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Shekalim 14


QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Nechunya the "Chofer Shichin" (digger of water wells) had a son who died of thirst. The Gemara says that even though Nechunya dedicated his life to providing water to the people who came to Yerushalayim during the festivals, his son died of thirst because Hashem is "Medakdek k'Chut ha'Se'arah" with the righteous; when a person has perfected himself in an area of Avodas Hashem, Hashem demands from him more exact standards.

The Gemara then relates that a certain Chasid who used to dig water wells to provide water for travelers, had a daughter who was tragically swept away by a river while she was on the way to her wedding. (From the words of the Bavli in Bava Kama (50a), it appears that this Chasid was none other than Nechunya.) Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair prayed to Hashem and said, "Is it possible that this person honored his Creator with water, and now his Creator punishes him with water?" At that moment, a commotion was heard in the city, as the daughter returned safe and sound.

If Hashem does not punish a person with the thing in which he excels in his service of Hashem -- as Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair expressed and the second incident demonstrates -- then how could Hashem allow Nechunya's son to die of thirst?


(a) TOSFOS (Bava Kama 50a, Yevamos 121b) explains that since Nechunya excelled in *providing water*, the fact that his son died of thirst is not considered suffering with the same thing with which Nechunya excelled. His son suffered from a *lack* of water, whereas Nechunya excelled in *providing* water. However, for his daughter to die by drowning in a flood of water would have been a punishment in the exact same area in which Nechunya excelled -- providing water, and Hashem would not do such a thing.

Alternatively, Nechunya dug wells, but did not provide the water to fill them, which came naturally through rain. His daughter couldn't die in the pit of a *well*, but his son could die from lack of *water*. (RASHI in Yevamos 121b DH Chofer Shichin, according to ETZ YOSEF ad loc. This does not conform to the Yerushalmi's description of "honoring his Creator *with water*.)

(b) The SHITAH MEKUBETZES (Bava Kama 50a) suggests that there is no such concept that Hashem never harms a person with the object of the Mitzvah in which one excelled. Hashem has His own calculations, based on His infinite wisdom, which we cannot comprehend. Here, though, Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair was offering a *prayer* to Hashem on behalf of the Chasid's daughter. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's Tefilah aroused Hashem's mercy, and Nechunya's daughter was saved. His son, though, died of thirst *after Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair had passed away*, when his Tefilah was no longer effective.

REBBI ELIYAHU FULDA adds that this might be the intention of the Yerushalmi that says that his daughter was saved by an angel that had the appearance of Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair. She was saved in the merit of his prayer on her behalf, and therefore the force that saved her manifested itself in the likeness of Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair. In fact, this may even be the difference between the two descriptions offered by the Yerushalmi as to how the daughter was saved. The one that says she was saved by a branch, is of the opinion that Hashem never punishes the righteous with that in which they excelled, while the one that says she was saved by the likeness of Rebbi Pinchas is of the opinion that only Rebbi Pinchas' interjection saved her. (KORBAN HA'EDAH; ETZ YOSEF in Yevamos 121b)

(c) The MISHNAS ELIYAHU explains that the principle that Hashem does not permit harm to befall someone from the object of the Mitzvah in which he excels applies only if that person performs the Mitzvah entirely l'Shem Shamayim, for the sake of Hashem with no other motives. When a person performs a Mitzvah in that way, the object of that Mitzvah cannot harm him. When Nechunya's daughter presumably drowned, Nechunya was doing the Mitzvah of providing water for the travelers entirely l'Shem Shamayim. Perhaps at a later time, though, when his son died of thirst, he had in mind other motivations and he did not do the Mitzvah solely for the sake of Hashem. When that occurs, Hashem is "Medakdek Im Tzadikim k'Chut ha'Se'arah," and that is why Nechunya's son died of thirst.


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