Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim


12 Iyar, 5761/4-5 May, 2001

(from "Havdalah [Separation]", Or HaRa'ayon, HaRav Meir Kahane, ZT"L HY"D)


G-d established a major Torah principle when He said, "Keep My decrees and laws which a person must perform, and live by them" (Lev. 18:5). G-d commanded man to live. This is not a right but an obligation, a prerequisite for leading a life of holiness, purity and goodness, suppressing passion and conceit, accepting the yoke of Heaven and crowning G-d King of the universe. It is an unforgiveable sin to view life as one's personal property, one's private domain which one is allowed, as its owner, so to speak, to do with as one pleases. It is many more times as sinful when a person dares to commit suicide, to end by his own act the life he is commanded to live. "Live by them" is a great mitzvah upon which all others depend.

From here emerges the rule that when there is no decree of forced apostasy looming over us, and G-d's name will not be defamed, we may commit any sin to save our lives (except for idolatry, fornication or murder); because it is better to violate one mitzvah today and live to keep all the mitzvot later on. Our sages said (Shabbat 151b):

"It was learned: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, 'Even for a one-day-old baby we violate the Sabbath, but if David, King of Israel dies, we do not violate the Sabbath for him. Of the first case, the Torah says, 'Violate one Sabbath for him so that he will keep many Sabbaths', but we do not violate the Sabbath for a deceased monarch - once a person dies, he ceases to be obligated by mitzvot.' As R. Yochanan said, 'Set apart [chofshi, lit., free] among the dead' (Ps. 88:6). Once a person dies, he becomes free of the mitzvot.'"

In other words, as long as someone remains alive, all the mitzvot bind him, including the important precept of violating one mitzvah so that he, himself, or another Jew, can live to fulfill many others. A major principle emerging here is that even saving another Jew's life overrides the mitzvot. The mitzvah of saving a Jew (regardless of whether another mitzvah is nullified for that purpose), stems from the mitzvah of Jewish love and brotherhood, from Israel's being "re'im", "neighbors", united in holiness and in mitzvah performances (see Ch. 10). Rambam wrote (Hilchot De'ot 6:3), "It is a mitzvah upon every Jew to love every other Jew like his own self, as it says, 'Love your neighbor ["re'a"] as yourself' (Lev. 19:18), and Sefer HaChinuch wrote the same (243[219]).

And because all of Israel were created as neighbors in mitzvot and in holiness, the Torah decreed, "Do not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is in danger" (Lev. 19:16). Our sages said (Sanhedrin 73a):

"From whence do we know that if someone is chasing his fellow man to kill him, we can save the victim by killing his pursuer... From whence do we know that if we see a person drowning in a river, being dragged by a wild animal or attacked by bandits, we are obligated to save him? It says, 'Do not stand idly by when your fellow-being's life is in danger.'"

Ostensibly, all this applies only when no sin is being committed. How then do we know that one is obligated even to violate a mitzvah in order to save a Jew? Our sages taught (Yoma 85a):

"R. Yishmael, R. Akiva and R Elazar ben Azariah were once on a journey, and Levi the systematizer and R. Yishmael, son of R. Elazar ben Azaria, were following them, when a question was posed to them: 'From whence do we know that in the case of danger to human life the laws of the Sabbath are suspended?'"

Each of these great rabbis brought his own proof. The Talmud concludes (Yoma 85b), "R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: Had I been there, I would have said that my [proof] was better than theirs. It says, 'Live by them', not 'Die by them.'" We see that even when to save a life a mitzvah must be violated, we violate that mitzvah to save our own lives or someone else's life so that he will live on and fulfill many mitzvot - our whole purpose on earth.

Such has the law come down regarding even the possibility of danger to human life, as the Mishnah teaches (Yoma 83a):

"If one is seized by a ravenous hunger, he may be given even unclean things to eat [on Yom Kippur] until he regains his lustre... If one has a pain in his throat, he may pour medicine into his mouth on the Sabbath, because this constitutes a possibility of danger to human life, and every possibility of such danger suspends the laws of the Sabbath."

The Talmud comments (Yoma 84b):

"One may warm water for a critically ill person on the Sabbath, both for the purpose of giving him a drink or of refreshing him; and not only for this one Sabbath did they rule this, but also for the following one. [In other words, even if there is no possibility of danger regarding this Sabbath, for we know that he will not die today, but there is a possibility that if we do not violate the Sabbath on his behalf today, he might die later on.] Nor do we say, 'Let us wait, because he may get well.' Rather, we warm the water for him immediately, for the possibility of danger to human life overrides the laws of the Sabbath... Nor are these things to be done by non-Jews or minors, but by great rabbis."

Observe how pivotal is the concept of the "partner in mitzvah observance", such that we are obligated to profane the Sabbath and the rest of the mitzvot to save a Jew so that he can live on to do mitzvot. The whole mitzvah of saving a Jew stems from the principle of "Live by them", that our whole purpose in life is mitzvah observance. Life is not called living, and there is certainly no reason to violate a mitzvah for its sake, unless it is dedicated to mitzvah observance, which is the purpose of life.

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