5

The gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar no less than six(6) times saying, "שְׁלוּחֵי מִצְוָה אֵינָן נִיזּוֹקִין -- those on a mission to do a mitzvah are not harmed." (Pesachim 8a, 8b (twice), Qiddushin 39b, Chullin 142a (twice).)

There already exists a question on Mi Yodeya that takes this phenomenon for granted, and asks how far it goes. And at the time of this writing, there is only one answer there that begins, "From the ברייתא cited further in the Gemara, it would appear that any and all damages, even of the slightest and likeliest nature and occurring anywhere on one's property are included..."

But this is kind of hard to accept, since it is not that rare to hear stories of someone injured on their way to do a mitzvah.

The gemara does give one exception in one of the discussions of the quote (Pesachim 8b, translation and explanation from the Koren adaptation of R' Adin Steinzaltz):

וְהָאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: שְׁלוּחֵי מִצְוָה אֵינָן נִיזּוֹקִין! הֵיכָא דִּשְׁכִיחַ הֶיזֵּיקָא שָׁאנֵי. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֵיךְ אֵלֵךְ וְשָׁמַע שָׁאוּל וַהֲרָגָנִי וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה׳ עֶגְלַת בָּקָר תִּקַּח בְּיָדֶךָ [עֶגְלַ֤ת בָּקָר֙ תִּקַּ֣ח בְּיָדֶ֔ךָ וְאָ֣מַרְתָּ֔ לִזְבֹּ֥חַ לַֽה בָּֽאתִי׃]״.

But didn’t Rabbi Elazar say that those on the path to perform a mitzva are not [susceptible] to harm throughout [the process of performing the mitzva? The Gemara responds: In a place] where danger is commonplace it is different, [as one should not rely on a miracle,] as it is stated [with regard to God’s command to Samuel to anoint David as king in place of Saul:] “And Samuel said: How will I go, and Saul will hear and kill me; and God said: Take in your hand a calf [and say: I have come to offer a sacrifice to God” (I Samuel 16:2).]

There is a similar comment about "הֵיכָא דִּקְבִיעַ הֶיזֵּקָא, שָׁאנֵי -- . where danger is permanent, it is different" on Yoma 11a. Not sure why one says "דִּשְׁכִיחַ -- commonplace" while the other says "דִּקְבִיעַ -- permanent." Both use the same quote from Shemu'el I as their prooftext. (Thanks to @kouty in the comments for pointing out this source.)

But, I would add, we commonly hear stories of people who were harmed or lost large sums of money while doing a mitzvah in a situation we wouldn't consider dangerous or risky?

So, how do we intellectually honestly deal with this principle?

4
  • you can add yoma 11a
    – kouty
    May 14 at 9:50
  • @kouty thanks, done. May 16 at 1:52
  • דִּקְבִיעַ probably means established not permanent. A place where danger is common is a place where a danger is established
    – Double AA
    May 16 at 2:09
  • It's similar to the expression kava in rov vekavua
    – kouty
    May 16 at 3:36
4

R. Samuel Eidels in his commentary to Shabbat 118b writes:

לא שייך בזה דשלוחי מצוה אינן נזוקין דהיינו ע"י עסק המצות לא היו נזוקין והכא מיירי בדרך מצוה במת בעת שעסק במצוה ולא ע"י עסק מצוה

I'm not sure if I fully understand his point, but it sounds like he is saying that the only protection provided is when the danger is inherent to the mitzvah; if the danger is incidental to the mitzvah then the mitzvah doesn't provide protection. Perhaps another way of saying this is that a mitzvah is not a special defense that you can just invoke when you want to not get hurt. It just means that by doing a mitzvah you won't be worse off than by not doing it – if you were not in danger before you won't be in danger now, but if you were in danger before, the mitzvah won't make the danger go away.

Such an explanation could account for a large number of the alleged instances of people getting harmed on the way to doing a mitzvah.

