Kinah 37: Miraculous Life
Everything about Israel, when the Temple was standing, was different, even the animals:
Never did serpent or scorpion injure anyone in Jerusalem. (Yoma 21a)
The Talmud describes how some of the great Rabbis continued to live with such miracles even after the Temple was destroyed:
Rabbi Phinehas happened to come to a certain inn. They placed barley before his ass, but it would not eat. It was sifted, but the ass would not eat it. It was carefully picked; still the ass would not eat it. ‘Perhaps’, suggested R. Phinehas, ‘it is not tithed’? It was at once tithed, and the ass ate it. He, thereupon, exclaimed, ‘This poor creature is about to do the will of the Creator, and you would feed it with untithed produce’! (Chullin 7a)
However, many of those who lived during the Temple times refused to acknowledge that their existence was different:
1 Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and held in esteem, because by him the LORD had given victory unto Aram; he was also a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper. 2 And the Arameans had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. 3 And she said unto her mistress: ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! then would he recover him of his leprosy.’ 4 And he went in, and told his lord, saying: ‘Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.’ 5 And the king of Aram said: ‘Go now, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel.’ And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying: ‘And now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.’ 7 And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said: ‘Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? but consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh an occasion against me.’ 8 And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying: ‘Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ 9 So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying: ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come back to thee, and thou shalt be clean.’ 11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said: ‘Behold, I thought: He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 12 Are not Amanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?’ So he turned, and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said: ‘My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee: Wash, and be clean?’ 14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came back like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said: ‘Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; now therefore, I pray thee, take a present of thy servant.’ 16 But he said: ‘As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none.’ And he urged him to take it; but he refused. 17 And Naaman said: ‘If not, yet I pray thee let there be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth; for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. 18 In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant: when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I prostrate myself in the house of Rimmon, when I prostrate myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.’ 19 And he said unto him: ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him some way. (Kings II, Chapter 5)
Elisha wanted the King and all to know “That there is a prophet in Israel,” meaning that everything is different even our waters. Na’aman, understandably had difficulty accepting Elisha’s assertion, but eventually, at the urgings of his servants, tested the waters and was miraculously healed.
We lived a different sort of existence as long as the Temple stood.
Some people believed that such a miraculous existence was possible, and would try anything, without understanding, (much as many people in our times seek magical answers from Kabbalists) to bring the miracles back to the land:
Once upon a time, a man was coming to Israel from Babylonia. When he sat down to rest, he saw two birds fighting with each other in the road. One of the birds killed the other, then flew away. It brought back a certain herb, which it placed on the dead bird, and revived it.
The man said, “It would be wonderful if I could get some of that herb. I could take it with me and bring the dead of the Land of Israel back to life!”
Having found some of the herb, he continued on his way. He saw a dead fox lying by the roadside. The man said, “It would be good to test this on the dead fox,” and touching the fox with the herb, he revived it.
Continuing still further on his way, the man reached the Ladders of Tyre, near the border of Israel. At that place he saw on the road a lion that had been killed. The man said, “It would be good to try this on the lion.”
He touched the lion with the herb, and it was brought back to life.
The lion then got up and ate the man.
(Vayikra Rabbah 22:4)
The man recognized the miracles. He believed, but he did not understand that his magical herb still functioned according to some of the rules of nature; Lions eat people! He did not appreciate that the Temple level of existence was necessary to use such miracles safely. He died in his efforts.
Others refuse to believe that we ever lived at such a miraculous level, and therefore reject the possibility that we should aspire to regaining that level of miraculous existence:
“I will make… your gates of precious stones [O’ Jerusalem], your surrounding wall, of gems.” (Isaiah 54:12)
R. Yochanan [explained] when he [once] sat and gave an exposition: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come bring precious stones and pearls which are thirty [cubits] by thirty and will cut out from them [openings]30 ten [cubits] by twenty, and will set them up in the gates of Jerusalem.
A certain student sneered at him: [Jewels] of the size of a dove’s egg are not to be found; are [jewels] of such a size to be found?
After a time, his ship sailed out to sea [where] he saw ministering angels engaged in cutting precious stones and pearls which were thirty [cubits] by thirty and on which were engravings of ten [cubits] by twenty.
He said unto them: ‘For whom are these?’ They replied that the Holy One, blessed be He, would in time to come set them up in the gates of Jerusalem. [When] he came [again] before R. Yochanan he said unto him: ‘Expound, O my master; it is becoming for you to expound; as you said, so have I seen.’
He replied unto him: ‘Empty one, had you not seen, would not you have believed? You are [then] sneering at the words of the Sages!’
He set his eyes on him and [the student] turned into a heap of bones. (Bava Batra 75a)
Rabbi Yochanan did not rebuke his student when he sneered; he was angry only after the student witnessed a miracle and returned a believer! Rabbi Yochanan wasn’t troubled by the students skepticism; he was furious with his students belief in the miracle without any context.
What is the most important element necessary for proper context?
That our level of miraculous existence depends on the level we have achieved in our attachment to God, as the Midrash teaches:
Rabbi Yudan said in the name of Rabbi Avin, “Six things were taken away from Adam, namely:
the extraordinary ease with which he reaped the fruits of the earth and the fruits of the trees,
and the wondrous light of Early Creation.
How do we know his radiance was taken away from him?
The verse states,
“You alter his face and send him away.” (Job 14:20)
Bereishit Rabbah 12:6
When we appreciate the possibility that it once existed, that it can exist again, that it demands a higher level of service of God, we can then share in the following blessing:
When the Rabbis took leave from the school of R. Ammi — some say, of R. Hanina — they said to him:
May you see your requirements provided in your lifetime,
And may your latter end be for the future world and your hope for many generations; May your heart meditate understanding,
Your mouth speak wisdom
And your tongue indite song;
Aay your eyelids look straight before you,
May your eyes be enlightened by the light of the Torah
And your face shine like the brightness of the firmament;
May your lips utter knowledge, your entire being rejoice in uprightness,
And your steps run to hear the words of the Ancient of Days. (Berachot 17a) Truly, a miraculous existence!
To live without believing in the miracles that were, is to live in eternal Tisha B’Av.
To live without believing in the miracles that can be, is to live in eternal Tisha B’Av.
To believe without understanding the context of holiness and service that are necessary, is to live in eternal Tisha B’Av.
To believe in what was and what will be when we regain Beit Hamikdash existence and awareness is to live as shining examples of that original light.
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