thus making the Rebbe look bad, or maybe he was just being a good skeptic ;). Regardless the Rebbe's secretary calls the man the next day asking him why he didn't tell his friend what the Rebbe said and that he should call his friend right away. Now the man knew the Rebbe was some sort of mystic so he calls his friend, tells him the story, and lo and behold everything occurs as predicted.
Now to many Chassidim this is airtight proof that the Rebbe is magical. The problem is that this story is totally based on one persons account of the events. I haven't seen testimony from his friend attesting to the validity of this story. I haven't seen any video recording of the Rebbe actually saying this to him or any doctors saying that the patient healed quicker than expected, or anything like that. I wouldn't say that the man was lying (even though that is a possibility), I would rather say the events that took place were greatly exaggerated and if there were more testimonies of the story or any other evidence I have a feeling that the there may be plenty of things that were left out of the story that would explain the phenomena in a totally natural way. People tend to exaggerate stories and leave out important information in order to make the events seem all the more mystical than they really are.
Lastly there is the important point that since the Rebbe has interacted with hundreds of people everyday and thousands every year, it is likely that he may have picked up on queues that people give off that betray their inner thoughts. It is definitely possible that the Rebbe has trained himself to be in tune with the emotions that people constantly give off. This allows him to connect with certain issues they may be having and in the frum community there usually aren't a great many of different issues that people seek advice for, many of them are the same problems over and over again. Also I don't remember any video footage (and there is a lot of footage) of the Rebbe actually looking into the persons soul and telling them their issues before they themselves bringing it up. If there was I am sure I would have seen it, why wouldn't they want to propagate such clear evidence of the Rebbe's greatness. What I have seen is people retelling an experience they had with the Rebbe and when compared to the actual video of the event there were significant differences in the persons account of what the Rebbe said and what the Rebbe actually said.
You may ask, why am I being so skeptical. Here I have an account of supernatural forces at work, isn't it just my own biases that are directing me to throw out the "evidence" so that I don't have to deal with the implications of the Rebbe havinga strong supernatural connection. To this I would counter that this can hardly be called evidence, it is merely a claim not supported by any evidence which could have been made up entirely or altered greatly. Also I have nothing to gain from throwing out this story, if anything I wish it were true. I wish there was hard evidence for the claims about the Torah, Hashem and the Rebbe. It would make my life in the frum community so much more meaningful. Lastly had this story occurred with the Pope instead of the Rebbe, the Chassidim would be just as skeptical of it as I am now. It is just hypocritical in my opinion to apply one set of standards for supernatural claims outside of ones faith and another less critical set of standards for claims within ones faith.
I haven't read the precise story you mentioned, if you want to provide a link feel free, but I have a feeling that what I wrote above could easily apply to this situation as well.
Although I have never met the Rebbe I do have a lot of respect for him and not because he has some supernatural connection, but because he has such an amazing human connection. His love for his people, his constant devotion, his tolerance of many different types of Jews and non Jews all point to his greatness. Fairy tale stories about him only diminish this beautiful story, because his story is about the greatness a normal person can accomplish. What each and every one of us can accomplish.