1) EARTHQUAKES AND THUNDER
QUESTION: The Gemara cites various opinions concerning what causes earthquakes (or, according to the Rashba, thunder): the tears of Hash-m, Hash-m clapping His hands, stamping His feet, or pushing with His feet under His throne.
The Gemara clearly is conveying a deeper message than the literal meaning of the words. How do we understand this Gemara?
ANSWER: RABEINU CHANANEL explains that the Gemara is teaching that loud noises express Hash-m's dissatisfaction with the fact that the Jewish people are in exile. He wants to redeem the Jewish people, but the time has not yet come.
The RASHBA adds that even though thunderclaps during storms seem to be no more than a natural occurrence, in the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash, when the Jewish people fulfilled the will of Hash-m, fierce storms did not occur. This does not mean that storms occurred unaccompanied by thunderclaps. Rather, it means that rain came in a timely and tranquil manner, such that tempests were uncommon. Fierce thunderstorms occurred only when the Jewish people were not fulfilling the will of Hash-m. The thunderclaps that accompanied those storms, like the thunderclaps nowadays, were meant to arouse the Jewish people to repent, "to straighten the crookedness in our hearts."
This is similar to the phenomenon of a rainbow that comes after a storm, which is a sign that Hash-m will not bring another flood upon the world even though He is not pleased with man's actions. Although a rainbow is a natural occurrence, Hash-m chose to use the forces of nature that cause a rainbow to appear in order to show His displeasure with man's actions. Therefore, the natural phenomena that coincide to produce a rainbow do not occur together at a time when the Jewish people fulfill the will of Hash-m. For this reason, a rainbow does not appear when there are Tzadikim in the world, because Hash-m does not want to destroy the world when there are Tzadikim (Kesuvos 77b; see RAMBAN to Bereishis 9:12).
2) HALACHAH: THE BLESSINGS FOR LIGHTNING AND THUNDER
QUESTION: The Gemara concludes that for lightning and thunder, one recites either the blessing, "Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishis" or the blessing, "she'Kocho u'Gevuraso Malei Olam."
What is the Halachah in practice?
ANSWER: The MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 227:5) writes that the common practice is to recite "Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishis" upon seeing lightning, and "she'Kocho u'Gevuraso" upon hearing thunder, even though both blessings are applicable to both phenomena, as the Gemara here concludes. However, because both blessings are applicable to both, when one sees lightning and hears thunder at the same moment, he recites only one blessing -- "Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishis" (if he recites "she'Kocho u'Gevuraso," he also fulfills his obligation).
If one saw lightning but did not hear thunder, or he heard thunder but did not see lightning, he may recite each one's respective blessing (although there are various customs as to how to conduct oneself).
One must recite the blessing "Toch Kedei Dibur" (within a time span of approximately two seconds) of seeing the lightning or hearing the thunder. If he delayed, then he may not recite the blessing until he sees lightning or hears thunder again (Mishnah Berurah 227:12).
If the storm clears up completely such that no clouds remain in the sky, and then another storm comes, one recites the blessings again upon seeing lightning or hearing thunder, even on the same day (Mishnah Berurah 227:8). If the storm did not clear up completely, one may not recite the blessing when seeing lightning or hearing thunder again on the same day. On a different day, though, he may recite the blessings again.
3) THE BLESSING "HA'TOV VEHA'MEITIV" ON WINE
QUESTION: The Gemara says that when one drinks wine and then drinks a second, better wine, he recites the blessing "ha'Tov veha'Meitiv." Ha'Tov veha'Meitiv is recited because when more wine, of better quality, is consumed, one needs to express praise to Hash-m for the abundance of wine that He has given.
Under what conditions is the blessing of ha'Tov veha'Meitiv recited?
ANSWER: There are six conditions (SHULCHAN ARUCH OC 175, and Mishnah Berurah there) that must be fulfilled in order to recite this blessing.
(a) The second wine cannot be known to be worse than the first. That is, it must have the possibility of being of equal or better quality; as long as one does not know for certain that it is worse than the first wine, he may recite the blessing (Shulchan Aruch OC 175:2). The reason for this condition is that the blessing is primarily a praise to Hash-m for the abundance of wine, and not necessarily for a better wine. The Poskim add that if there is any possibility that the second wine is sour, then one may not recite ha'Tov veha'Meitiv (Mishnah Berurah 175:8).
(b) One must drink the wine with other people (even if they are members of one's own family). The others must drink from both wines together with him, although they do not have to drink at the same time that he drinks (Shulchan Aruch 175:4, Mishnah Berurah 175:15).
In addition, the Sefardic Poskim require that a minimum amount of wine be consumed. According to the KAF HA'CHAYIM (175:10), one must drink a Revi'is of both the first and second wines. According to the OR L'TZIYON, even if one drank only a "Melo Lugmav" (a cheek-full) of wine, he may recite the blessing. Ashkenazic Poskim are lenient and do not require that a minimum amount of wine be consumed, since the Mishnah Berurah makes no mention of it but, to the contrary, implies that the blessing is recited for the new taste of wine, and thus any amount is sufficient. This is the ruling of Rav Yisrael Feinhandler in TESHUVOS AVNEI YASHPEH.
(c) The other people who join him in drinking must actually own the wine together with him. Family members are automatically considered partners in the wine (because one is obligated to provide for them). If one distributes single cups of wine to his guests, they are not considered to have a share in the wine. However, if one brings the bottle of wine to the table and the guests are free to pour for themselves, then they are considered partners in the wine (Mishnah Berurah 175:15).
(d) Some of the original wine must remain. If the first wine was finished, ha'Tov veha'Meitiv may not be recited, because it is not evident that the second wine is being brought in order to express praise to Hash-m for the better wine or for the abundance of wine, but rather because the first wine ran out (Mishnah Berurah 175:3).
(e) One does not recite the blessing ha'Tov veha'Meitiv on a cup of wine used for Birkas ha'Mazon, because one already said the blessing ha'Tov veha'Meitiv in Birkas ha'Mazon itself (Mishnah Berurah 175:2).
(f) If one has both wines in the house at the time that he recites a blessing on the first wine, he should recite the blessing on the better wine (if one knows which wine is better), and exempt the second wine, since one is supposed to recite a blessing on the best and highest quality food first.
The REMA (175:1) rules that ha'Tov veha'Meitiv may be recited only if the second, better wine was not on the table (or in the house -- LECHEM CHAMUDOS here) at the time the blessing for the first wine was said. If both wines were on the table, then one should recite Borei Pri ha'Gafen on the better wine, and eliminate the need for ha'Tov veha'Meitiv. (If one inadvertently recited the blessing on the worse wine, or did not know which was better, then it would seem that one may recite ha'Tov veha'Meitiv on the second, better wine; however, see the following paragraph.)
RAV YITZCHAK RUBIN (in MIZMOR L'SODAH, p. 73) points out that the LEVUSH (cited by the Mishnah Berurah 175:4) understands the Rema differently and offers an entirely different reason for the blessing of ha'Tov veha'Meitiv. The Levush explains that since wine is so significant, a second wine that is brought to the table deserves its own blessing. However, since one already recited Borei Pri ha'Gafen on the first wine, he cannot recite that blessing again on the second wine. Therefore, the Chachamim instituted that the blessing ha'Tov veha'Meitiv be said. Consequently, if a person has both wines in front of him (or in his house and he knows about it, according to the Lechem Chamudos) when he says Borei Pri ha'Gafen, the original blessing is considered to have been said on both wines and therefore no second blessing need be recited on the second wine, even if he inadvertently recited the blessing on the worse wine.