- "Shluchey Mitzva Ayn Nizukin"
- (Emissaries of Mitzvah are not Harmed)
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- There are a few gemaras which deal with Rabbi Eliezer's principle:
"An emissary of a commandment cannot be harmed." (Pesachim
8, Kiddushin 39, Yuma 11)
- What type of statement is this? Is Rabbi Eliezer teaching that there
are protective forces guarding one who is enacting a command,
unconditionally shielding him from any evil which might normally
befall him? This clearly cannot be the case, as Rabbi Eliezer
continues further, "In a place which is known for danger (i.e.,
on a ladder or in a town with marauders) this principle will not
- The Talmud cites one case where someone was checking mezuzos - a
mitzvah - and he was robbed of a large sum of money. Another case was
cited that one sent his son to perform the command of sending away the
mother bird, and on his descent on the ladder, he fell and died. In
both cases, it is stated that in a situation of danger this principle
does not apply, hence, tragedy struck.
- These two cases show that one who is involved with a command is not
guaranteed safety. We must now compare this with the statement that
emissaries of commands are in fact "immune to danger".
- So, are or aren't emissaries of commandments procured safety?
- If we think into the statement, I believe the answer readily shows
itself: Rabbi Eliezer said, "emissaries of commands aren't prey
to harm". I believe this means that when one is involved in God's
commands, (activities which are for man's perfection), there is no
negative aspect to the performance of such commands. "Toras
Hashem temima", "God's Torah is perfect". Also,
"vchol darkeha, darcei noam", "all her ways are
pleasant". Rabbi Eliezer is teaching that the act of mitzvah -
commandments - are Divinely designed activities which only afford good
to the performer. The inherent act is pure from harm, as it is in fact
a vehicle for man to raise himself to higher levels of perfection.
- While this is true, this is only a statement about the act of mitzva
per se. This in no way means that if one gives charity at the mouth of
a volcano that he will not be scorched, or killed. Rabbi Eliezer's
statement is addressing the act of the command itself, and nothing
else. This is why the gemara says that in a place where danger is
readily found, meaning external circumstances, mitzvah has no
bearing on such normal phenomena.
- We now see two distinct issues: 1) The command itself, that which is
truly perfect and has no negative aspect, 2) Phenomena which are
external to the act of performing commandments, phenomena which follow
natural laws, and affect people whether they are doing mitzvos or not.
- To clarify the point, if both the performer of a mitzva and one
standing idly by are together at the mouth of a volcano, they will
most definitely be scorched equally. True, one doing the commands
gains metaphysical perfection by doing so, but it does not shield him
from normal, physical phenomena. This is what Rabbi Eliezer meant by,
"that in a place which is known for danger this principle will
not apply." Meaning, external circumstances have nothing to do
with what Rabbi Eliezer addresses.
- The gemara in both citations proves the point that in a dangerous
places, commands do not shield. It does so by quoting Samuel I, 16:2.
After Saul was dethroned for not obeying God's command to slaughter
Agag, God instructs Samuel to stop mourning Saul and anoint a new
king. Samuel says to God, "Saul will hear this and kill me".
God gives Samuel a method for avoiding Saul's onslaught. Interestingly
however, although Samuel is now given a Divine directive from God
Himself, Samuel nonetheless does not feel he will escape Saul's wrath.
Amazing! God Himself tells Samuel to do a commandment, yet Samuel
feels he is still under natural law (of Saul's jealousy flaring up and
placing Samuel's life in peril). The gemara wishes to teach from this
case that commandments are not protective devices - even those
commandments uttered by God Himself. Samuel was right, he must not
rely on miracles. God as well does not respond to Samuel saying that
He will perform some miracle to save him. God's advice is to deal with
the situation following natural order. Samuel does not endorse
reliance on miracles, and certainly God does not endorse this.
- We see from Rabbi Eliezer that the principle derived is much
different than on face value. A cursory reading of Rabbi Eliezer's
principle lures one into a false belief that mitzvah affords physical
protection. But one must continue reading the Rabbi's statement. And
when he finishes reading, he must reason that dangerous places do not
apply to this principle. We end up with a new understanding of exactly
how a mitzvah affords us some good, and the answer is perfect:
- In the mitzva itself the good benefits us in two ways:
1) The knowledge our soul gains enhances our perfection.
2) There is moral value inculcated by the performance of the mitzva.
- I urge you to read the Radak on the passage in Samuel I, 16:2. I
will quote a brief portion here:
- "Even though God performs miracles and wonders with His
fearers, the majority of time He operates within natural law. And so
in accordance with natural law did Jacob fear Esav (he sought to
kill Jacob), and David feared Saul if he was anointed king in Saul's
lifetime. And he rightfully had to find recourse to tactics so as to
save himself. This is also what Samuel asked of God..."
- Mitzvah is not a panacea for physical gain, Samuel and David
rightfully didn't believe so, and God doesn't teach so.