V’chai bahem (18:5)
In Parshas Acharei Mos, we are commanded to guard Hashem’s decrees and laws and live through them. From the Torah’s emphasis on observing the commandments and living, the Gemora (Sanhedrin 74a) derives that the mitzvos were given to us in order to live, not to die. Therefore, if keeping one of the commandments will result in a potential danger to a person’s life, he should disregard the law for the purpose of pikuach nefesh – in order to preserve his life, with the exception of sins involving murder, idolatry, or forbidden relationships.
Although the idea of doing something that is normally forbidden for the purpose of pikuach nefesh is a situation in which many of us hope not to find ourselves, our Gedolim viewed it differently, as simply one of the 613 mitzvos that a person may perform in life, one which should be done with the same joy and concentration as any other mitzvah.
At the end of the Brisker Rav’s life he was very weak and ill, and he understood that the primary purpose of his life at that point was to perform constantly the mitzvah of v’chai bahem – keeping oneself alive – and when he was counting and measuring out his various medications, he did so with the same precision and focus that he applied to every other mitzvah.
This perspective is not surprising, as he recounted that when his father, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, was required to eat on a fast day for reasons of health, he made sure to eat in full view of others for two reasons. First, there were sick people in Brisk who may have felt uncomfortable about eating on a fast day and hesitated to do so, thereby jeopardizing their lives, but when they saw the respected Rav of the town eating publicly due to his physical state without any compunctions, they would do so as well.
Second, if he insisted on eating privately where nobody could see him, he would be demonstrating that he felt that what he was doing was on some level less than ideal. Such an attitude is incorrect, as the reason that we fast is in order to fulfill Hashem’s will, and the same G-d Who instructed us not to eat on certain days also commanded us to eat on those days if fasting would endanger our lives because we are sick.
The Brisker Rav added that just as everybody understands that circumcising an 8-day-old baby boy on Shabbos is not only permitted but required, and nobody would ever insist on doing so in private due to the fact that drawing blood is otherwise prohibited on Shabbos, so too nobody should feel ashamed when performing Hashem’s will by eating on a fast day for the sake of his health.
In one of his lectures, Rav Ezriel Tauber recounted that at the end of his father’s life, he was wheelchair-bound and no longer able to spend his time engaged in Torah study and mitzvah performance as he had done for so many decades. In order to strengthen and encourage him and to prevent him from falling into a state of depression, Rav Tauber approached his father and told him that Hashem loved him and was taking good care of him. His surprised father asked for an explanation.
Rav Tauber responded by and asking his father to identify a Biblical mitzvah that he had never successfully performed lishmah (for its own sake), to which his confused father replied that he had always striven his utmost to do every mitzvah with pure motivations. Rav Tauber continued and suggested that there was one important mitzvah that his father had always performed for ulterior motives: the mitzvah to live. He explained that his father loved mitzvos so much that he had always lived in order to study Torah, to pray, to give tzedakah, and to do acts of chesed, but he had never once lived only for the purpose of living and had never once breathed for the sole purpose of v’chai bahem – to give Hashem a living Jew.
However, because Hashem loved the elder Rav Tauber so much and saw his tremendous dedication to mitzvos, He wanted to give him the opportunity to finally fulfill the mitzvah of living for no other reason than because Hashem gave him a mitzvah to live. In order to do so, Hashem had no choice but to place him in a wheelchair and take away his ability to learn Torah and do chesed, so that he would be able for the first time in his life to perform the mitzvah of living lishmah. Rav Tauber added that this perspective was tremendously consoling and uplifting to his father, who repeated it often to those who came to visit him, and can be used to strengthen ourselves should we ever find ourselves in a situation in which we are unable perform mitzvos in the manner to which we are accustomed.
V’lifnei iveir li sitein michshol (19:14)
The Torah commands us not to place a stumbling block before the blind. Rashi explains that this prohibition doesn’t only refer to causing a person who is literally blind to trip and fall, but it also applies to anybody who is “blind” in a certain area, as we are exhorted not to give him bad advice which could cause him to stumble. However, Rashi adds a word and emphasizes that this prohibition is transgressed by offering advice which is not suitable for him. What lesson is Rashi coming to teach us?
The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, was once approached by the director of a prominent organization, who wanted his assessment about whether he should offer a leadership position within the organization to a certain individual. The Rav replied that he thought that the person in question was well-suited for the job and encouraged the director to hire him. When the individual was offered the position, he went to consult the Brisker Rav to solicit his opinion about whether he should accept the opportunity. He was advised to turn it down.
When the director heard that the prospective hire was declining the position at the recommendation of the Brisker Rav, he was shocked and astounded. He immediately returned to the Rav’s house to ask him why he had changed his mind after initially maintaining that this individual was qualified for the job.
The sagacious Rav replied, “My opinion did not change at all. When you originally approached me, you asked whether it was in the best interests of your organization to hire this person, and I responded that it was. However, when he came to ask for my guidance, he didn’t ask what would be best for the organization, but rather what would be best for him, to which I responded that it was not a good idea for him to accept the position. The Torah requires us to give advice that is in the best interests of the advice-seeker, and if I would have told him to accept the job, which would be good for you but not for him, I would have transgressed this prohibition,” a lesson that we should bear in mind when our opinions are solicited and we are tempted to respond in the way that we would like the other person to act, even though it may not be the best advice for the questioner.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) How was Yaakov permitted to marry Rochel and Leah, two sisters, which is forbidden (18:18) by the Torah? (Ramban Bereishis 26:5, Moshav Z’keinim; Shu”t Rema 10, Nefesh HaChaim 1:21)
2) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. Is it forbidden to invite a non-religious Jew to come for a Shabbos meal, as doing so will cause him to sin by driving back and forth? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:98-99, Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358)
3) A person who sees another Jew acting inappropriately is required to rebuke him (19:17). The Gemora in Bava Metzia (31a) rules that a person is required to rebuke as many as 100 times until it is accepted. How can this be reconciled with the teaching of the Gemora in Yevamos (65b) that just as there is a mitzvah to say something which will be listened to, similarly there is a mitzvah to refrain from saying something which will be ignored (i.e. the first 99 rebukes)? (M’rafsin Igri)
4) The Torah commands a person (19:32) to rise in the presence of a sage to show him respect. The Gemora in Shavuos (30b) teaches that one is also required to show respect to the wife of a Torah scholar. In what way is the obligation to show respect to the scholar’s wife more stringent than the respect shown to the scholar himself? (Minchas Chinuch 257:8)
© 2013 by Oizer Alport.