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I believe I read years ago about an instance where a rabbi presented a heretic with a well written poem that he claimed had actually formed accidentally when he overturned his inkwell. I though I had seen it in the Shaar HaYichud of the Chovos Helevavos though it seems that may just be a very similar proof but without the actual anecdote. Is there such an account/medrash in the Jewish/Rabbinic literature (perhaps cited in a footnote on a version of the Chovos Halevavos) or did my memory make it up randomly out of whole cloth?

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As noted here, the Chovos Halevavos makes the argument from overturned ink. However, there is a Midrashic precedent for your recollection as well, cited here:

We see this in the Midrash (Midrash Temurah in Midrash Aggadot Bereshit):

An athiest [sic] came to Rebbi Akiva. "Who created the world?", he queried. R. Akiva answered, "The Holy One, blessed be He." The athiest [sic] replied, "Show me proof." R. Akiva said, "Come back to me tomorrow and I shall prove it to you."

When the man returned the following day, R. Akiva began by asking, "What is that you are wearing?" "A piece of clothing," the athiest [sic] replied."And who made it?" R. Akiva continued. "The weaver", he replied. "Show me proof", R. Akiva demanded. "But how can I show you proof if it isn't already obvious to you that it is the work of the weaver?!"

With this R. Akiva said, "Have you not heard what your own lips have spoken? Isn't it obvious to you that the Holy One has created this world? Doesn't the clothing testify to the weaver; the house and the door to a builder and a carpenter? Just so does the world testity to the One who made it."

The Hebrew original of this Midrash appears here [אוצר המדרשים (אייזנשטיין) תמורה עמוד 583, בתי מדרשות ח"ב מדרש תמורה השלם פרק ה]:

ומעשה שבא מין ואמר לר' עקיבא העוה"ז מי בראו א"ל הקב"ה, א"ל הראיני דבר ברור, א"ל למחר תבא אלי, למחר בא אצלו א"ל מה אתה לובש, א"ל בגד, א"ל מי עשאו, א"ל האורג, א"ל איני מאמינך הראיני דבר ברור, א"ל ומה אראה לך ואין אתה יודע שהאורג עשאו, א"ל ואתה אינך יודע שהקב"ה ברא את עולמו, נפטר אותו המין, אמרו לו תלמידיו מה הדבר ברור, א"ל בניי כשם שהבית מודיע על הבנאי והבגד מודיע על האורג והדלת על הנגר, כך העולם מודיע על הקב"ה שהוא בראו, ישתבח ויתעלה שמו לעד ולנצח נצחים, אמן ואמן נצח סלה ועד.

  • hattip @ray who found what seems like the medrash as quoted from the end of the chovos halevavos perek 6 as I remembered - from R.A. Kaplan who perhaps also misquoted from memory (?) with regard to spilt ink and Rabbi Meir (instead of Rabbi Akiva): A philosopher once came to Rabbi Meir and told him, "I don't believe in God. I feel that the universe came into being by itself, of its own accord, without any outside help." ... A few days later, he came to the philosopher, and showed him a beautiful piece...ou.org.s3.amazonaws.com/publications/kaplan/infinitelight/… – Loewian Mar 23 '15 at 22:09
  • (Alternatively, there is an additional/alternate version of the medrash possibly cited in a version of the chovos halevavos that noone's dug up yet online...?) – Loewian Mar 23 '15 at 22:11
  • @loewian I doubt it – wfb Mar 23 '15 at 22:14
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    It looks like R. Kaplan's version is combination of Chovos Halevavos and the above Midrash, which does not actually appear in the Chovos Halevavos, despite R. Kaplan's footnote. – wfb Mar 23 '15 at 22:17

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