Monday, February 28, 2005

Miracles and the Natural Order - part 3

Can the Natural Order Change?

There is a yerushalmi that suggests that the natural order is subject to change. In yerushalmi Peah 33a (and in yerushalmi Sota 7b and 45b) we see a statement by Rabbi Yochanan that is explained based on the fact that in his days the world changed.

רבי אבהו ורבי יוסי בן חנינא ור"ש בן לקיש עברו על כרם דורון
אפיק לון אריסא חדא פרסיקא
אכלון אינון וחמריהון ואייתרן ושערונא
כהדין לפיסא דכפר חנניא מחזיק זאה של עדשים
בתר יומין עברון תמן
אפיק לון תרי תלת לגו ידא
אמרו ליה מן ההוא אילנא אנן בעיין
אמר לון מיני' אינון
וקרון עלוי ארץ פרי למלחה מרעת יושבי בה
אמר ר' חנינא כד סלקת להכא נסיבת איזורי ואיזורי' דברי ואיזוריה דחמרי
מקפא בירתא דחרובתיה דארעא דישראל ולא מטין
קצת חד חרוב ונגד מלא ידוי דובש'
אמר רבי יוחנן יפה סיפסוף שאכלנו בילדותינו מפרסקי' שאכלנו בזקנותינו
דביומוי אישתני עלמא
א"ר חייא בר בא סאה ארבלית
היתה מוציאה סאה סולת
סאה קמח
סאה קיבר
סאה מורסן
סאה גניינין
וכדון אפילו חדא בחדא לא קיימא
A story
Rabbi Abahu, Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina, and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish passed by Kerem Doron (a place)
The tenant brought out for them a peach (περσιχου)
They ate it, and their donkey-drivers [ate it] and left over some
and they measured it like the ilpis (pot) made in Kfar Chanania {a place where they made such vessels - thus they can refer to it for a standard size}
After some days they passed by there,
He brought out {such that} two or three {peaches fit} in the hand {so they were much smaller}.
They said to him: we desire from the same tree as last time.
He said to them: they are from it {the fruits are from the same tree}.
And they called upon it the verse in Tehillim 107:34

לד אֶרֶץ פְּרִי, לִמְלֵחָה; מֵרָעַת, יוֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ. 34 [Hashem turneth] A fruitful land into a salt waste, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
Rabbi Chanina said: when we left to here {Eretz Yisrael} I took my belt and the belt of my son and the belt of my donkey
To encircle the trunk of a carob tree in Eretz Yisrael, and it did not reach.
He cut a carob and the honey that flowed from the carob filled his hand.
Rabbi Yochanan said: the late fruits {from the word sof} that we ate in our youth were better than the peaches that we ate in our old age.
For in his days the world changed.
{Note "his" as opposed to "my" making it an explanatory statement rather than part of the quote.}
Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba said: an Arbelite seah {of grain when planted}
would yield a seah of fine flour
a seah of flour
a seah of coarse meal
a seah of coarse bran
a seah of straw
{thus 5 times the amount planted}
and now even one for one it does not produce.
Now, the context is such that it looks like nostalgia, but the explanatory statement (For in his days the world changed) show that it is being taken seriously. Perhaps there was some climactic change, or some conditions that degraded the soil quality, but the quality of the produce, they claim, declined. Now, the meforshim on the daf explain "the world changed" as nishtaneh haTeva, that nature changed. (Perhaps one can explain the intent of the gemara without resorting to this phrase.)

This is one possible source text showing that Chazal could believe that the laws of nature can change. And here, they changed, said Resh Lakish et. al., because of wickedness of humans (citing a pasuk to that effect), which might imply Divine intervention of some sort.

More in a later post. I want to eventually tackle R Shternbuch's position, but I want to lay a lot of groundwork first.
to be continued...

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