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Shielded from Sin: Heavenly Aid for the Righteous

Yoram Bogacz

In Tanach and the Gemara, we find that tzaddikim are granted special Divine protection from transgressing halachah. Under what circumstances does this concept apply?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

 A number of verses in Tanach convey the notion that tzaddikim are granted special Divine protection. Several Talmudic passages indicate that sometimes, this protection consists of the tzaddik being prevented from inadvertently transgressing halachah. The Talmud presents this principle in curious terms. If even the animals of tzaddikim are prevented from acting in ways that violate halachah for people, it stands to reason, then, that their owners are certainly spared from such transgressive behavior. To whose animals does the Gemara refer? The Talmud relates that the famous Tanna Rabi Pinchas ben Yair once lodged at an inn where his donkey was given fodder. The donkey refused to eat, even after the food was made more palatable and cleared of pebbles. Rabi Pinchas ben Yair then asked his hosts whether tithes had been separated from the grain, as required by halachah. It turned out that tithes had not been separated, and once this was rectified, the donkey ate the feed placed before it. Hence, the Talmudic adage: if G-d does not bring about spiritual mishaps through the donkey of a tzaddik like Rabi Pinchas ben Yair, surely even an inadvertent transgression of halachah would not befall the tzaddik himself.

A similar albeit lesser-known story is that of the donkey belonging to Rabi Yosé of Yokrat, which exhibited an unusual habit. When hired out by its owner for labor, it would work throughout the day, and in the evening the appropriate rental fee would be placed upon it and it would then come back to its owner. But if too much or too little money was placed on the donkey, it would not budge. Once, a pair of shoes was inadvertently left on its back and the donkey refused to move. Only after the shoes were removed did the donkey proceed to return to its master.

In several Talmudic anecdotes, the possibility that a distinguished personality committed a transgression is considered but rejected, based on the axiom that Hashem shields tzaddikim from sinning inadvertently. Among these are cases in which a Tanna or Amora was said to have partaken of untithed produce, meat torn from a living animal, or improperly slaughtered meat.



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