1) BENEFITING FROM MIRACLES
QUESTION: The Gemara relates a number of incidents involving wonders performed by Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa. In one incident, Rebbi Chanina's daughter accidentally lit the Shabbos candles with vinegar instead of oil. She did not realize her mistake until after Shabbos had already entered, and she was very distressed about it. Rebbi Chanina told her that just as Hash-m makes oil burn, He can make vinegar burn. The candles burned throughout all of Shabbos, and when Shabbos ended they used the flame for Havdalah.
In another incident, a woman complained to Rebbi Chanina 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.
The Gemara earlier implies that deriving benefit from such miracles is inappropriate. The Gemara (24a, 24b) says that one should not benefit from a miracle because doing so diminishes one's merits. For this reason, people of high spiritual stature refrain from benefiting from objects created miraculously (see Rashi to 24b, DH Ela, who cites the Gemara on 20b). Why did Rebbi Chanina willingly derive benefit from the Shabbos candles which were miraculously fueled by vinegar, and permit the woman to derive benefit from the beams which were extended miraculously?
(a) RASHI explains that Rebbi Chanina did not derive any benefit from the miracle of the burning vinegar. Even though the Gemara says that he used the flame for Havdalah, the Gemara means that he lit another candle from that candle and used the second candle for Havdalah (which did not constitute benefiting from a miracle). The reason why he prayed that the vinegar should burn like oil was only so that his daughter would not be depressed throughout Shabbos.
The YA'AVETZ questions Rashi's explanation. On Shabbos night, when no other light source was available, Rebbi Chanina must have derived benefit from the light of the miracle-candles. Perhaps Rashi maintains that Rebbi Chanina's wife lit other candles which provided light throughout the night, and therefore he indeed did not use the light of the miracle-candles which his daughter lit.
When Rebbi Chanina caused the beams of a woman's house to extend, he certainly did not derive any benefit from the miracle. The woman who owned the house did not conduct herself with Midas Chasidus, and thus it was not her practice to refrain from benefiting from miracles.
(b) As mentioned above, the YA'AVETZ disagrees with Rashi's explanation and asserts that Rebbi Chanina's household likely derived benefit from the miraculous light. He further points out that the Gemara relates another incident in which Hash-m miraculously made bread for Rebbi Chanina's wife, who went upstairs to get a baker's shovel to remove the bread from the oven to prevent it from burning. Apparently, she intended to benefit from the bread, for if she did not intend to benefit from the bread, there was no reason to prevent it from burning.
The YA'AVETZ and BEN YEHOYADA ask further that the Navi (Melachim I, chapter 17) relates that Eliyahu ha'Navi instructed a poor widow to bake a cake from the small amount of dough that she had and to give him some to eat. The small amount of dough provided a continuous supply of bread which Eliyahu and the widow ate throughout the famine. Why did Eliyahu eat the bread if it came about through a miracle?
The Ya'avetz answers that in the cases of Rebbi Chanina and Eliyahu ha'Navi, something already existed before the miracle occurred. The miracle did not create anything new; it merely caused the extant item (a bit of bread or dough) to persist and not diminish. Benefiting from this type of miracle is permitted. Similarly, when the vinegar which Rebbi Chanina's daughter lit burned like oil, the miracle was not that it ignited in the first place. Rather, the vinegar ignited naturally, and the miracle caused it to continue to burn and not to become extinguished right away. Therefore, Rebbi Chanina and his family were permitted to benefit from the light.
Similarly, the Ben Yehoyada writes that the miracle was that nothing diminished, and not that more was added. Since the miracle is not readily apparent in such a case, one may derive benefit from it.
Perhaps the question from the conduct of Eliyahu ha'Navi does not bother Rashi for the following reason. In that case, Eliyahu received a clear prophecy from Hash-m that the famine would occur and that Eliyahu would survive by eating the miracle-bread. When Hash-m informs His prophet that a miracle will occur to help him, he may benefit from the miracle and there is no diminution of his Zechuyos.
(c) RAV TZADOK HA'KOHEN (in PRI TZADIK) writes that causing vinegar to burn was not a miracle. Rather, Rebbi Chanina's level of Emunah was so great that it was clear to him that there is no such thing as nature. Rather, everything occurs because Hash-m wills it to occur. Just as He wills oil to burn, He can also will vinegar to burn.
