Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Significance of a Spider Bite

The other day, I was handling one of the large and impressive tarantulas at the Biblical Museum of Natural History. I now have a huge and horrific spider bite on my arm. 

Unfortunately there is no connection between the two (and the picture here was staged this morning); I was not bitten at the museum. I say "unfortunately" for two reasons. One is that it would be so much cooler to have been bitten by a huge tarantula than by some small spider at home that I didn't even notice biting me. The other is that, contrary to popular belief, a bite from a tarantula is no big deal (which is why we let our visitors hold them), whereas the bite of some house spiders, particularly the Mediterranean recluse, can potentially have serious consequences.

Last night, when I noticed the enormous swelling, with two puncture holes at the center, and the infection spreading up the lymph channels from my forearm to my armpit, I realized that I needed medical attention. After a visit to an emergency doctor, I'm on antibiotics and antihistamines. So far, I have not developed any superpowers. It stings a bit, and I'm nauseous and groggy (though that may be from the medication), but I'm otherwise okay so far, and it hasn't spread further. Hopefully it was not a Mediterranean recluse and there will be no serious consequences.

So, what is the spiritual significance of all this?

Well, some people say that in such circumstances, one should check Perek Shirah. Having literally written the book on that, I don't agree. Still, I decided to check my book to remind myself what I had written. 

The song of the spider, called semamit in Perek Shira, is הַלְלוּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי שָׁמַע הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה - “Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!” In my book I related this to the other Scriptural mention of the semamit - "The semamit catches with her hands, yet she is in kings’ palaces" (although this actually might be referring to the gecko instead). And I wrote as follows:

The spider catches her prey with her eight hands, and is hated for it; yet she has not been wiped out as a result. Her cleverness enables her to spin webs even in kings’ palaces. Even if she is noticed, she may be tolerated, as her web will trap the flies.
The same is true of the Jewish People. We have been perennially despised, and many have tried to wipe us out. Yet they have not succeeded, and even during the height of our persecution, we have even made it to the king’s palace, thanks to our heritage of wisdom. Many were the kings and rulers who had a “clever Jew” as a trusted and loyal advisor (or physician) at hand in their palace.
The song of the spider is the triumphant sound of the one who has made it to the royal palace by virtue of his cleverness, overcoming the hatred that many feel towards him. It is the song of the royal instruments: “Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!”

What does this have to do with my spider bite?

Nothing at all, as far as I can tell.

Okay, so leaving Perek Shirah, what other spiritual significance may there be in it? A few years ago when I was in a scary situation with an escaped animal that I was trying to recapture, I kept thinking "if this thing kills me, people will say that it proves that the Gedolim were right about my books!" Of course, there is no way to disprove such things, but hopefully people realize that there is no actual evidence for believing such things either.

But whats about general Divine Providence? Although it is not very rationalist of me, I personally perceive enormous Divine Providence, not only in Jewish history but also in innumerable events of my own personal life. But I can't see any providence in this spider bite. And before you object that "everything happens for a Reason!", I will point out that this is largely a recent chassidic view. According to most Rishonim, it's just not true. Things just happen.

Still, one can, and should, try to grow and learn from every experience. And this case is no different. I took the following three lessons, which are pretty standard and universal, but which nevertheless are always worth reinforcing:

Caution. I'm a cautious person in general, but I have a blind spot when it comes to animals, and I have done some embarrassingly reckless things that I prefer not to remember. The rest of you might not be tempted to run into a forest after a bear, but there are other dangers that we always need to remind ourselves to be cautious about, such as texting while driving.

Gratitude. I'm grateful that in general I have good health. I'm grateful to my wife for accompanying me to get medical treatment. I'm grateful to all the people who care about me. I'm grateful for modern medicine. And I'm grateful to have an amazing museum where people (like my youngest son pictured here) can appreciate spiders!

Appreciation. Yes, as potentially dangerous as spider venom can be, it's still something to marvel at (and spiders in general are absolutely extraordinary creatures). Almost all spiders are venomous, though only a very small number are dangerous to humans. Spider venoms, which apparently evolved from saliva, are a cocktail of many chemicals. Some are neurotoxins, which kill or immobilize their prey by attacking their nervous systems, while others are cytotoxins which help break down the tissue so the spider can slurp up a liquefied meal. These unique complex chemicals have enormous potential for medical science; for example, it was recently discovered that they can prevent damage caused by a heart attack and extend the life of donor hearts used for organ transplants! It's just amazing that a chemical which evolved out of saliva to make grasshopper slurpies has a completely different and incredibly beneficial use that the human brain has been able to discover.

