There is an interesting story at the bottom of Chagiga 4b, top of 5a.

The Angel of Death is telling a Rabbi of an incident that happened.

The AoD has an assistant. The AoD tells him to reap Miriam A but he accidentally reaps Miriam B instead. The assistant asks if he should rectify the mistake by exchanging the two but AoD says not to. The unspent years allotted to Miriam B are given to a talmid chacham who will generate mitzvos for Miriam B but Miriam B does not enter the afterlife proper. She just sort of hangs around with the AoD in limbo until her years run out.

I accept that this may be an allegory, but how is it theologically acceptable that this sort of "creative accounting" goes on at the expense of people in a universe where God meticulously decrees every year "who by fire, who by water etc?" It seems that the answer to "why do bad things happen to good people" is because God tends not to care sufficiently to stop them as he can retroactively resolve the injustice by giving people more schar (heavenly reward) at the end, like an omnipotent airline that gives you free passes to the airport lounge because they were able to not lose your baggage but did anyway. Does God believe that he can create suffering such as the death of Miriam B (Which was the fault of heaven and not a human actor) and just make up for it by awarding schar?

http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf Tosafos says that Miriam (probably Miriam A) was the mother of A Certain Person. Both Miriams are titled "Magdala" with different spellings.

  • One solution I have is that this story was made up solely to disparage Jesus without seriously considering the theological ramifications. Oct 21, 2014 at 22:08
  • 1
    a note about that tosafot -- it references the Miriam on Shabbat 104b about which the following was written, " Miriam was called a women's hairdresser, "megadla nashaia" [for this translation, see R. Meir Halevi Abulafia, Yad Rama, Sanhedrin ad. loc" as per angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html
    – rosends
    Oct 21, 2014 at 22:32

3 Answers 3


The Gemara you quote asks and answers that very question.

Miriam B was doing something dangerous and thereby she was at high risk of dying.

היכי יכלת לה? הות נקיטא מתארא בידה והות קא שגרא ומחריא תנורא שקלתא ואנחתא אגבה דכרעה קדחא ואיתרע מזלה ואייתיתה


היכי יכלת לה. מאחר שלא הגיע זמנה: הות נקיטא מתארא בידה. היתה אוחזת בידה האוד של תנור שקורין פרגו''ן: וקא מחריא תנורא. מכבדת את התנור: אותיבתיה אגבה דכרעה. הושיבתו על גב רגלה ונכות והורע מזלה: ‏

"How did you manage to kill her? She was cleaning out the oven, and [accidentaly] put the [burning hot] instrument on her legs, got burnt and - because of her bad luck - was easy prey for the AoD."

Part of your yearly decree "who by fire" includes "if statements". If you are at the wrong place at the wrong time - and do not have special merits - you're going to be one of the victims.

We have a similar rule that the Satan prosecutes at a time of danger. He has more power then, as you've stepped into a dangerous "if statement".

So Miriam B was not killed by accident - it was part of the divine plan. No injustice and no need to rectify such.

As to why some Talmid Chacham gets her "unused miles"? That's harder to explain, but it seems that there are a certain amount of "man hours" that are pre-defined need to be filled.

  • 2
    Still, the AoD had not called her. Her "mazal" was low and the assistant was able to take her oppurtunistically. Although it is obvious that someone could die of a burn, her death was not actually called for. Oct 22, 2014 at 11:30
  • And another thing. If her dip in mazal caused her deeds to become scrutinized and she was judged worthy of death, then the AoD would have explicitly asked for her and the assistant would have brought back both Miriams. Oct 22, 2014 at 13:08
  • Somewhat related link I happened to bump into today: bdld.info/2014/09/22/there-is-that-is-destroyed-unjustly Oct 22, 2014 at 13:49
  • @ClintEastwood - another open issue: When did Miriam A die? Was she given a [much] longer life because of the incident? Oct 22, 2014 at 13:50
  • Perhaps it was because of this mistake that she would live on to become the mother of that Certain Person. Oct 22, 2014 at 14:03

The Michtam L'Dovid, Berachos 2:8, in addressing a different question, writes that this Gemara is not an example of Hashem acting unjustly, because it wasn't Hashem who did it, but rather the Angel of Death - דמלאך המות הוא דעבד הכי, ולאו הקב"ה אמר לו להמיתו. This would then be an example of an angel making a mistake, not of Hashem being fast and loose with people's lives.

This, of course, doesn't really address your question until we explain why Hashem should allow/create angels making mistakes.

In Da'as Tevunos Chelek 2 Simanim 29-35 he discusses how it comes to be that angels make mistakes. I summarized it here. The Ramchal explains that this is a necessary step in the existence of the Sitra Achra / forces of Evil and thereby the Yetzer Hara. G-d did not directly create Evil, because Hashem is the Source of Good, and evil would not come forth (directly) from Him (Da'as Tevunos simanim 104 and 106). Therefore, in order for an entity of evil, and really all evil, to come into existence, Hashem "orchestrated" that it would come about through a lack of His providing the necessary spiritual energy or awareness for the angel to understand its task, and through its misinterpretation it would fulfill that role.

So in short, this is a result of the allowance of the ability for angels to make mistakes, and angels making mistakes was an integral part of the creation by an entirely good G-d of the framework of a world with a choice between good and evil.


Rav Elayshiv in his commentary on that gemarah indicates that the entire episode was a dream and therefore we cannot extrapolate from it.

  • Can you provide a link or quote?
    – simyou
    Mar 1, 2020 at 9:27
  • This is not a very useful approach. The gemara must be trying to teach us something. I don't have any problem saying we should not take it literally, but we cannot dismiss it as meaningless by saying its a dream.
    – simyou
    Mar 1, 2020 at 9:28

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