What exactly does Rav Tzadok mean? Whether or not Rebbi Chanina believed that Hash-m would make vinegar burn, no vinegar in the natural world can burn. In order to cause it to burn, Hash-m must alter the natural order of the world. Regardless of one's level of Emunah, vinegar that burns is still a miracle and one should refrain from deriving benefit from it.
The BEN YEHOYADA, who suggests a similar answer, explains this idea further. Tzadikim have a clear perception of Hash-m's control of the world. To them, everything that happens is a result of Hash-m's involvement. In return for their trust in Hash-m, He deals with them in a manner which is beyond the boundaries of nature. For the Tzadik, everything "natural" in the world is a miracle in the sense that he sees Hash-m's hand as it guides every occurrence. A "true" miracle is merely a different form of Hash-m's natural order. For someone of such a high stature, Hash-m operates the world with a different type of natural order, one which is not limited by the forces of nature known to man.
Consequently, a Tzadik's life is not governed by "natural properties" of objects or "laws of nature." A miracle which occurs when a change happens in the natural properties of an object does not diminish his merits. (This applies only when the miracle brings no new object into the world. When the miracle creates a new object, one must refrain from benefiting from the miracle.)
The Ben Yehoyada adds that this explains why the daughter of Rebbi Chanina was upset. Since Shabbos had already entered and she saw that the vinegar was burning miraculously, why was she upset? The answer is that she was upset because she did not want to benefit from a miracle. Rebbi Chanina comforted her by telling her that for a person who lives with the awareness of Hash-m's presence at every moment, such a change in the "natural" order is not considered a miracle at all, and one is permitted to derive benefit from it.
This approach answers another 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 and told him that one should not trouble Hash-m to provide things through a miracle. Why, then, did Rebbi Chanina "trouble Hash-m" to stretch the beams of his neighbor's house and to make the vinegar burn?
According to Rav Tzadok ha'Kohen and the Ben Yehoyada, the miracles which Hash-m performed for Rebbi Chanina were not considered "trouble" for Hash-m; they were considered within the realm of the natural order.
According to the other approaches mentioned above, perhaps it is improper to ask for a miracle only when one needs something for himself and he demands it from Hash-m instead of forgoing the item. If, however, someone else asks a Tzadik for help, the Tzadik may not tell him not to bother Hash-m. Rather, the Tzadik should ask Hash-m to help the person. It is not considered a bother to Hash-m since the Tzadik does not make any request for himself. When Rebbi Chanina said that Hash-m would make the vinegar burn, he did so for the benefit of his upset daughter and not for his own benefit. (See GEVURAS ARI.)
2) AGADAH: THE PITFALLS OF POVERTY
QUESTION: Rebbi Elazar ben Pedas lived a life of dire poverty and suffered greatly. When he asked Hash-m for help, Hash-m 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 Hash-m whether he had lived a majority of his life yet. Hash-m answered that he had, and Rebbi Elazar said that in that case he does not want the world to be destroyed and re-created just for him.
Why did Rebbi Elazar's decision depend on 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 Hash-m. One of them is the pangs of poverty. The reason Rebbi Elazar resented being so poor was because he feared that his poverty would interfere with his service of Hash-m, as the Gemara in Eruvin describes.
The Gemara in Yoma (38b) quotes Rebbi Yochanan (who was Rebbi Elazar's mentor) who says that if most of a person's life has passed without sin, that person is assured that he will not sin for the remainder of his life. That is why Rebbi Elazar asked whether 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. He could confidently decide to bear the physical suffering of his poverty for the remainder of his life.
3) WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THE RAIN?
QUESTION: RASHI (DH Hai Ridya) writes that the Mal'ach appointed over rain is called "Ridya." Rashi earlier (7b, DH Afilu) says that the actual name of the Mal'ach is "Af Bri."
How can a Mal'ach be in charge of the rain? The Gemara (2a) explicitly states that no agent is appointed over the rain. Hash-m is directly in charge of the rain.
ANSWER: TOSFOS in Nidah (16b, DH Malach) answers that the Mal'ach Af Bri does not actually cause rain to fall himself. Rather, when Hash-m decides to give rain, He instructs Af Bri to carry out His will.
Similarly, the TOSFOS HA'ROSH there implies that while Hash-m gives the rain, the Mal'ach distributes it to different places.