Miracles in everyday life- Shekalim 14

We have discussed before the two different approaches to miracles associated with the Rambam and Ramban respectively. 
Whereas Rambam sees supernatural miracles as a rare event Hashem performs occasionally in order to show that he controls nature , and tends to explain seemingly supernatural events discussed outside Tanach in natural ways , Ramban believes that such miracles are a regular part of life .
The truth is that both views  seem to be well represented in Chazal. 
On our daf, a story is told of a certain pious man who used to dig well and pits for travellors to drink from.
His daughter was swept away by a flood and noone , not even the famed Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair could comfort him.
When told about the pious acts he had done , Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair declared thats it is impossible that someone who served Hashem with water would be harmed like that by water .
Soon, an announcement was made that the man’s daughter has been found  .
Two versions of the story are given:
One is that she was able to hold onto a branch and survive.
The other is that an angel appeared in the form of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair and saved her.
We see in this story representation of both approaches- the natural miracle , and the supernatural. A similar example can be found in the Bavli ( Brachos ) where 400 barrels of Rav Huna’s wine turned into vinegar. 
Rav Ada bar Ahava and the Rabbis came to visit him and suggested that he look into his affairs to examine what he had done to deserve this.
Rav Huna was offended that they had suspected him of wrong-doing and they countered by asking him if he suspected Hashem of punishing him for no reason .
Rav Huna then asked them  if they  had heard any rumours about him .
They replied that they had heard that he never paid his sharecropper. 
Rav Huna replied that the man was a thief and had stolen more than the value of his work but nevertheless took the “mussar” and paid him in any case.
Two versions of the conclusion are then brought !
One is that a miracle happened and the vinegar turned back into wine.
The other is that the price of vinegar went up to the price of wine !
Again, we see one view that explains the miracle in a natural way and another that explains it supernaturally!


Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

את חטאי אני מזכיר היום
I have admitted before that technical matters are not my strong point, and like many others, I usually tend to glide over the more technical sections of the Tanach and Talmud, without really understanding what is going on.

Hence, when it comes to Parshas Teruma, and other similarly styled parshiyos , I have a particularly hard time getting though the required weekly שניים במקרא ואחד תרגום (reading the weekly portion twice in Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation/commentary of Onkelus.)

The depth of the technical descriptions of the makeup and precise dimensions of the Mishkan and its vessels simply are not recognized easily by me, and even when they are , the required level of focus and mental visualization usually proves too much for me- I thus usually land up making do with a quick leining- style reading and move on to the more conceptual or contemporary topics that seem to match my talent set better.

However, one takes oneself with wherever one goes, and such human weaknesses always come back to haunt us, not only each year, but also whenever we get to parts of the Talmud that analyze these matters, which given the nature of the Shas, can pop up in the most unexpected places.

Seeing as so much of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the work of the Mishkan, it is inevitable that at some point, they will lead back to the technical descriptions in the relevant verses of the same.

Our daf is one of those moments, and a discussion of whether a public domain covered by a roof is similar enough to the public domains in the biblical camp of Israel to be considered as such regarding the law of passing and carrying, takes us to a discussion of the wagons that were used to transport the components of the Mishkan, in particular its beams, and status of the enclosed space between them.

This in turn takes us to a discussion of the properties of the beams themselves and the bars that reinforce them, which brings us to a rather cryptic passuk that describes the central bar.

Each beam was 10 Amos (handbreadths) tall, 1.5 Amos wide, and 1 Amah thick (at least at the base.)

20 beams thus made up the 30 Amos length of the Mishkan on both the North and South side.

Another 6 beams made up the 10 Amos width, with 2 other beams on either side to fill the gaps.

Various bars were placed along the length of the planks, with one central bar in the middle.

The passuk tells us (Shmos 26/28) “והבריח התכון בתוך הקרשים מבריח מן הקצה אל הקצה” (and the main bar in the midst of the beams should run from one end to another.)

The simple meaning of this verse seems to imply that the wooden bar ran all the way from the south-eastern corner of the Mishkan, to the north-eastern corner, making a perfect right-angled turn twice along the way, a somewhat challenging if not impossible task for any carpenter, as Rashi on our daf points out.

So much so, that a Beraisa teaches that the middle bar of the Mishkan was put and held in place miraculously!

Tosfos, however, quotes the ר”י (Rabbeinu Yitchak, one of the leading Tosafists, who brings another Midrash that holds there was no miracle here at all.

It explains simply that the 2 lower and 2 upper rows of beams each contained 5 separate beams- One went from the south-east corner half -way down the southern wall of the Mishkan, another from there till the south-west corner. Another then covered the western wall, and the other two similarly covered the northern wall.

The main “beam”, in contrast, consisting of only 3 separate beams, one for each of the 3 walls, and when the passuk says that it went from one end to the other, it means from one end of each wall to the other end of the same wall, not along the entirety of the 3 walls!

Whereas this is far from the simple meaning of the verse, and requires one to interpret “the main beam” as the 3 “main beams of each wall”, as well as the “5 beams” of each side as the “5 sets of beams of the southern and northern side and one set of beams of the western side”, it allows us to explain this completely naturally without resorting to a miracle.

This seems to illustrate that the debate over how common miracles are and whether to try and interpret seemingly miraculous descriptions in the sacred texts in a natural way where possible, commonly largely ascribed to the Rambam and the Ramban (for another post) , is in fact a much older debate, amongst the sages themselves!

Another example of this can be found in the story of Rav Huna and his wine cellar (Brachos 5b)

The Gemara tells how a financial tragedy befell Rav Huna (who seems to have been either a wine merchant or a very serious collector), where 400 barrels of wine went rancid (turned to vinegar.)

On visiting him to, two other Amoraim respectfully advised him to investigate his financial affairs to see if he had done something to deserve this huge loss.

After some debate, he admits to something seemingly rather minor (and perhaps not even strictly forbidden-another post some time bli neder) and commits to making it right.

One opinion then tells us that that a miracle took place and the vinegar turned back into wine!

Another narrative is then suggested that it did not really turn back into wine, the price of vinegar simply went up and matched the price of wine!

While the later case shows a debate as to whether the reward he received was through a supernatural miracle, or an unlikely natural event that took place at the precise time it was needed, also a form of miracle, albeit a natural one, we again see two different views regarding whether to interpret events as supernatural miracles, or to explain them in a natural way where possible!

When one studies the original Talmudic sources in depth and breadth, rather than just reading summaries of far-reaching debates and controversies amongst the Rishonim and even contemporary authorities , one often sees how the debate can be traced back much further than one originally thought.

The later Amoraim after do that with a dispute amongst earlier Amoraim, with the claim of כתנאי (claiming that this argument is actually based on an earlier debate amongst the Mishnaic sages)

Is there any reason why we should not attempt to do the same with the disputes amongst the Rishonim?!