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Parshas Acharei Mos - Vol. 11, Issue 30
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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 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 observe 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.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Parshas Acharei Mos details the laws of Yom Kippur, the day on which we are forgiven for our sins. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which a person has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. If somebody knows that a person he insulted has completely forgiven him, is he still required to ask for forgiveness? (Mateh Moshe 848, Moadim U'Zmanim 1:54, Pele Yoetz Ma'areches Teshuvah, Shu"t D'var Yehoshua 5:20, Shu"t Az Nidb'ru 7:65)
2) Almost all of the forbidden relationships are bi-directional, in that they apply both to older generations and to younger generations. For example, just as one is prohibited to have relations with his mother or mother-in-law, he is also forbidden to have relations with his daughter or daughter-in-law. One notable exception is that a person is forbidden to have relations with his aunt (18:12-14), yet it is permissible - and according to the Gemora in Yevamos (62b, Tosefos d.h. v'hanosei) it is a mitzvah - to marry one's niece. Why is this prohibition different than all of the others in this regard? (Peirush HaRosh, Seforno 18:6)
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