Anyway, hopefully I'll make a full recovery. You can save your prayers for more serious causes. Someone asked me for my full name, but my rationalist response was that Hashem already knows it!

 

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51 comments:

  1. "And before you object that "everything happens for a Reason!", I will point out that this is largely a recent chassidic view. According to most Rishonim, it's just not true. Things just happen."


    PLEASE ELABORATE!

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    1. I don't have a whole lot to elaborate, but he's referring to hashgakha p'ratit over every leaf on every tree, which I remember hearing about in the name of a Hasidic great. Many (most?) rishonim were of the opinion that hashem created rules (what we now call teva) and let those rules act without interference (what we might call nisim) for the most part. But I understand this is just as much an assertion without citation as R' Slifkin without his pedigree. Hopefully he'll chime in.

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  2. Darn! I was imaging Rav Slifkin with spider powers; making sure your web is not shatnez, using your webd to attach tzitzit to your spider suit, not swinging on shabbat.

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  3. "And before you object that "everything happens for a Reason!", I will point out that this is largely a recent chassidic view. According to most Rishonim, it's just not true. Things just happen."

    Nachum Ish Gamzu was a Tanna of the second generation.

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    1. That's not the same thing. Gam Zu Le'Tova, and Kol d'Man Avid Rachmana d'Tav Avid are from HKB"H's perspective. "Everything happens for a reason" is a huge simplification, implying that we can understand this reason. We say, "HaTzur Tamim Paalo", and we say "Baruch Dayan HaEmet", and anything, however small, CAN happen for a reason, but that doesn't mean that everything that happens has ultimate meaning.

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  4. עד היכן תכלית יסורין אמר רבי אלעזר כל שארגו לו בגד ללבוש ואין מתקבל עליו מתקיף לה רבא זעירא ואיתימא רבי שמואל בר נחמני גדולה מזו אמרו אפילו נתכוונו למזוג בחמין ומזגו לו בצונן בצונן ומזגו לו בחמין ואת אמרת כולי האי

    https://www.sefaria.org/Arakhin.16b.21

    מר בריה דרבינא אמר אפילו נהפך לו חלוקו רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא ואיתימא רבי יצחק ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא אפילו הושיט ידו לכיס ליטול שלש ועלו בידו שתים

    https://www.sefaria.org/Arakhin.16b.22

    Isn't this a pre-rishonim source that everything happens for a reason?

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    1. The article about spiders (arachnida) would be incomplete without quoting arachin.

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    2. No, it simple says that if something bad happens to you, your punishment will be deducted accordingly. It doesn't mean that that specific bad thing was destined however.

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    3. Well, that's a tricky idea to suggest. Because it implies things happen randomly even if you currently have no balance to have punishments deducted from. Is this really your theology? It seems a little transactional in the sense of 'indulgences' rather than actual reward and punishment

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    4. Yes. This is classicalJewish theology. Hashem give us bechira and thus has no control over what others due to us. He promises to make it up for us in the next world however.

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    5. ”No, it simple says that if something bad happens to you, your punishment will be deducted accordingly.”
      @Ash, what is your source for that? Just a few lines below that quote in Arachin clearly contradicts you.

      Delete
  5. "Someone asked me for my full name, but my rationalist response was that Hashem already knows it!"

    Rationalists don't believe that you can pray for someone else's recovery? Or that it's enough to pray for the person without knowing the person's full name?
    (In a מי שבירך for an ill person, the traditional nusach is to provide the name of the mother.)

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    Replies
    1. The story is told that when R' Yaakov Kaminetsky was ill, the students at R' Moshe Feinstein's yeshiva wanted to say a Mi Sheberach but didn't know his full name or mother's name. R' Moshe said, "Just say R' Yaakov, Hashem knows who 'R' Yaakov' is."

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    2. In every congregation I've been in (including many different denominations, including Chabad), if someone doesn't know the correct Hebrew name, it is acceptable to make a Mi Sheberach using an English name.

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    3. Nachum, when Rav Yaakov was sick, his grandson wanted to ask Rav Shach to daven for him but didn't know his mother's name. When he finally, after much effort, got it, he went to Rav Shach, who upon hearing Rav Yaakov was ill, immediately exclaimed "we must Daven for yaakov ben..". When the grandson asked him how he knew the name, Rav Shach answered that upon a visit to Israel for a Knessia Gedola, Rav Shach asked Rav Yaakov for his name and his mother's name, and said he uttered a Tefilla daily for Rav Yaakov's wellbeing.

