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
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.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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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)?
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)
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