- Miracles of Rav Chanina ben Dosa
- Rabbi Reuven Mann & Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Certain "miraculous" events surrounding Rabbi Chanina
ben Dosa are recorded in Talmud Taanis, pages 24b-25a.
- The Miracle of the Bread
- The first story recounts a miracle regarding his wife. As
the story goes, she would, each Friday evening before Shabbos,
place twigs into her oven, as she was embarrassed that she had
nothing to cook, as all others did. These twigs when burning,
gave the appearance that she too in fact had provisions, as they
would generate smoke as do regular foodstuffs. One bad neighbor
approached her home on a given Friday evening, at which, Rabbi
Chanina's wife avoided confrontation and embarrassment, and escaped
from that room. The neighbor upon entrance to her home saw that
Rabbi Chanina's wife's oven was in fact full of challas (bread),
and the kneading trough, full of kneaded loaves. This neighbor
called to Rabbi Chanina's wife, "you, you, come with a shovel,
as your loaves will be burnt." Rabbi Chanina's wife responded,
"I went to get the shovel." (A Tanna recorded that
she did, as she was accustomed to miracles.)
- How are we to understand this story? Did an actual "miracle"
occur for Rabbi Chanina's wife? And if so, why only on this Friday
evening, at that?
- A Rabbi once asked, "Why, when Joseph was sold to a
caravan for slavery, did Divine Providence benefit Joseph, and
orchestrate that this specific caravan carry pleasant fragrances,
instead of the normal, putrid cargo?(Rashi). The Rabbi suggested
that as Joseph was subject to many humiliating events; his siblings'
oppressions, being cast into a pit, and sold by his very brothers,
he would most assuredly approximate his breaking point sooner
than later. God, Who knows man's frailties, saw that Joseph would
break when being bought by a caravan and thrown into a cart full
of putrid cargo. Therefore God devised that this specific caravan
carry pleasant spices. This would prevent Joseph from the moment
of breaking, and conversely, permeate him with a sense of reprieve,
just enough for this Tzaddik to regroup, and return him to his
senses. God knows each person's breaking point, and with Joseph,
God desired that such a perfect soul should not succumb to his
weaknesses, but be strengthened by something as simple, as these
pleasant scents. This was a gracious act of God's mercy, that
He watches sternly over his righteous ones.
- We might apply this same rule in our case. God knows what
a person can and cannot handle. He saw that Rabbi Chanina's wife
could not face such humiliation - this was her breaking point.
This explains why she escaped confrontation from a neighbor,
who by reputation, was vicious. (Perhaps this is why this neighbor
decided a visit at the very time she knew Rabbi Chanina's wife
would be found empty handed - on Friday eve.) God, however, wishes
that certain individuals worthy of His intervention, be saved
from devastating experiences. God therefore orchestrated some
plan that bread would be found, and Rabbi Chanina's wife would
- "Miracle" in this case does not necessarily mean
that bread was created from nought. "Harbeh shluchim l'Makom",
"God has many messengers." We cannot say how the bread
arrived, but we also should not say that this bread was created
out of thin air. God created "matter from nothingness"
only once. What can be said is that God watches out for certain
people. Why? Because their righteous actions have demonstrated
a desire to follow God. As such, God intervenes somehow, so they
may retain a sense of self, enabling their continued existence
suitable for His worship as they have expressed previously.
- As a rule, we should always suggest the minimum deviation
of natural laws - even if an account mentions "miracles".
We must not jump excitedly at such stories and suggest "creation
from nothingness" is implied, if a more plausible explanation
- Ours is a study of God's natural laws, as this is God's design
of the world. God wishes we approach Him with intelligence, and
this demands an analysis of all areas, especially emotionally
driven accounts. Had the Rabbis writing these stories thought
miracles here are to be taken literally, and in a "magical"
sense, they would have simply written that "she threw twigs
into her oven and they became bread." All the extra material,
i.e., that is was Friday evening, that she had a bad neighbor,
that she was embarrassed, etc., would be superfluous for a story
about a genuine miracle. But as we see the Rabbis writing such
a detailed account, there is much more they desire we investigate,
as opposed to childlike wonderment, as if gasping at a magician.
- The Miracle of the Vinegar
- A second story records a Friday eve before shabbos, where
Rabbi Chanina asked his daughter why she appeared sad. She responded
that she mixed her oil and vinegar canisters, and accidentally
poured vinegar into to lamp, thereby extinguishing their only
flame.(Rashi) Rabbi Chanina responded to her, "Why should
this matter? The One who said oil should ignite, can say that
vinegar should ignite." The Talmud records that in fact,
the lamp did ignite, and remained lit through shabbos, until
- What are we to learn from this story? We know the rule, "Do
not rely on miracles". No body did so here, but Rabbi Chanina
suggested that the vinegar could in fact light, just as oil.
What was he saying? In fact, we are supposed to act in just the
opposite manner. We are to adhere to natural law. This is the
system through which we learn of God's marvels in creation. By
the study of natural law, we understand how God wishes the universe
to operate. God designed nature and permeated it with His knowledge,
"Milo kol haaretz k'vodo", "the entire Earth is
filled with His Glory." Suspension of natural law - a miracle
- prevents man from studying the very knowledge God instilled
in the universe, for the purpose of being analyzed. Rabbi Chanina's
response is questionable. What was he saying to his daughter?
- Another story from Prophets elucidates the concept: When
Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were about to be cast into the
furnace for not obeying Nevuchadnetzar's command of bowing to
his idol, they said, "Our God can save us, and even if He
does not, we will not obey you." These men were miraculously
saved. But what was their position? It seems they straddled two
- Abraham was surprised God would alter nature to give him
a son in his old age. Moses, the greatest man ever, was praised
for his unsurpassed level of humility. "I have grown small
from all your kindness", was stated by Jacob when in pursuit
by his twin Esav. He prayed to God for salvation, and did not
expect miracles. In all these cases, these great individuals
embraced reality. These men did not rely on miracles, as no great
man assumes his own merit to be so worthy of a change in natural
law by God. Far be it. But, simultaneously, and not a contradiction,
these men knew that nature is not an absolute. God designed nature,
He controls it, and He changes it at will. These men were not
dependent upon miracles, nor of nature. However, on Earth, there
is either nature, or the suspension of nature, i.e., miracles.
So to which reality did they subscribe?
- There is one other system that we can hold as truly absolute
and unchangng; God's will. "I am God, I do not change".(Malachi)
This is the correct philosophy. Both nature and Divine Intervention
were equal realities, but man knows not which will occur. He
does not place himself initially in danger, relying on a miracle,
but when he finds himself subject to events, he knows either
may occur. Both are equally tenable. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah
said this, and so did Rabbi Chanina. The latter expressed this
sentiment to his daughter, that she should not be anguished over
extinguishing the only flame in their home, unable to relight
it as shabbos had approached. Rabbi Chanina was instructing his
daughter that God's will is the only 'absolute' truth, and what
you must keep focused on. He was not trying to placate her regarding
the light. He detected immediately where her concern came from,
she felt natural law was absolute. His response, "Why should
this matter? The One who said oil should ignite, can say that
vinegar should ignite". He meant to say, "Don't fret
over that which is not the true will of God. You do not know
whether he desires the vinegar to follow nature, or Divine Providence."
- "The One Who said oil should ignite, can say that vinegar
should ignite" means just this, that God's will is the one
reality. "If He wishes, vinegar can ignite" means that
"God's wishes" is what one must concern himself with.
And this is clearly expressed in His Torah, which will never
- What is true reality, nature or miracles? Neither is absolute.
God's will alone is absolute reality.