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As a followup on this answer from another question, the Gemara on Pesachim 8a seems to say that a shaliach mitzvah, someone who is doing a mitzvah or on the way to do one or even on the way back is protected from (seemingly all) harm/damage/loss/danger (provided it is not especially dangerous). However in real life this doesn't seem to be the case. I personally have two examples of this off the top of my head:

  • My grandmother, while walking home from Shul in a relatively safe area, was mugged. She only lost property.
  • A couple years ago I was biking on campus, trying to rush to meet someone after class so we could go to Mincha on time and so he wouldn't have to wait. Normally a young guy like me biking on campus, even if hurrying, isn't considered something particularly dangerous. But when crossing grass, some other biker came up on the path ahead perpendicular, I tried to stop quickly to avoid hitting them, but I braked and I lost traction and fractured my hip. I was in plenty of pain, had setbacks in school, there were of course monetary costs involved, and while mostly healed I still am not completely back to normal.

So why do events such as these happen if the Gemara seems to promise protection? Are they not "covered"? Does the protection not apply?

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Why do bad things happen to good people? –  Double AA Jul 29 '13 at 4:36
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There is a gemara in Kiddushin 39 which has the shittah of Rav Yaakov,see it there for the back and forth.It is a different take and it also answers Achers question. –  sam Jul 29 '13 at 4:50
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@DoubleAA, what's the relevance of your question? The asker here is referring to a specific protection. –  msh210 Jul 29 '13 at 4:54
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@DoubleAA Reward vs punishment and good vs bad is not relevant to this question. The protection isn't reward for a mitzvah, it's a specific protection from danger for someone on the way to or returning from or performing a mitzvah. –  A L Jul 29 '13 at 5:29
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@DoubleAA You might be misunderstanding what I'm asking.... Can you demonstrate the relevance? Or perhaps see Kiddushin 39 referenced by sam above where in the case of the child and the ladder; first they thought the reward for what he's doing (long life) should have prevented his death, but then they say it must mean it refers to olam haba. It's after that, though, that they suggest he should have been saved because of a different principle, the one I asked about (and say he wasn't saved because his situation was clearly dangerous). –  A L Jul 29 '13 at 5:57

2 Answers 2

I was at a Shiva where Rabbi Avigdor Miller Zatzal attended. The one sitting Shiva asked Rabbi Miller regarding the Nifteres - who was his wife. She was on the way to go do a Mitzva and was hit by a bus. How could this have happened? Do we not say that a Shliacha Mitzva does not get harmed. Rabbi Miller responded that in a place where it is ("Shechiach Hezaika") common to get damaged, this promise does not work.

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The question notes this but claims its examples were not in dangerous places. –  Double AA Jul 29 '13 at 19:29
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I'm confused by his answer; did people constantly get hit by busses where his wife was? Was it more risky than the case of a scorpion possibly being in rubble? –  A L Jul 29 '13 at 19:31
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@AL: I do not know when you say Shechiach Hezaika and when not. Perhaps motor vehicles are dangerous and there are accidents at all times and that qualifies it for Shechiach Hezaika. Both of your examples - getting mugged and bike accidents would in my eyes be as common as a motor vehicle accident. –  Gershon Gold Jul 29 '13 at 19:36
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It's circular reasoning (maybe even by the Gemara) and there is a logical disconnect in the unqualified assumption when saying, "It is impossible for a shomer mitzvah to get harmed anywhere it's not dangerous. A shomer was harmed. It must have been dangerous." You just say after the fact that any time someone was harmed it must have been dangerous! If you saw someone giving out tzeddaka on his front porch yet become the victim of a robbery or shooting or snake bite would you say even then it must be dangerous? Must everything be due to danger? (Is there even any demonstrated protection?) –  A L Jul 29 '13 at 19:49
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It's a Gemara in Pesachim –  Shmuel Brin Jul 29 '13 at 20:40

Here are my thoughts: it would appear that there are 3 possible degrees of protection we can understand the Gemara to be promising: 1) Any and all damage occurring concurrently with the performance of a mitzva (eg. stock value falling while davening mincha), 2) Any and all damage occurring on the scene of performing a mitzva (eg. being hit by a car on the way to mincha), or 3) (and this is what I'm suggesting) Any and all damage that would occur solely due to unique circumstances created exclusively by performing the mitzva (eg. driving to another state to help complete a minyan for mincha). The first 2 are exceptionally broad and, I suspect, are constantly upended by reality. I'd argue that it is in fact the 3rd, narrow definition which is the correct application of the Gemara.

I believe this is borne out by all the examples in Shas: a) sticking one's hand into a scorpion nest; b) creepily scoping a shared wall in the middle of the night by candlelight; c) anointing a new king during his rival's lifetime; d) trekking across a dark, deserted mountainous route; e) completely abandoning one's possessions for a week or more (Pesachim); f) illegally attaching/replacing a mysterious scroll to/on the gate of a city (Yoma); and g) scaling a tower (Kiddushin).

None of these are things that would ever otherwise happen if not for someone attempting to perform a mitzva. So one can argue that the protection afforded is applicable only if: i) the situation is a direct result of the mitzvah, and ii) it is so unique to have never been possible otherwise.

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Interesting suggestion. I'm not sure if it seems that way just because the scope is too narrow to find counterexamples (an activity you might do only once a year, times it being only for a very specific purpose, that would typically be safe to do anyway) or if it's objectively the best understanding of the literature. But you could be right. –  A L Jul 31 '13 at 20:08

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