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Ta'anis 25


QUESTION: The Gemara relates a number of incidents involving wonders performed by Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa. In one incident, his daughter accidentally lit the Shabbos candles with vinegar instead of oil, and did not realize it until Shabbos had already entered. She was very distressed about it. Rebbi Chanina told her that just like Hashem makes oil burn, He will make vinegar burn. The candles burned throughout Shabbos, until they used the flame for Havdalah when Shabbos ended. In another incident, a woman complained to him that the support beams of her new house were not long enough to support the house. He gave her a blessing, and the beams miraculously extended in length.

From the Gemara earlier it would seem that deriving benefit from such miracles is inappropriate. The Gemara said that we are not supposed to benefit from a miracle, for doing so causes our merits to diminish, and therefore people of high spiritual stature refrain from benefiting from things that were created miraculously (Gemara 24a; 24b; Rashi there, DH Ela, citing from 20b). Why, then, did Rebbi Chanina willfully derive benefit from the Shabbos candles that were miraculously fueled by vinegar?


(a) RASHI says that Rebbi Chanina did not derive any benefit from the miracle of the vinegar burning. Even though the Gemara says that it was used for Havdalah, the Gemara means that he lit another candle from that candle, and he used the second candle for Havdalah (which did not constitute deriving benefit from a miracle). He only prayed that the vinegar should burn like oil so that his daughter would not be depressed over Shabbos.

The YA'AVETZ questions Rashi's explanation. He says that they certainly must have derived benefit from the miraculous candles at night, when they benefited from their light! Apparently Rashi holds that Rebbi Chanina's wife also lit candles and therefore he did not need to use the light of the miracle candles.

Regarding the miracle that Rebbi Chanina performed by making the beams of the woman's house extend, he certainly did not derive any benefit from the miracle, and the woman who owned the house did not conduct herself with Midas Chasidus, so it was not her practice to refrain from benefiting from miracles. Rebbi Chanina certainly would not have lived in such a house, though.

(b) Rav Yakov Emden (HAGAHOS YA'AVETZ), as we said, disagrees with Rashi's explanation. He says that they probably derived benefit from the light. Furthermore, the Gemara says regarding another miracle that Rebbi Chanina's wife went upstairs to get a baker's shovel to remove the bread from the oven, so that her bread which Hashem miraculously made for her through would not burn. If she was not planning on eating it, why not let it burn? It must be that she planned to eat it.

The YA'AVETZ and BEN YEHOYADA ask further that we find that Eliyahu ha'Navi (Melachim I, ch. 17) told a widow who did not have enough food to make some cake from the little dough that she had and to give him some to eat. Afterwards, the dough provided an unending supply of bread, which Eliyahu and the widow ate throughout the famine. How could he eat from the dough if it came about through a miracle?

The Ya'avetz answers that in the cases of Rebbi Chanina and of Eliyahu ha'Navi, there was already something present that existed without the means of a miracle. The miracle did not create anything new; it merely caused the already-existing item (a bit of bread or dough) to persist and not run out. There is nothing wrong with benefiting from that type of a miracle. Likewise, when the vinegar burned like oil, the miracle was not that it ignited in the first place. Rather, it naturally ignited, but the miracle caused it to continue to burn and not to go out right away. Therefore, it was permitted for Rebbi Chanina and his family to benefit from it. Since the initial item came about naturally, the rest is also permitted. Only when the initial item came about through a miracle may one not benefit from it.

Similarly, the Ben Yehoyada says that the miracle was that *nothing diminished*, but not that more was added. Since the miracle it not as readily apparent in such a case, there is no problem with deriving benefit from it.

How does Rashi address the problem that Eliyahu ha'Navi derived benefit from a miracle? Perhaps Rashi was not bothered by that question, because in that case Eliyahu received a clear prophecy from Hashem that the famine would occur and that Eliyahu would survive by eating the miracle bread. When Hashem tells a prophet, through a prophecy, that a miracle will happen in order to help him, he may benefit from the miracle and there is no diminution of his Zechuyos.

(c) REBBI TZADOK HA'KOHEN (in Pri Tzadik) writes that making vinegar burn was not a miracle. Since Rebbi Chanina had such great Emunah, it was clear to him that there is no such thing as nature -- everything happens because Hashem wills it to happen. Just like it is His will that oil burn, He can also tell vinegar to burn just the same.

