MISHNAH: EVENTS WHICH INVOKE THE FASTS (cont.)
A city which suffered pestilence or collapsing buildings sounds the Shofar and fasts, and the surrounding cities fast but do not sound the Shofar.
(R. Akiva): The surrounding cities should sound the Shofar but not fast.
Pestilence is defined as a city that can produce 500 troops suffering three deaths in three days.
The procedure is begun in all cities if one city experienced plagues on the produce, locusts, attacks of wild animals, or invaders.
The elders once decreed a fast because a quantity of crop plague was seen in Ashkelon.
A fast was once decreed because wolves ate two children beyond the Yarden.
(R. Yosi): The wolves did not eat anyone; they were merely seen.
The procedure is begun even on Shabbos for a city surrounded by troops or flooded, and for a storm-tossed ship.
(R. Yosi): The Shofar is only sounded as a call for aid, but not for prayer.
(Shimon haTeimani): The procedure is also done for pestilence.
(Chachamim): This is not so.
The procedure is done to remove all types of trouble, except for too much rain.
Choni ha'Me'agel was asked to pray for rain, but was not answered.
He stood in a circle and vowed not to move until rain fell.
Originally it fell too lightly; then too heavily; then just right.
Even when enough had fallen, he refused to pray that it should stop.
Shimon benhetach sent a message that for anyone else to do this would be entirely inappropriate, but Choni was beloved by the One Above like one loves his own child.
If the people were fasting and rain fell, theny they should complete their fast only if it fell after dawn.
(R. Eliezer): They should complete their fast only if it fell after midday.
Once, when the people were fasting in Lod, rain fell before midday. R. Tarfon told them to eat and celebrate, and they recited Hallel in the afternoon.
STARTING THE FASTING PROCESS
Question: The Mishnah said that the procedure of fasting applies to where the first rainfall did not occur; but a Beraisa states that the first two rainfalls are to be asked for, and only the third is to be fasted for!?
Answer: The Mishnah means to say that it applies to where the sequence of the first three rainfalls did not occur.
The Mishnah continues that if the crops were malformed, the procedure is begun immediately.
(R. Nachman): This is only true if they were malformed, but not if they were dry, as then there is no hope for improvement.
Question: This is obvious - the Mishnah only spoke of malformed crops!?
Answer: It refers to where the seeds recovered so far as to produce stalks.
One might have thought that this is enough of a sign of recovery to justify fasting, so R. Nachman tells us that it is still pointless.
DEARTH AND FAMINE
The Mishnah said that if there was a cessation of rain for forty days between rainfalls, the procedure is begun, as it is a punishment of dearth.
This means that it is a punishment which leads to dearth.
(R. Nachman): If a city lacks produce and has to import it by river, it is dearth; if it has to be imported from a different country, it is famine.
(R. Chanina): If a Se'ah can be bought for a Sela and it is common, this is dearth; if four Se'ah can be bought for a Sela but it is not common, this is famine.
(R. Yochanan): This refers to where currency is plentiful and fruit is expensive; but if currency is expensive and fruit is plentiful, the procedure is begun immediately.
"I remember when four Se'ah could be purchased for a Sela, yet people were swollen from starvation in Tiverya because there was no currency."
RAIN THAT IS SOMEWHAT BENEFICIAL
The Mishnah said that the procedure is started immediately if rain that benefits only plants, trees or cisterns fell.
Rain that benefits plants but not trees is rain that falls gently but not hard.
Rain that benefits trees but not plants is rain that falls hard but not gently.
Rain that benefits plants and trees but not cisterns is rain that falls both gently and hard but not in large quantities.
Question: How is it possible to have rain that is good for cisterns but not for plants and trees?
Answer: When it falls overly powerfully.
(Beraisa): The procedure is begun even during Pesach if rain had not fallen for trees.
It is begun even during Sukkos if rain had not fallen for the cisterns.
It is begun immediately if there is no drinking water.
"Immediately" means on the ensuing Monday, Thursday and Monday.
All these apply only to the place where they happened.
For Askara (croup) the procedure is done only if it is fatal.
For Gubai-locusts the procedure is done even if for the smallest quantity.
(R. Shimon b. Elazar): This is also true for Chagav-locusts.
(Beraisa): The procedure is done for trees in the first six years of the Shemittah cycle alone; for cisterns, even in Shemittah.
(R. Shimon b. Gamliel): It is done for trees even in Shemittah, as the poor require them for their sustenance.
Another Beraisa states similarly, referring to free-growing trees.
THE PATTERN OF RAIN NOWADAYS
(Beraisa): Since the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash, the rains do not fall as freely.
In some years they are plentiful, in others scarce; in some years they fall in their proper time, in others not.
A year when they fall in their proper time is like a servant being paid on Sunday; he has time to bake his bread for Shabbos properly.
A year when they do not fall in their proper time is like a servant being paid on Erev Shabbos; he does not have time to bake his bread for Shabbos properly.
A year with plentiful rain is like a servant receiving his payment all in one go so that only one lot of flour is absorbed by the mill (and similarly, the rain-water is absorbed by the earth and the wind only once).
A year when there is insufficient rain is like a servant who receives his sustenance little by little, so that each time he kneads, he loses more flour (and so it is with the rain-water).
(Alternative metaphor): It is like a person mixing cement; he needs ample water to mix it properly.
THE STORY OF NAKDIMON BEN GURYON
(Beraisa): Once during the pilgrimage there was no drinking water.
Nakdimon b. Guryon borrowed twelve cisterns of water from a Roman nobleman against twelve Kikar of silver if it was not repaid by a certain day.
When the morning of the given date arrived, then midday, and then late afternoon, and no rain came, he kept telling the Roman that there was still time.
The Roman scoffed that if had not rained the whole year, it certainly wouldn'y rain now.
He happily went to the bathhouse while Nakdimon sadly went to the Beis Hamikdash.