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Ta'anis 9

TA'ANIS 9 (4 Elul) - has been dedicated in honor of the Yarzeit of Chaim Yissachar (ben Yaakov) Smulewitz by his daughter and son in law, Jeri & Eli Turkel of Raanana, Israel


QUESTION: Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua argue where the rains come from. Rebbi Eliezer says that the rains come from clouds that absorb the water from the sea. Rebbi Yehoshua says that the clouds fill up with water from the waters above the sky (the "Mayim Elyonim"), and then the clouds drop that water onto the earth. Rebbi Yehoshua challenges the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer and asks that if the rains originate from the sea, then rain water should be salty. Yet we know that it is not salty!

RASHI explains that we know that rain water is not salty because no grain can grow from salty water. Why did Rashi choose this strange way to prove that rain water is not salty? Rain water is collected in water pits from which people drink, we know exactly how it tastes! Why does Rashi say that the reason we know that rain water is not salty is because plants could not grow from salty water? (REBBI AKIVA EIGER in GILYON HA'SHAS; see also the commentaries printed in the EIN YAKOV, BEN YEHOYADA)

ANSWER: The motive behind Rashi's explanation could be as follows. The Gemara cites a proof for the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer, who says that rain water comes from the sea, from the verse, "A mist arose from the land and watered all of the ground" (Bereishis 2:6). Rebbi Yehoshua, who says that rain water comes from the upper waters, must respond to this proof. Rebbi Yehoshua answers that the verse does not mean that the clouds collect their waters from the earth itself, but rather that the clouds must rise up from where they are to the upper heavens in order to receive the water from there.

Why did Rebbi Yehoshua give that answer? There is a much simpler answer that he should have given. He should have said that the verse is not describing the physical nature of rain, as Rebbi Eliezer understands it, but rather the verse is discussing a singular event that occurred only once in the history of the world -- at the time of Creation, the water that fell onto the ground came from the sea. Normal rain, though, comes from the waters above, as is evidenced by the fact that the water is not salty. (The ETZ YOSEF in the Ein Yakov is bothered by this question.)

It must be that Rebbi Yehoshua somehow knew that even the rain that fell at the time of Creation could not have come from the sea, and that is why he did not give this answer. How, though, did Rebbi Yehoshua know this? The Torah does not tell us anything about the taste of that water! Therefore, Rashi understood that since the verse says that the water that fell at Creation watered the ground and caused all of the plants to sprout forth, it must be that the rain that fell was not salty, because plants cannot grow on salt water. That is why Rashi proves that rain water is not salty from the fact that *plants cannot grow* with saltwater! (M. Kornfeld)

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