Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Misdirection


Operation Inspiration


A famous magician, James “The Amazing” Randi, said, “Magicians are the most honest people in the world. They tell you they’re going to fool you, and then they do it.” When you see a magician, you should know better than to think he has special magical powers. Maybe in ancient times, or even today in some far-out places, you could find someone using black magic, but in general, these people are illusionists. They help you see one thing when another is true.

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Think the ball in their hand vanishes into thin air when they tap the back of their hand? Of course not. That ball was moved well before they started pointing to their hand. They had your attention drawn to something else, did what they had to do, and then pretended it was there. You, being drawn into their patter, believe they are giving you accurate information. But they are not. This is known as misdirection.

By taking your focus off of what they don’t want you to see, they can convince you of what they want you to think you’ve seen. And it doesn’t need to be a magician intentionally trying to trick you.

I was driving on the highway and saw a sign. It said, “Montreal 328 miles, Buffalo 388 miles.” Now, anyone reading that sign with no knowledge of geography would naturally assume that Montreal and Buffalo are sixty miles apart. I mean, it’s simple math, isn’t it? Would you be surprised to learn that they are nearly 400 miles apart?

As I continued driving, I saw another sign. “Montreal 278 miles, Buffalo 338 miles.” Are you sure about that 400 miles? I’m pretty sure 338 minus 278 is sixty. And a person could fool himself into believing it’s true, but at a certain point in the drive, you’ll have to turn right or left and you’ll get closer to one city or the other. Even though at the moment you saw the sign, you could choose to go to one or the other for a difference of sixty miles, they are worlds apart.

But didn’t I use the facts to prove their locations? If one is only sixty miles further on my journey than the other, then they must be close! It’s simple logic.

And that’s how many people get fooled. Or rather, that’s how they fool themselves. They make decisions based on limited facts, and then decide they know enough to make a judgement call. But, like the people believing the magician who says, “Pick a card, any card,” isn’t the one choosing the card for them, it’s their choice to be fooled. They want to believe they are wise, all-knowing, and in control, but it’s just as much an illusion as making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

On the same trip, I found another illusion. I saw a fancy black SUV and I remarked in my head that whoever owned it had to be a wealthy individual. Then I noticed his license plate indicated he was a driver. So, his fancy vehicle wasn’t testimony to his financial wherewithal, but quite the opposite! It was telling me that someone else who had money would be paying him to drive, and the passenger expected a luxurious car. That’s why he had it.

It made me realize how in life we come to conclusions that make logical sense, but only when we have limited information. Once we have more, we find that it was not as clear-cut as we originally thought. And not only do we reach conclusions (sometimes by jumping to them) but we often refuse to rethink our positions.

There are people who feel like they know everything. They can’t be told anything because they always have to be right. They’d rather actually be wrong, and fool themselves, than admit they missed something. And that’s a big shame, because there’s always more for us to learn and see.

When you see a magician do a trick you know the secret of, you’re not fooled. Yet, if you can’t figure out how he did it, you’d be likely to imagine he has some special powers that are beyond comprehension. But that’s just you, wanting to be fooled because it’s better than admitting you don’t know everything.

When you see someone with wealth, you imagine that they deserve it, forgetting that like the livery driver, they might just be transporting it for someone else. Sometimes people amass fortunes only so it can go to a deserving person. The signs we see in the meantime, before the money gets to its destination, are there for misdirection.

Which is why my message today is that we should look for the signs of misdirection in our lives and be able to understand that it’s just a trick. We should be able to acknowledge that we don’t have enough information to answer all the questions. When we do that, we’ll be able to learn and gain knowledge. We might even be able to stop and ask for directions. No fooling.


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