What exactly does this mean? Whether or not he believed that Hashem could make vinegar burn, it normally does not burn. Making it burn involved altering the natural order of the world, regardless of one's level of Emunah! One should still refrain from deriving benefit from it!

The BEN YEHOYADA, who suggests a similar answer, explains this idea further. Since Tzadikim perceive Hashem's control of the world so vividly, such that to them, everything that happens is a result of Hashem's hand, in return Hashem deals with them above the boundaries of nature. For the Tzadik, everything "natural" in the world is a miracle, in the sense that he sees Hashem's Hand guiding its occurrence. A true miracle is just a different form of Hashem's natural order. For someone of such a high stature, Hashem makes a different type of natural existence, which is not limited by the forces of nature as we know it.

If so, a Tzadik's life is not governed by "natural properties" of objects or "laws of nature." A miracle which occurs by a change occurring in the natural properties of an object does not take away from his merits. (This does not apply, of course, if the miracle brings new objects into the world; one must refrain from benefiting from that type of miracle.)

The Ben Yehoyada adds that this is the real reason why Rebbi Chanina's daughter was upset. He points out that since Shabbos had already started, and she saw that the vinegar was already burning, why was she upset? The miracle had already begun! He answers that she was upset because she did not want to benefit from a miracle. Rebbi Chanina comforted her by telling her that for someone who lives with the presence of Hashem before his eyes every moment, that it *not* a miracle at all, and it is permitted to derive benefit from it!

QUESTION: The Gemara earlier (24a) relates that Rebbi Yosi d'Min Yukras became very upset with his son for providing his workers with food in a miraculous manner. He rebuked his son, saying that one should not trouble Hashem to provide things through a miracle. How could Rebbi Chanina "trouble Hashem" to stretch the beams of his neighbor's house or make the vinegar burn? (The third answer above answers this question as well.)

ANSWER: It is only improper to ask for a miracle when one needs something for himself, and one demands it from Hashem instead of foregoing the item. But if *someone else* asks a Tzadik for help, the Tzadik cannot tell him not to bother Hashem, so the Tzadik may ask Hashem to help the person. It is not considered bothering Hashem, since the Tzadik is not doing it for himself. When he said that Hashem would make the vinegar burn, he did so for the benefit of his depressed daughter, and not for his own benefit. (See GEVURAS ARI)

QUESTION: Rebbi Elazar ben Pedas lived a life of poverty and suffered greatly. When he asked Hashem for help, Hashem offered to destroy the world and re-create it in order to give Rebbi Elazar a chance to be born in a more fortuitous Mazal. Rebbi Elazar asked Hashem if he had lived a majority of his life yet. Hashem answered that he had, and Rebbi Elazar said that if so, he does not want the world to be destroyed and re-created just for him.

Why was Rebbi Elazar's decision dependent upon whether or not he had lived a majority of his life already?

ANSWER: RAV YEHUDAH LANDY suggests the following explanation. The Gemara in Eruvin (41b) lists three things which are "Ma'avirin Es ha'Adam... Al Da'as Kono" -- which cause a person to leave the service of Hashem. One of them is the pangs of poverty. The reason Rebbi Elazar resented being so poor was because he feared that the poverty would interfere with his service of Hashem, as the Gemara in Eruvin mentions.

The Gemara in Yoma (38b) quotes Rebbi Yochanan (who was Rebbi Elazar's rebbi) who says that if most of a person's life passes without sin, then that person can be assured that he will not sin for the remainder of his life. That is why Rebbi Elazar asked if a majority of his life had already passed. If it had, then he could rest assured that his poverty would not cause him to sin, since he did not sin during the majority of his life, and if so he would bear with the physical strain of his poverty!


QUESTION: RASHI (DH Hai Ridya) says that the Malach appointed over rain is nicknamed "Ridya." Earlier (7b, DH Afilu), Rashi says that the name of the Malach is actually "Af Bri."

How can there be a Malach appointed over rain? The Gemara (2a) says that no Shali'ach is appointed over rain!


(a) TOSFOS (Nidah 16b, DH Malach) answers that "Af Bri" does not really give rain by himself. Rather, when Hashem decides to give rain, He instructs Af Bri to carry out His will. Similarly, the TOSFOS HA'ROSH there implies that while Hashem gives the rain, the Malach distributes it to different places.
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