Parashas Va’eira

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Can you See G-d in a Bowl of Soup?

Taste of Talmud

Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa is featured prominently in many Talmudic passages that discuss miracles.  In Tractate Brachos, the story is told of an Arod, a poisonous animal, which was attacking people. This creature was sent by heaven to punish sinners in that area. If after being stung, the person would get a drink of water before the Arod drank, then the person would live and the Arod would die. Rabbi Chanina purposefully put his foot over the Arod’s hole to lure it out. After being stung, a miracle happened and a spring spouted forth for Rabbi Chanina so he could drink from it before the poisonous animal and thus the animal died.  In another incident in Taanis 25a, Rabbi Chanina’s daughter used vinegar instead of oil to light the Shabbos candles. Her father told her not to be concerned, because the One who told oil to light would tell vinegar to light. These actions are problematic in view of two statements in Tractate Pesachim.  In 50b, the Gemarah says that one should not count on a source of income that involves risky ventures.  The reason given is, “delav kol yoma misrachish nissa,” miracles do not happen every day.  This sentiment is repeated on 64b when the Gemarah posits a halachic consideration in determining how one should conduct himself in matters of Mitzvos.  The Gemarah says, “ain somchin al hanais,” we do not rely on miracles.  From these two Gemarahs, we learn that we must live in this world according to the laws of nature.  This is bolstered by another Gemarah: Shabbos 32a, which says if a miracle is done for a person, “menakin lo mizchuyosv” it reduces his balance of earned merits.

Taste of Halacha

Is it appropriate for people to daven (pray) for a miracle?  If not, how could Rabbi Chanina so readily rely upon and use miracles?  Why was he not afraid that using miracles would take away from his portion in the world to come?  Rabbi E. E. Dessler answers that, regarding prayer, a person’s level of connection to G-d will drastically change the way in which it is appropriate for him to pray.  So too, a person’s level of connection to G-d will affect his ability to rely on revealed miracles. For those who see this world “as is”, the world and its immutable laws of nature are just that, immutable! Unless, of course, “an act of G-d” comes into play, and changes the “usual” order of things. However, there is another reality within which very righteous people find themselves.  From this vantage point, they see the entire world with all its intricate complexity as being the revealed hand of G-d.  As such, miracles are a natural extension of  G-d’s constant divine involvement in our world.  Therefore, having the daily miracles of nature changed for them does not detract from their portion in the world to come.  This was the level of Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa.

Taste of Parasha

Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l had a student whose daughter was a very talented young lady who received many awards for her beautiful musical performances. She had difficulty understanding the concept of a Divine being which created and governs this world.  When Rav Yisroel came to visit his student, the student poured his heart out to his Rebbi.  He told Rav Yisroel that he was very proud of his daughter’s musical performances but he was unable to answer her questions in matters of faith.  She reasoned that if G-d really exists, she should be able to experience His miracles, at least once in a while.  Rav Yisroel listened carefully to his student’s dilemma, and then asked to speak to the girl.  When she came in, Rav Yisroel asked her about her schooling and her pastimes.  When she told him that she was a professional musician, Rav Yisroel asked her to demonstrate by performing for him.  However, much to the shock of her father, she adamantly refused.  When asked to explain her actions, she said, “I do not need to perform for every person who comes to town just to prove my talents; this is why I have certificates of achievement.  If someone wants to know if I am able to perform, I just show them my certificate.”  Rav Yisroel pointed out to her that Hashem too, has a “certificate” in which He lays out His omnipotence and all encompassing dominion over this world.  Through the Eser Maccos, Ten Plagues, not only did Pharoh see the hand of Hashem, but we too, for all generations, have a document attesting to the complete providence of the Holy One Blessed be He. Even though on a daily basis we may not see or feel Him, He is there, sustaining and directly involved in every aspect of this world.  Much like a musician does not cease to be a musician just because the show has ended, G-d too continues to be G-d even though we do not see Him.  When we daven, we speak to G-d.  When we learn the Torah, G-d speaks to us.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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