Questioning Hashgacha Pratis

See here for an explanation of what I’m doing in this series of posts.

I find this story fascinating, because it seems to end with the conclusion that “everything is ordained by god,” but I can sense something else going on here – in this story that I wrote in twelfth grade. I was obviously questioning the concept ofย hashgacha pratis, the trope of stories about how someone narrowly avoided disaster. In this story, my grappling ended with “even when there’s no punch line, god is still orchestrating things.” Eventually, that morphed to my current belief: that there is no god, and if he is in fact orchestrating things, it’s more appropriate to focus on the horrors of lives lost in the accident than on the “miracle” of one life being saved.

[It’s also fascinating that I used 9/11 as the basis for comparison – not the Holocaust or Soviet Russia, which were far more common in this kind of story. The story of the man whose daughter broke her arm is in fact one that was told many times. Also, ignore the total inaccuracy of the driving parts of the story, and the whole conceit of missing the ferry – I had no idea what I was talking about…]

Transcription below the image.

lchu hasgacha pratis

“Everyone in?” asked Malky, turning around in her seat. A clamor immediately arose from the back seat.

“Yeah!”

“All set!”

“Ready and rearing [sic] to go!”

“Here we go, then,” Eli joined in from the driver’s seat. “We’re in for the vacation of our lives!” Another round of shouts erupted and Eli honked loudly. “Hey, we know you’re excited, kids, but no ruckus!”

The Baum kids had been begging for this trip for ages. Eli had finally managed to get home from work early enough to take them, and they could hardly contain their excitement. Malky checked the schedule nervously again.

“The last ferry today leaves at 5:50. That’s in an hour. Do you think we’ll make it?”

“Relax,” Eli said, steering lazily with one hand. “It’s a half hour drive to the ferry. We’ll be there with plenty of time!”

After fifteen minutes of smooth driving, though, traffic became heavier and heavier until they were moving at about a mile an hour.

“Oh, no,” Eli groaned. “Look – it’s 5:00 – rush hour! We forgot to take that into account. But don’t worry, kids,” he added, seeing the disappointed looks on their faces. “We left half an hour early. We should be all right.”

But as the line of cars grew longer and longer, Eli’s heart sank. There was a construction site five miles down the road in addition to the influx of cars from the rush hour, and only one lane was open for a ten-mile stretch.

The Baum kids watched the clock nervously. 5:30-5:35-5:40–

“Another ten minutes,” whispered Malky to Eli. “Do you think we’ll make it?”

“Honestly, no,” muttered Eli. “It’s usually a ten minute drive from here, but with this traffic, no way. Should I turn back now?”

“No,” Malky decided. “If we do, we’ll always wonder if maybe we could have made it. Go on.”

But there really was no point. They reached the dock at 6:00 and found out tat the ferry had left right on schedule. Bitterly disappointed, the kids piled back in the car for the ride home. The quiet in the car was deafening. Eli glanced nervously at Malky. Malky gathered her courage.

“Do you remember the attack on the Twin Towers?” She asked. The kids looked up.

“Of course we do,” said Yocheved, the oldest. “What about it?” And why bring it up now? they all wondered.

“Well, remember all those stories afterwards? So many people had accidents, missed flights, you name it – but it all saved them from the attack!”

“Yeah,” said Yocheved excitedly. “What about the one where a man’s daughter broke her arm two months before and they had an appointment that day!”

“Look,” Malky said, “they were all so upset at first, but then they saw the amazing hashgacha pratis they had!”

They spent the rest of the ride telling all the hashgacha pratis stories they knew. By the time they got home, the kids were all smiles again.

The next morning, Yocheved listened to the radio intently. After the news report, she turned to Malky, puzzled.

“They didn’t say anything about the ferry,” she said.

“What’s there to say?” asked Malky, confused.

“Well, why did we miss it? It must have crashed or something!”

“Not true!” piped up Chani. “Maybe if we’d gone, we would have gotten seasick! Maybe anything! Just because we can’t see the reason doesn’t mean it’s not hashgacha pratis!”

By: D.B.
[I used the initials of my nickname, the name I use now, to hide the fact that about a third of the pieces in the issue were written by me….]

5 thoughts on “Questioning Hashgacha Pratis

  1. Is it bad to tell you that I like the story? It is a wonderful expression of how in the face of life’s little disappointments people create meaning which enables them to continue on. This is the story of a family creating meaning and, to a certain degree, hope.

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    1. Well, first of all, no it’s not bad to say what your reaction / response to the story is! And, yeah, I get what you’re saying. I agree, that creating hope and meaning is important. Generally, these stories require a major catastrophe for other people in order to prove how a few people were saved, and I hate that – which is why I made this story end with “we could have gotten seasick” – that’s Pollyanna-ish, but better than hoping the ferry crashed!

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      1. That is why I like the story. Gam zu l’tova can get ridiculous really quickly. But your “we could have gotten seasick” is gam zu l’tova where the stakes are not high, and it is just about a family creating meaning and facing disappointment.

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  2. Yeah. God makes bad things happen to you to avoid worse things. Because it’s not like God is omnipotent and omniscient, and can arrange things so that you avoid *all* bad things. He’s Superman, rushing off the save the crashing plane and managing to pull one little girl from the wreckage. Too bad for the other people on board He didn’t get there in time, but it’s not His fault. It’s not like He runs the universe or anything. Thank God the little girl was saved!

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