For the Week of 18 Av 5762 / July 27 2002


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From: Gerald

Dear Rabbi,

We are taught not to put ourselves in harm’s way/dangerous situations. If we do so we may die before our time; e.g. going to a war zone.

Can you explain how or if the following situations/conditions puts a person in such a state:

1. Eating an unhealthy diet

2. Moving to an area such as Hebron

3. Not looking when crossing a very dangerous street

And how do providence and G-d's protective angels play into the outcome? It seems to me that even if one flirts with danger G-d still has the final say if He chooses to.

Dear Gerald,

The Torah (Deuteronomy 4:9) warns us, "You shall guard yourselves and guard your souls well". This is understood by many as a warning for us to safeguard our physical wellbeing.

To obtain a basic understanding of when this mitzvah applies we need to differentiate between a definite, immediate danger to one which builds up slowly or is only a relatively distant doubt.

Eating an unhealthy diet is certainly not advocated. One who leads a healthy lifestyle is far more likely to live longer, free of many types of sickness that affect those who give in to their sweet tooth.

Nevertheless there is no actual prohibition to enjoy a packet of potato chips and a coke. It's unlikely that a person will have a heart attack upon scraping up the last crumbs of a danish. His only immediate concern is keeping the powdered sugar from dirtying his newly dry-cleaned suit.

Eating the occasional unhealthy food is a normal, accepted thing to do and does not create a significant danger to life. That what it may possibly affect the person in the long run does not make this bite dangerous.

Living solely on an unhealthy diet is different. The dangers here are significant and more immediate. A person who leads this sort of lifestyle is reckless and neglectful.

Walking into a busy road without looking is a recipe for disaster. Life is in immediate, definite danger. Statistics show that if a car hits a person at just forty miles an hour it will probably kill him. But even a car travelling at a mere five miles an hour can cause severe injury or death. In a situation such as this one cannot rely on G-d's mercy to save him.

As for Hebron, an interesting story comes to mind. A billionaire once hired a team of researchers to seek the perfect place to live. Many different aspects were taken into account, including quality of life, environmental concerns and security. After thorough research and huge expenditure, the Falkland Islands were chosen as the ideal location. Our wealthy friend packed his bags and moved there. Three weeks later the Falkands Conflict broke out!

Hebron might seem to be a dangerous place, but one can never tell for sure. Should the question of moving there arise, one would have to ask one's individual Rabbi.

G-d certainly has the final say in all matters. It's just that in a dangerous situation a person’s merits will not necessarily come to his aid. This world was created to run according to nature. Fire burns, and if one puts his hand into it, he will get hurt. G- d is not interested in offering extra protection to provide for a person's foolish recklessness.


Rambam, Rotze’ach 11:4
Rambam, De'ot 5
Iggrot Moshe C.M. 2:76
Sefer HaChinuch 546

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