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At the end of the story of Korach ben Itzhar, the cousin of Moses who leads a strange rebellion in Numbers 16, Moses says

Numbers 16:29-30If these men die the common death of all men, and be visited after the visitation of all men, then the LORD hath not sent Me. But if the LORD make a new thing, and the ground open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down alive into the pit, then ye shall understand that these men have despised the LORD.


'Make a new thing' is a doubled use of the same Hebrew root letters, and that root is the root used in Genesis 1 to describe God's Creation of the world, so trying to preserve some of the sense of the Hebrew we might render it 'Create a creation'. Which is terribly infelicitous, so.

There is a debate among the more philosophical commentators about the nature of miracles. Rambam holds that God set in motion the natural laws of the world- physics, in a nut shell, and then because God is the Unity at the center of creation, God is able to alter those natural laws to effectuate something outside of them. Ramban, instead, holds that all of creation is constantly and miraculously being instantiated by God and that what seem to be miraculous violations of the natural laws of physics are just naturally within God's power. Both Rambam and Ramban are incredibly subtle and complicated thinkers and it's hard to say what either meant. It's possible this is not a debate and that they're truly in agreement. I do not claim to understand their teachings, which is why this post. But let's assume this is a debate as at least a starting axiom.

There's a third position, one which is at the same time even more naturalistic than Rambam and less, or which may be what Rambam is actually saying, I'm not sure. And it derives from this moment in the story of Korach.

Pirkei Avot 5:6 : Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. And these are they: The mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach in Numbers 16:32]; and the mouth of the well [that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 21:17]; and the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Bilaam in Numbers 22:28–30]; and the rainbow [that served as a covenant after the flood in Genesis 9:13]; and the manna [that God provided the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16:4–21]; and the staff [of Moshe]; and the shamir (the worm that helped build the Temple without metal tools); and the letters; and the writing; and the tablets [all of the latter three, of the Ten Commandments]. And some say, also the destructive spirits, and the burial place of Moshe, our teacher, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say, also the [first human-made] tongs, made with [Divine] tongs.



This is a really complicated Mishna that I don't understand at all, but it seems clear from the fact that the first item on the list is the mouth of the Earth that it's the phrase "Create a creation" that is the source for this logic. (I don't have the sources for all of the other things in this Mishna. I think the fact that the other two mouths are mentioned sbusequently suggests that the Earth-mouth is the source for all three of those. And I'm pretty sure there's no Torah source for the bit at the end about tongs, which is why it's just part of the 'and some say'... all that is purely Midrash Aggada) The Mishna is saying that Moses asked God to invoke a miracle of creation and this mouth that had been created at Creation and set up to swallow Korach swallowed up Korach. And it raises a lot of questions. It seems to be a response to this question of the nature of miracles, and its answer is in one sense more naturalistic than the Rambam: Not only is the world run according to natural laws set in motion at creation, but even things that apparently work outside of the laws of nature are actually naturally set in motion at creation as part of a special step in creation that took place Bein Hashmashot of Erev Shabbat.

Yet this is a hugely problematic theory for Jews because it seems to propose a completely deterministic universe where an intervention like the Earth swallowing up Korach for sinning against Moses and God can be preprogrammed as part of creation. If this is the case, where is free will? Where is Korach's ability to choose on his own whether or not to sin, if this preprogrammed miracle Earth-mouth was created as part of the Creation of the World?
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