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  6. "Kol b'y'dei Shamayim, chutz m'yiras Shamayim" is not a "largely a recent chassidic view," rationalist. Everything does happen for a reason, even if we are not always able to ascertain what that reason is.

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  7. Feel better. I live in Syracuse, NY and a former work colleague was bitten by a house spider. His leg swelled up enough to require an Ace bandage as support and to use a crutch for a few weeks till the swelling had subsided. I think most poskim would agree that anything serious enough to require a trip to the emergency room, has earned a mishaberach.

    PS - In regard to yesterday's post. A while back you tangentially mentioned in another post that you never give to environmental charities. If it's not too private, could you explain that more fully?
    Thanks.

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  8. "Spider venoms, which apparently evolved from saliva, are a cocktail of many chemicals. Some are neurotoxins, which kill or immobilize their prey by attacking their nervous systems, while others are cytotoxins which help break down the tissue so the spider can slurp up a liquefied meal. These unique complex chemicals have enormous potential for medical science; for example, it was recently discovered that they can prevent damage caused by a heart attack and extend the life of donor hearts used for organ transplants! It's just amazing that a chemical which evolved out of saliva to make grasshopper slurpies has a completely different and incredibly beneficial use that the human brain has been able to discover."

    Incidentally, marvels like this are why I can't accept natural selection as an explanation for evolution.

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    Replies
    1. Why would natural selection be any less of an explanation for the marvel of spider venom than creator produced?

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    2. Because it's random and accidental. Unless you mean divinely guided natural selection, in which case calling it "divinely guided evolution" would be more accurate, because then it wouldn't be "natural".

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    3. Uriah’s Wife the Creator caused natural selection.

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    4. What makes random and accidental evolutionary mechanisms any less marvelous than divinely guided evolution. Why is one source of evolution any less marvelous than divinely inspired.

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    5. It's not a matter of marvelous, but possible vs impossible.

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    6. There is a reason to expect natural selection to produce venom that helps the spider. There's no reason to expect natural selection to produce venom that can treat human heart disease.

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    7. Why is it any more possible that God created the universe than that the universe has always existed in one form or another? Why is the universe’s eternal existence any more impossible than God’s existence. You have no proof for either.

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    8. Obviously I am assuming the existence of God, for reasons beyond the scope of this comment.

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    9. Although, very briefly, there is a qualitative difference between God and the physical universe, so your comparison doesn't begin.

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  9. ... And we are grateful to still have you around, to benefit from your thought-provoking posts.
    I know that some rishonim did hold that ''things just happen'', but I wouldn't have said that ''it's largely a recent chasidic view''. Are you sure to maintain this sentence?

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  10. So Hashem created the universe and gave laws but doesn't give reward or punishment in this world or the next? Refuah Shelemah.

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    1. Well, Hashem may have created the universe but does the architect of such an unimaginably complex creation really care about exacting reward and punishment from those who may have strayed from rules promulgated by those who think they know Hashem’s mind?

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    2. You were replying to me. Do you care about reward and punishment? YA

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  11. Even Rambam holds that there is hashagacha pratis on tzaddikim. Therefore, the spider bite definitely happened for a reason :)

    Refuah shleima!

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  12. I'm afraid to inform everybody that in this case, the Rabbi is pretty much correct

    " According to most Rishonim, it's just not true. Things just happen."

    Yes. According to the consensus of our Mesorah, most people are subject to the forces of nature. Thus most people need to take precautions, do hishtadlus, go to the doctor, etc.

    However, this doesn't mean ח"ו that Hashem doesn't listen to davening and respond according to His wishes. Or that Hashem ח"ו doesn't reward or punish both in this world and the next. There is no contradiction to our Most Fundamental Principles of Faith. For a more comprehensive view, see this excellent essay:

    https://rationalbelief.org.il/%D7%90%D7%99%D7%9A-%D7%9E%D7%AA%D7%90%D7%A4%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%AA-%D7%94%D7%A9%D7%92%D7%97%D7%94-%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%98%D7%99%D7%AA-%D7%91%D7%98%D7%91%D7%A2/

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  13. Spiders are amazing. Glad to see your making a full recovery, rabbi!

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  14. I submit ;
    There seems to be confusion
    and a tendency to separate
    natural laws or consequences
    from G-d's guidance, interference,
    causation,etc.
    If we see the world as G-d's
    Will, operation, guidance
    etc., then there is no split or
    contradiction.It is all G-d's
    Will.Part of every action or result
    is all G-d's Will.
    Hence reward or punishment
    is G-d seeing or guiding the outcome to it's natural consequence or even more favorable to you (i.e. reward)
    or , not favorable to you although naturally or by the laws of nature
    your goal should have been accomplished, or the outcome is worse than expected.Thus
    G-d is involved in judgement of the outcome with regard to fulfillment of the Torah etc.
    as well to natural results.
    Sometimes when G-d does not
    prevent the natural expected
    results that is punishment .
    G-d is involved at levels.
    השגחה פרטית.















