Forbidden Miracles

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Chukas

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: May one benefit from a miracle?

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Take the rod, and gather the assembly together, thou, and Aharon thy brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth its water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”(Numbers 20:7-8)

Throughout the Jewish people’s journeys they benefited from numerous miracles performed by God on their behalf. R. Shlomo Kluger raises a fundamental question, that based on the following passage in the Talmud (Ta’anis 24a) it would seem that one is forbidden for one to partake in that which was created through supernatural means:

Whenever the charity collectors would see Elazar of of Birta, they would hide from him, as any [money Elazar] had with him he would give them, (and they did not want to take all his property). One day, [Elazar] went to the market to purchase [what he needed] for his daughter’s dowry. The charity collectors saw him and hid from him. He went and ran after them, saying to them: I adjure you, in what [mitzvah] are you engaged? They said to him: [We are collecting money for the wedding] of an orphan boy and an orphan girl. He said to them: [I swear] by the Temple service that they take precedence over my daughter. He took everything he had with him and gave it to them. He was left with one dinar, [with which] he bought himself wheat, and [he then] ascended [to his house] and threw it into the granary. [Elazar’s] wife came and said to her daughter: What has your father brought? She said to her: Whatever he brought he threw into the granary. She went to open the door of the granary, and saw that the granary was full of wheat – it was coming out through the doorknob, and the door would not open due to the wheat. [Elazar’s] daughter went to the study hall and said to him: Come and see what He Who loves You, has performed for you. He said to her: [I swear] by the Temple service, [as far] as you [are concerned this wheat] is consecrated, and you have [a share] in it only as one of the poor Jews.

We see that Elazar fundamentally refused to benefit from a miracle. If such an act is religiously problematic, then how was it permissible for the entire Jewish people in the wilderness to live off the daily supernatural feats being performed on their behalf? 

(A) R. Kluger suggests that this prohibition is Rabbinic in origin and thus did not apply to the Jews in the wilderness who predated the ban.

(B) The Sdei Chemed (Ma’areches no. 1, Kelalim no. 87) cites the Chida who relegates this to a midas chassidus, a pious practice.

However, even if that is the case, there were some exceedingly holy people in the wilderness (most obviously, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.) and if this was truly a pious practice it would seem odd that none of them appeared to accept it upon themselves. Therefore, we are still in need of a more satisfactory approach to this matter.

(C) R. Mordechai Calebach suggests that in order to resolve our question we first need to understand why benefitting from a miracle would be problematic in the first place. Rashi (Ta’anis 24a, s.v. Ela K’Echad) explains that Elazar did not wish to benefit from the miracle grain because v’im osin lo nes menakin m’zechuyosav – if one has a miracle performed on their behalf it will be subtracted from their [metaphysical] merit. However, the key detail here is that one only expends their merit when the miracle is performed for their personal benefit, whereas when God provides it to achieve His own goals then it would not be to the detriment of anyone who benefits as a byproduct. (See also Gevuras Ari on Ta’anis 25a.) Since God intended to make His glory known to all of the nations, He provided supernatural feats for the Jewish people (see Yoma 75a). Thus, the Jews in the wilderness were not only permitted to benefit from God’s miracles, but it was even a mitzvah for them to do so, as their acceptance of God’s magnanimousness facilitated a public sanctification of His might. 

This approach could also be utilized to resolve similar challenges that have been raised in other areas. The Medresh Tanchuma (Vaeira, no. 13) relates that during the Plague of Blood the Jews sold their water to the Egyptians. Here too, these miracles were primarily performed for the glory of God, and thus it would not be problematic to derive benefit from them. (Alternatively, we could suggest that the miracle was turning the water into blood, so the Jews were in actuality only benefiting from the lack-of a miracle since their water simply remained natural.) 

The Responsa Beis She’arim (no. 238) raises a potential halachic issue. If one assumes that there is a formal prohibition to benefit from a miracle would that then disqualify supernaturally provided substances from constituting Mashekh Yisrael? The rule is that something brought as an offering in the Temple needs to also be permissible for a Jew to consume. However, if it is forbidden to benefit from a miracle would that not not disqualify it? (See the discussion of Talmudic scholars on Menachos 69b regarding wheat that fell from the clouds.) In a similar fashion, R. Elchonon Wasserman (Koveitz Shiurim, Pesachim no. 197) notes that all of the Yom Kippur offerings should be disqualified since Jews may not consume food and beverages that day. The answer to both issues is that the prohibition to benefit from a miracle or to eat on Yom Kippur is only legislated vis-a-vis the individual (gavra). The individual may not benefit from miracles and the individual may not eat on Yom Kippur. However, there is nothing inherently problematic about the object (cheftza) something created through supernatural means or intrinsically kosher food that exists on Yom Kippur.

May we live to see God openly demonstrate His glory for all to see, and may the inquiry of benefiting from miracles become a practical one in our days.

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my  own. Contact: [email protected]

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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