From the Gemara earlier it would seem that deriving benefit from such
miracles is inappropriate. The Gemara said that we are not supposed to
benefit from a miracle, for doing so causes our merits to diminish, and
therefore people of high spiritual stature refrain from benefiting from
things that were created miraculously (Gemara 24a; 24b; Rashi there, DH Ela,
citing from 20b). Why, then, did Rebbi Chanina willfully derive benefit from
the Shabbos candles that were miraculously fueled by vinegar?
(a) RASHI says that Rebbi Chanina did not derive any benefit from the miracle
of the vinegar burning. Even though the Gemara says that it was used for
Havdalah, the Gemara means that he lit another candle from that candle, and
he used the second candle for Havdalah (which did not constitute deriving
benefit from a miracle). He only prayed that the vinegar should burn like oil
so that his daughter would not be depressed over Shabbos.
The YA'AVETZ questions Rashi's explanation. He says that they certainly must
have derived benefit from the miraculous candles at night, when they
benefited from their light! Apparently Rashi holds that Rebbi Chanina's wife
also lit candles and therefore he did not need to use the light of the
Regarding the miracle that Rebbi Chanina performed by making the beams of the
woman's house extend, he certainly did not derive any benefit from the
miracle, and the woman who owned the house did not conduct herself with Midas
Chasidus, so it was not her practice to refrain from benefiting from
miracles. Rebbi Chanina certainly would not have lived in such a house,
(b) Rav Yakov Emden (HAGAHOS YA'AVETZ), as we said, disagrees with Rashi's
explanation. He says that they probably derived benefit from the light.
Furthermore, the Gemara says regarding another miracle that Rebbi Chanina's
wife went upstairs to get a baker's shovel to remove the bread from the oven,
so that her bread which Hashem miraculously made for her through would not
burn. If she was not planning on eating it, why not let it burn? It must be
that she planned to eat it.
The YA'AVETZ and BEN YEHOYADA ask further that we find that Eliyahu ha'Navi
(Melachim I, ch. 17) told a widow who did not have enough food to make some
cake from the little dough that she had and to give him some to eat.
Afterwards, the dough provided an unending supply of bread, which Eliyahu and
the widow ate throughout the famine. How could he eat from the dough if it
came about through a miracle?
The Ya'avetz answers that in the cases of Rebbi Chanina and of Eliyahu
ha'Navi, there was already something present that existed without the means
of a miracle. The miracle did not create anything new; it merely caused the
already-existing item (a bit of bread or dough) to persist and not run out.
There is nothing wrong with benefiting from that type of a miracle. Likewise,
when the vinegar burned like oil, the miracle was not that it ignited in the
first place. Rather, it naturally ignited, but the miracle caused it to
continue to burn and not to go out right away. Therefore, it was permitted
for Rebbi Chanina and his family to benefit from it. Since the initial item
came about naturally, the rest is also permitted. Only when the initial item
came about through a miracle may one not benefit from it.
Similarly, the Ben Yehoyada says that the miracle was that *nothing
diminished*, but not that more was added. Since the miracle it not as readily
apparent in such a case, there is no problem with deriving benefit from it.
How does Rashi address the problem that Eliyahu ha'Navi derived benefit from
a miracle? Perhaps Rashi was not bothered by that question, because in that
case Eliyahu received a clear prophecy from Hashem that the famine would
occur and that Eliyahu would survive by eating the miracle bread. When Hashem
tells a prophet, through a prophecy, that a miracle will happen in order to
help him, he may benefit from the miracle and there is no diminution of his
(c) REBBI TZADOK HA'KOHEN (in Pri Tzadik) writes that making vinegar burn was
not a miracle. Since Rebbi Chanina had such great Emunah, it was clear to him
that there is no such thing as nature -- everything happens because Hashem
wills it to happen. Just like it is His will that oil burn, He can also tell
vinegar to burn just the same.
What exactly does this mean? Whether or not he believed that Hashem could
make vinegar burn, it normally does not burn. Making it burn involved
altering the natural order of the world, regardless of one's level of Emunah!
One should still refrain from deriving benefit from it!
The BEN YEHOYADA, who suggests a similar answer, explains this idea further.
Since Tzadikim perceive Hashem's control of the world so vividly, such that
to them, everything that happens is a result of Hashem's hand, in return
Hashem deals with them above the boundaries of nature. For the Tzadik,
everything "natural" in the world is a miracle, in the sense that he sees
Hashem's Hand guiding its occurrence. A true miracle is just a different form
of Hashem's natural order. For someone of such a high stature, Hashem makes a
different type of natural existence, which is not limited by the forces of
nature as we know it.
If so, a Tzadik's life is not governed by "natural properties" of objects or
"laws of nature." A miracle which occurs by a change occurring in the natural
properties of an object does not take away from his merits. (This does not
apply, of course, if the miracle brings new objects into the world; one must
refrain from benefiting from that type of miracle.)
The Ben Yehoyada adds that this is the real reason why Rebbi Chanina's
daughter was upset. He points out that since Shabbos had already started, and
she saw that the vinegar was already burning, why was she upset? The miracle
had already begun! He answers that she was upset because she did not want to
benefit from a miracle. Rebbi Chanina comforted her by telling her that for
someone who lives with the presence of Hashem before his eyes every moment,
that it *not* a miracle at all, and it is permitted to derive benefit from