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Parashat Ki Tissa

Lechayim! (To Life)

In the tractate Yoma, the Gemarah discusses one of the more relevant issues in the Jewish tradition and the question is whether saving a life takes precedence over the Sabbath. A number of sages deal with this issue. One of the approaches is closely connected with our Parashah, Parashat Ki Tissa.

In Parashat Ki Tissa we read the "Ve-Shamru" (Thou shall keep), verses that we all know from the Sabbath prayers. "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout the generations, for a perpetual covenant." (Exodus 31:16) Rabbi Shimon Ben Menasiah said, "And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath" – "One may profain one Sabbath in order to observe many Sabbaths". (Yoma 85b)

The Torah commands us to observe the Sabbath and thus we must make sure that more Jews do indeed observe it. Thus, if you see a Jew in mortal danger, you must profain the Sabbath so that in the future, that Jew will be able to observe many Sabbaths.

We are speaking here about an ultimate value that determines the order of precedence in our religious tradition. The sages guarded this principle so carefully that they even decided that "any doubt of mortal danger takes precedence over the Sabbath". (Yoma 83a)

The Gemara says, "Don't make calculations". "Don't request an ultra-sound or a C.T. in order to know if it is permitted to break the Sabbath in order to save a life".

The decision that saving a life takes precedence not only over the Sabbath but over all of the things forbidden in the Torah (with the exception of pagan worship, incest and murder) is one of the most effective barriers against religious fanaticism.

Take the story about Rabbi Haim from Tsanz who fell ill at the start of Passover and the doctors recommended that he not eat Maror (bitter herbs) n the night of the Seder.

Inspite of this, Rabbi Haim demanded that a generous helping of Maror be prepared for him.

And when the time to eat the bitter herbs came, he took them in his hand and said with enthusiasm "Blessed are Thou…who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to take care of ourselves (Baruch ata…asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu ve-nishmartem meod le-nafshoteichem) and immediately put the Maror back on to the Seder plate.

"You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments which if a man do he shall live in them, I am the Lord." (Leviticus 18:5). We shall "live in them" and not "die in them" (Yoma 85 a), as Shmuel the Amorai said.

"Be fanatics!" say the sages, but fanatics for life! Only this kind of fanaticism is praiseworthy.

Weekly Torah Portion

Old Hebrew Prayer Book
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