Elsewhere (commentary to Chullin 7b) he writes:

מקשים והא אמרינן שלוחי מצוה אינן ניזוקין לא בהליכתן ולא בחזירתן ונראה לפרש דמה"ט קאמר דמרצה כדם עולה שהעולה באה לכפרה על הרהורי הלב ואפשר דבהדי דאזיל לדבר מצוה קמהרהר בעבירה הוה ושכיח הזיקא הוה וכה"ג קאמרינן בסוף מכילתין

This sounds like an easy (and practically unfalsifiable) way to address your question. Just say that anyone who was harmed must have been having a sinful thought at the time.

2

The Steipler (I think this is in Birchas Peretz on the plague of frogs) says that the statement שלוחי מצוה אינן נזוקין - messengers who perform a mitzva are not hurt - means that they will not be hurt because of the mitzva that they are doing, it is possible that they could be hurt or killed in the process anyway though, as something which was going to happen to them anyway, in which case the fact that they were hurt or killed in the process of performing a mitzva is a great merit.

2
  • This sounds like the first Maharsha mentioned in my answer.
    – Alex
    Dec 17 '20 at 1:19
  • @Alex Could be, I can't remember if the Steipler quotes the Maharsha (haven't seen the Birchas Peretz for a while (about 35 years)).
    – The GRAPKE
    Dec 17 '20 at 2:16
-2

Aristotle didn't have a concept of momentum. Instead he writes about impetus. Impetus is something an intellect impacts to an object that causes motion until it runs out. (To bring some Judaism into my mashal, the Rambam presents the idea in the Guide to the Perplexed, Book 2, ch 4-5.)

It wasn't until Newton's Laws of Motion that we get a Law of Conservation of Momentum.

Why?

Because on earth, in normal situations, this conservation is not experienced. We have friction, including wind drag, slowing down every object. In daily observed reality, Aristotle seems right. "The tendency of the object to keep moving in the same direction unless acted on by an outside force" isn't seen, because everything down here on earth is acted on by an outside force. One of the first things done when humanity entered space is demonstrate the Conservation of Momentum in an environment where such outside forces are negligible.

The fact that we hadn't seen momentum conserved didn't mean the rule was false. It just meant there were always other factors in play.

Now if that's true for physics, how much more so it must be true for something like Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence for individuals)!

So, we have rules about prayer and bitachon (trust in G-d) and other such -- like our case of "sheluchei mitzvah" -- that often seem to be violated. But they aren't, it's that the interplay between these factors are beyond our ability to comprehend.

I would say, though, the that meta-rule of Providence always holds true, since it's the sole meta-rule, there are no other factors. Each person recieves exactly what they need to maximize their chances of becoming the best person they can, both in terms of doing good and of doing well.

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  • In this explanation, you deem "that meta-rule of Providence" absolutely useless, unlike the law of conservation of energy. Just like claiming omnibenevolence - God is good, but some "other forces intervene. I meditated on this problem and realized that by analyzing this principle you immediately arrive at "we can't know God's ways", which renders R"E's claim worthless.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 16 '20 at 21:02
  • Notice, that R"E already knew empirically that the rule does not hold, so if he wanted to formulate a law, he would phrase it conditionally "..., unless other forces are in place." So I thought why wouldn't he add it, knowing that he's not telling the whole truth! My personal guess is that we should differentiate scientific claims from educational ones. Scientific claims explain natural phenomena, while educational ones cause people to believe in norms and dogmas.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 16 '20 at 21:08
  • @AlBerko, yes, if you think you can predict what Hashem will do, the meta-principle I give is useless. But then, the ideal that we should expect to be able to make such predictions is ridiculous. If, howeverk the point is to be able to better weather the bad times when they happen, knowing that כל שעבד רחמנא ליבא עבד could help. Dec 17 '20 at 13:03
  • @AlBerko, I could give you many examples of Chazal speaking in absolutes. Where we would talk about exceptions, or about more or less. For that matter, look how Chazal and rishonim understand Leiah being "senuah". It happens to be the writing style. Among their non-Jewish contemporaries as well. Dec 17 '20 at 13:09
  • ן can predict pretty reliably what God will do if I drop a pen, fire a bullet, foretell tomorrow's weather or nearest eclipse.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 18 '20 at 11:16

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