Shabbat 32 - Protective merits of a person
Being careful about three commandments protects a woman in labor: the laws of niddah ( here to here ), challah (the first portion of the dough, given to a kohen), and kindling of the Shabbat candles . Why are these special? Niddah is naturally connected to childbirth; challah is connected to anything that is first, and Adam was the first; and human soul is called a candle.
In general, one goes through life unimpeded, but his merits are weighted in the time of danger. For a man this means going over a shaky bridge, or any similar dangerous circumstance. As an illustration, Rav would not pass over a bridge on which an idolater was sitting - Rav felt that his merits might be insufficient to save him, if the judgment was visited on the idolater. Shmuel, on the other hand, would not pass a bridge where an idolater was not sitting - his reasoning was that either idolater has bad luck or Shmuel, but not both at once. Rabbi Yannai would check a boat for leaks and then cross. His logic was that one should not rely on miracles. If he is then saved from danger, it looks as if it happened due to natural causes, and even if a miracle is performed, this is undesirable, because it deducts from his account of good deeds.
For the same reason, one should always pray to continue being healthy: maintaining the healthy status quo requires comparatively little merit, but being saved from serious illness is tantamount to a miracle. If one goes to a marketplace, it should appear in his eyes as if he goes to trial; if he has a minor headache, he should think that he is put in chains; if he is sick, he should think that he is judged; however, his powerful advocates are his good deeds, and even one good deed speaks up against a thousand bad ones.
Art: Frederick Childe Hassam - Bridge at Old Lyme