    G




































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    1. Baloney! This is all unfalsifiable conjecture.

      “...The Ralbag (R. Levi ben Gershon), a 14th century French halakhist, Biblical exegete, and philosopher, takes this a step further and suggests the quite radical answer that God does not know the individual actions of human beings at all (Milchamot Hashem, book 3, ch. 4). The Ralbag argues that God knows everything in terms of general knowledge. He knows how the human body works; He knows all the laws of physics, psychology, chemistry, and any other branch of knowledge that we can or can't imagine. God knows all the general laws – but He doesn't know specific instances...”

      https://etzion.org.il/en/philosophy/issues-jewish-thought/issues-mussar-and-faith/free-will

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    2. That sloppy paraphrase from the Ralbag is such obvious kefirah that even the Ralbag couldn't write it. It would be like denying the existence of Hashem or the Torah ח"ו. But he is really talking about people's future actions. Which is still extremely controversial, but not necessarily directly against the entire Torah, at least in such an obvious way.

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    3. But He according to the Ralbag controls things through the stars but grants people freewill and through that will not be aware of the ultimate choices. But for instance according to the Ralbag the existence of the Jewish people is a necessary thing but individual people within it would not be personally known to G-d. YA

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    4. Happy,

      Well, you’re correct that Ralbag’s thesis on God’s omniscience sounds like kefirah. But that is exactly what he believed, so to make it fit with your view of God’s omniscience, you describe it as a sloppy paraphrase, but his denial of the “specifics” is exactly what he believed. Ralbag didn’t consider himself a heretic, but he might have considered you one because he considered himself one who upheld the primacy of reason. But whose belief is correct — yours or his? We’ll never know because with our present knowledge and understanding, it’s entirely unfalsifiable.

      “...There, ( Milchamot Elohim) Gersonides upholds the primacy of reason, attributing to Maimonides the position that “we must believe what reason has determined to be true. If the literal sense of the Torah differs from reason, it is necessary to interpret those passages in accordance with the demands of reason” (Wars, p. 98). Gersonides believes that reason and Torah cannot be in opposition: “if reason causes to affirm doctrines that are incompatible with the literal sense of Scripture, we are not prohibited by the Torah to pronounce the truth on these matters, for reason is not incompatible with the true understanding of the Torah” (ibid.). Thus reason is upheld as a criterion for achieving truth...”
      https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gersonides/

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    5. Uriah, I think it is a sloppy paraphrase, but I am open to being corrected. If you quote me the words from the Milchamos Hashem itself rather than that paraphrase or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and I agree with your reading, I will have no problem admitting that the Ralbag indeed held that way.

      However, even if he did, it would still be complete and utter kefirah, EXACTLY the same as if he had denied the existence of God. The Ralbag, as great as he is, has absolutely no authority to say things that are completely and obviously against the Torah. His only authority derives from the fact that (we think) he pretty much follow the fundamentals of our Mesorah, even if he has slight deviations here and there. Otherwise he is no better than any secular philosopher.

      Imagine if the Rambam said in Yad that one is allowed to cook on Shabbos. We would try to move mountains to explain the Rambam. Maybe he's talking about kli sheni. Maybe something already cooked. Maybe it's a copyist error. Maybe the Rambam himself made an error (yes, it's possible!) But we would never regard it as a legitimate opinion that one may cook on Shabbos!!!

      This is the big mistake of people like MK and MS. They think that if they would succeed in showing that the Rambam held of ideas that we regard as completely against our Mesorah, we would be forced to admit that there is legitimacy to such ideas. Actually it's the other way around. If we agreed with their readings, it would only serve to discredit the Rambam in our eyes. We would be forced to admit that the Rambam unfortunately made some major errors (which is not a new idea, many Rabbis have already said that about the Rambam for centuries).

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    6. The website won’t permit me to copy and paste Ralbag’s pertinent comments regarding God’s lack of total omniscience but you can read them for yourself at Sefaria.org. Look for Third Treatise I.
      This was partially touched upon 10 years ago here:
      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2012/08/a-question-about-ralbags-reception.html

      As for Ralbag not following the fundamentals of your Mesorah, perhaps it’s your Mesorah that’s deficient, not Ralbag’s treatise.

      To Rav Slifkin: Do you think that Ralbag is a kofer? If not, why not?

