I am asked if I know that, among the devotees of the Jewish movement known as Hasidism, there were rabbis who performed supernatural feats. And I say: Yes, not only do I know it well, but I’m going to tell you about it a story that I have just invented and that consequently has not been related until now.
The scene is Liadi, a small Russian town with a large jewish population, namely a shtetl. And its protagonists are Eleazar of Liadi and Elior of Vilna. Eleazar of Liadi was a Hasidic Rabbi (a “pious” rabbi), while Elior of Vilna was a Misnagdim Rabbi (an “opponent” rabbi), that is to say, a staunch opponent of the pious rabbis. The Hasidic rabbis worked miracles. The Misnagdim rabbis not only do not worked miracles, but they were often unable to find the bathroom when they go visit people.
In the second half of the 19th century, Rabbi Elior of Vilna had become the scourge of the miracle-workers rabbis. He had imposed on himself the task of unmasking the frauds that, according to him, proliferated among those miracle-workers. To do so, he walked from shtetl to shtetl through the Polish and Russian steppe revealing that miracles do not exist. “If miracles existed (he used to say) I would be the most miracle-worker rabbi of all since I have never failed to fulfill any of the 613 commandments of the Law. And yet I not only never find the bathroom when I go visit people but I am also unable to find the bathroom of my own home.” Which, admittedly, is a very reasonable argument.
Well, Rabbi Elior of Vilna had heard that a new miracle-worker rabbi had emerged in Liadi, and therefore he headed for that shtetl. As he walked, he smiled thinking about the way he would unmask this fraud. Maybe the way he did with the rabbi of Rezhishtshev: demonstrating that cracking the bones of the fingers was no miracle. Or with the rabbi of Bilgoraj: evidencing that the presumed aura that floated on him was a piece of cardboard painted with glitter. Or with the rabbi of Luboml: showing that to hold the breath for a minute is not a supernatural feast but rather a stupidity open to everyone. While he was meditating on these things, he realized that he should hurry if he wanted to reach Liadi before the arrival of the Shabbat.
He arrived when it had already darkened, and the first thing he saw left him stunned. A large group of Hasidim danced and sang through the dusty streets carrying a toy balloon. He had seen, during a trip to London, a latex rubber toy balloon, but that was a shapeless balloon, while this one faithfully represented the life-size figure of a rabbi. But, as he approached the group, he discovered with logical perplexity that it was not a balloon but a rabbi of flesh and blood! As if he were hydrogen-filled, the rabbi tended to ascend, hence the Hasidim had tied a rope around his ankles and, from a distance, they seemed to carry a toy balloon. At the sight of the rabbi floating above his followers like a hydrogen balloon, Elior’s head began to spin and he collapsed.
When he woke up, he found himself in a cozy wooden house, lying on a bed and surrounded by a Jewish family. The first thing he did was ask permission to go to the bathroom. After being informed on where it was, he rushed through the room’s door since it was an urgent matter. The next thing they learned about him is that a farmer had found him wandering lost in the nearby forest.
In the following days, Rabbi Elior of Vilna concentrated on trying to unravel the mystery of where the hell the bathroom was and, in the process, on trying to clarify that other mystery that had impacted on him as soon as he reached the village. He was told that Rabbi Eleazar was a tzaddik and that he worked miracles involuntarily, like that miracle that he witnessed when he arrived in town. Every Shabbat at nightfall, when women began to light the candles, Rabbi Eleazar began to levitate. If it weren’t for his disciples, who were careful to tie a rope around his ankles, who knows how far he could ascend. Maybe even to Heaven itself, like the prophet Elijah!
That seemed a fraud more difficult to unmask than those other frauds that, until then, Rabbi Elior of Vilna had unmasked. To solve this case, he would have to resort to all his talent … and a little more would not hurt either. The first thing he did was to check that Rabbi Eleazar was not filled with hydrogen, which would have clarified the mystery. But no: after touching him thoroughly, he found that he was stuffed with flesh and bones, like every mother’s son. Then, at the entrance of the Shabbat, he wanted to attend the gradual appearance of the paranormal phenomenon. As it grew dark, Rabbi Eleazar rose higher and higher until a rope had to be tied at his ankles. Elior verified that the rope was not rigid and he went under the floating rabbi several times to rule out any possible trick. That Shabbat, Rabbi Elior had plenty of time to meditate, and by the time the dawn came, his lack of faith in miracles had begun to crumble. After all, as during his stay in London he had been told by a prominent member of the Society for Psychical Research: “To upset the conclusion that all crows are black, there is no need to seek demonstration that no crow is black; it is sufficient to produce one white crow, a single one is sufficient.”
Well, everything indicated that Rabbi Elior had run into his “one White Crow”.