י״ג בתשרי ה׳תשע״ג (September 29, 2012)

Berakhot 59a-b: The Source of an Earthquake

The Mishna taught that over zeva’ot one recites the blessing: “Whose strength and power fill the world.” The Gemara asks: What are zeva’ot? Rav Ketina said: An earthquake.

The Gemara relates:

Rav Ketina was once walking along the road when he came to the entrance of the house of a necromancer and an earthquake rumbled.
He said: Does this necromancer know what is this earthquake?
The necromancer raised his voice and said: Ketina, Ketina, why would I not know? Certainly this earthquake occurred because when the Holy One, Blessed be He, remembers His children who are suffering among the nations of the world, He sheds two tears into the great sea. The sound of their reverberation is heard from one end of the earth to the other. And that is an earthquake.

Rav Ketina said: The necromancer is a liar and his statements are lies. If so, it would necessitate an earthquake followed by another earthquake, one for each tear. The Gemara comments: That is not so, as it indeed causes an earthquake followed by another earthquake; and the fact that Rav Ketina did not admit that the necromancer was correct was so that everyone would not mistakenly follow him.

According to Rav Nissim Gaon, it is essential to underscore that, unquestionably, there is no room for comparison between God and a human being. He neither laughs, nor cries, nor sighs, nor sheds tears. Rather, the aggadic portions of the Talmud must be understood as metaphors and must not be taken literally. The explanations offered by Rav Ketina and the other Sages should be understood as statements that point to the unique connection that exists between God and the Jewish people. Due to the significance of the Jewish people in His eyes, the different natural phenomena should be viewed as signs to inform the Jewish people that God is anxious and concerned about their fate in exile.

All early talmudic commentaries – Rav Hai Ga’on, Rav Nissim Gaon and Rabbeinu Ḥananel – hold that these explanations of how earthquakes develop are to be understood as symbolism and esoterica. Essentially, this underscores that the relationship between God and Israel is at the basis of all phenomena in the world, and therefore natural phenomena in the world always have some connection to that relationship. An earthquake is an expression of God’s pain over the destruction of the Temple.

Previous
Next