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    7. Uriah, the chapter is very long, I looked and as far as I can tell he is dealing with future actions. The famous question of ידיעה and בחירה. But it's possible I just missed it. You should have no problem copying/pasting text from Sefaria to this website. If for some reason that doesn't work, try here:

      https://he.m.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%9C%D7%97%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%94%27_(%D7%A8%D7%9C%D7%91%22%D7%92)

      As for the possibility that my Mesorah is deficient vs this opinion you attribute to Ralbag, I consider the same possibility that my Mesorah is deficient vs Christianity. Or atheism. There is zero difference.

      happygoluckypersonage

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    8. I had a chance to look at the Ralbag again this afternoon. Although he is talking mostly about ידיעה and בחירה, he does appear to also deal with God's knowledge of any specifics, especially when he quotes secular philosophers to that effect. So for the moment, it appears you may be correct.

      On the other hand, he follows with a chapter about hashgacha, including hasgacha pratis. He goes on to explain why his view of God's knowledge of specifics doesn't contradict hashgacha pratis. And although I can't really make heads or tails of his convoluted philosophical mumbo jumbo, it's clear he doesn't see a contradiction. So, if as he says, his opinion on God's knowledge somehow doesn't contradict prophecy, judgment, reward, punishment, commandments, prayer or any of the other Torah fundamentals, then I'm no longer so sure that it's (obviously) kefirah.

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  15. Let's see. In the previous post you preached about "the environment". In this one you preach about, among other things, safety and caution. What is it about the left that believes everyone else needs to hear their platitudes? You, DNS, hold yourself a thinker. You may not have noticed that, in your slide from traditional Judaism to the more modern forms thereof, you have fulfilled to a T what is often said about liberalism, viz, that it is just another form of religion to replace the void left by authentic ones. That the soul abhors a vacuum, and thus creates artificial gods to take the place of the genuine article. I would like to see your thoughts on this. Let's have some genuine intellectual discussion here. Why indeed is it that the more one moves away from Torah, the more he thinks himself morally superior to others?

    Until then, please do continue to preach to us. Maybe dust off your old claims that orthodox Jews are racist, or really get woke and tell us to indoctrinate our kids on transgenderism.

    Gershon Pickles

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  16. "The other is that, contrary to popular belief, a bite from a tarantula is no big deal (which is why we let our visitors hold them)"

    The following Wikipedia article does not describe Tarantula bites as benign as you do. Perhaps the species in your museum is OK, but this sounds very concerning.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula#Bites_and_urticating_bristles

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  17. "The other is that, contrary to popular belief, a bite from a tarantula is no big deal (which is why we let our visitors hold them)"

    Although the article below from Wikipedia says that the Tarantula bite is not deadly to humans, it does *not* sound benign.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula#Bites_and_urticating_bristles

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  18. RNS have you checked it is not a tick bite? Have you checked for Lyme disease?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Chassidus has much to say about that possuk שממית בידם תתפש והיא בהיכלי מלך, Learn Torah Ohr on Vayishlach for starters.

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  20. To Uriah's Wife:prophesy
    The Torah tells us that G-d
    communicates with the Jewish people through prophets sending messages and predicting the
    future.

    Consider this;
    G-d Willed the world into existence.The world,the universe was Willed into existence with time.Time is integrated into the world. Time is change, process,
    movement.G-d is beyond time, outside of time.Hence he knows the future...
    והוא היה והוא הווה והוא יהיה התפטרה...
    Today we have a better understanding of the physical world than during the Middle Ages.

    understanding





    התפטרה
























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  21. It is as if many commenting here have never heard of the distinction between השגחה פרטית and השגחה כללית. It is not for me to count ראשונים on each side of this debate - whether by number or “importance “. I simply recognize that this debate exists and colors the way one views the world. Thus I have friends who believe באמונה שלימה that not a leaf falls anywhere in the forest that the רבש״ע did not ordain that to happen at that precise moment. I on the other hand can accept that ה׳ does not busy himself with deciding which particular wildebeest will be taken by a crocodile and which will make it across the river to continue the great migration. Similarly, I have no trouble accepting the fact that ה׳ has no direct involvement in which team wins the World Series or Super Bowl (though I will concede השגחה פרטית is involved if a Jew who merits השגחה פרטית in all his affairs will be affected by the outcome).
    As for not providing your name for a מי שברך or other תפילה one might offer for your recovery, it is somewhat selfish to prevent those who value your work to express appreciation by including you in their תפילות. In any event, wishing you a רפואה שלימה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

    ReplyDelete

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