Hashem Does Not Bring About Failure Through the Righteous

The Gemara (Chullin 7a) recounts an incident where Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair travelled to a certain hotel and the innkeeper brought some barley for the rabbi’s donkey. The donkey, however, did not want to eat. They proceeded to sift and clean the barley by removing all of its waste but the donkey would still not eat. Rabbi Pinchas asked them, “Did you possibly not tithe the barley?” They immediately tithed the barley and the donkey finally ate. Rabbi Pinchas told them, “This poor animal (the donkey) is on its way to perform the will of its Creator and you wish to feed it untithed produce?”

Our Sages derived from here that if one is truly righteous and is always careful not to consume any food that is even doubtfully forbidden, Hashem will aid this individual so that he not fail in these areas at all. Hashem will even prevent failure through the animal of such an individual (for it was forbidden to feed one’s animal such untithed produced).

The Gemara (Gittin 7a) quotes the Mishnah (Shabbat 34a) which states, “One must inquire about three things in one’s home on Erev Shabbat shortly before sunset: ‘Have you tithed? Have you established the Eruv? Light the candles!’” Rabba bar Bar Chana explains that one must inquire about these issues in a calm manner just as one must be calm regarding all other things that he brings to the attention of one’s household in order for one’s words to have the desired effect and cause the members of the household to want to do them. Rabbi Avhu adds that “one should never instill excessive fear in one’s household for Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel instilled excessive fear in his household and as a result, he almost transgressed the prohibition of consuming meat torn off of a live animal.”

Rashi explains that once, Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel’s servants slaughtered an animal and one of its body parts were lost; because they were so frightened that their master would be angry that they lost a piece of meat, they took a piece of non-kosher meat and put it in the pace of the missing piece. Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel was spared this transgression from Heaven as he was notified that the meat was non-kosher, for Hashem does not bring about failure even through the animals of the righteous and certainly not through the righteous themselves.

The Tosafot quote Rabbeinu Tam’s explanation of this matter that this does not mean to say that the righteous will never sin, for we find several places throughout the Talmud that great luminaries transgressed all kinds of sins. Rather, this means that if one is righteous, Hashem shall protect him from transgressing prohibitions related to forbidden foods, for consuming forbidden foods is a truly shameful sin, for this will cause the flesh of the righteous individual to become one entity with the forbidden foods he has eaten. Thus, this promise that Hashem does not bring about failure through the righteous only applies to eating related prohibitions.

We have heard Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quote the words of the saintly Ari z”l that one who is careful regarding Chametz on Pesach is guaranteed not to sin the entire year. Maran zt”l recounted that once, the mother of Hagaon Rabbeinu Akiva Eiger questioned this, for we find many great Torah scholars who are meticulous regarding the prohibitions of Chametz and they nevertheless transgress various sins. Hagaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger answered that the words of the Ari z”l are similar to the words of our Sages in that one who is careful regarding Chametz is guaranteed not to transgress any eating related prohibitions throughout the year but this does not mean one will not sin throughout the year at all.

Maran zt”l adds based on the words of Rabbeinu Nissim that when our Sages promise that one will not sin, this only applies when the sinner is not at fault, i.e. Hashem only protects the righteous, those who are careful regarding Chametz, etc. only from incidents that are not in the individual’s control. However, if the person is slightly at fault, such as if one enters a restaurant that is not under the best Kashrut supervision, one will not merit divine protection and it is possible that one will transgress even sins of forbidden food consumption.

Based on this, Rabbeinu Nissim explains that the reason why King Solomon failed at the end of his life and his wives were able to lead his heart astray was because he tried to outsmart the Torah’s commandment of a king not marrying too many wives, for he claimed, “I will marry many wives and my heart shall not stray from Hashem!” At the end, his wives did indeed lead his heart astray. However, regarding matters about which one is not at fault at all and when one is careful with all his actions, such as the incident with Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel, Hashem shall protect the individual from all failure.