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Jewish Lifesaving

R. Reuvan Bulka

If a person sees or hears that someone is in danger, whether he is drowning or being crushed by falling rocks or being chased or conspired against, it is incumbent on the person to help save him. Likewise, a person is obligated to do whatever possible to heal a person who is dangerously ill (Sefer Chareidim).

Included in this general lifesaving obligation is the responsibility to redeem those who have been taken captive. Laxity in carrying out this obligation is tantamount to spilling blood.

Also, if you see a person being pursued by someone who is bent on killing him, you must try to save him even if it means killing the pursuer. But such killing is justified only if there is no other means of heading off the impending murder (Deut. 25:11-12; Sefer Chareidim).

Aside from the reactive interventions to save, there are preemptive responsibilities. For example, it is appropriate to have volunteers in every city who are ready to jump in and save anyone who is in danger (Sefer Chareidim).

Always Help

There are times when one is aware that someone is in danger, but intervention is impossible. This may be the case if the dangerous situation is far away and there is no way to get there on time, or if one is not well enough physically to do anything.

Even in these instances, one is not exempt from responsibility. The obligation to save a life is so overwhelming that one must hire others to do the lifesaving work if he cannot do it himself (Leviticus 19:16; Sefer Chareidim). Lifesaving is such a serious matter that nothing can be allowed to stand in its way.

Elementary as this may seem, translating this into our daily life patterns is not as forthcoming as it should be. For example, if we are aware that our brethren in certain countries are in great peril, there is no excusing our failure to rally to their support. If protest will not help, if entreaty to one's political representative will not help, then at the very least one has no excuse for not praying to God for the redemption of those in captivity.

In other words, there is always something that can be done. The gravity of the offense of doing nothing should be an adequate prod to assure that something will always be done to help.

Don't Stand on Your Brother's Blood

There is an additional nuance to be derived from this mitzvah obligation. When someone is in danger, anyone and everyone who is aware of the danger must rush to help.

This is not a responsibility that can be sloughed off from one person to another. Everyone carries equal responsibility. Granted that some people, because of the nature of their relationships with authority figures, are in a better position to help. This only increases their responsibility.

Since everyone is responsible, the ugly specter of a group of people watching as someone is being murdered and doing nothing, not even calling the police or emergency service, is unlikely to occur. The reflex reaction when seeing an unfolding murder is not to see what others are doing. It is to do whatever one can to help prevent the tragedy.

So lifesaving, as elementary as it seems, and indeed is, actually is a much more encompassing and pervading obligation than we may think.

Care of Self

There are abundant regulations concerning what foods are permitted and what foods are forbidden. However, the mere fact that a food is permitted does not ensure its acceptability.

A primary consideration in the acceptability of food is its impact on health. "You shall be exceedingly careful regarding your being" (Deut. 4:15) is a sweeping imperative adjuring us to take care of ourselves. The words "exceedingly careful" are employed to convey the idea that danger is a more serious matter than ritual prohibition. An item that is not kosher is prohibited, but an item that is dangerous is even more strictly prohibited (Sefer Chareidim).

A forbidden food or drink that accidentally falls into a permitted mixture is neutralized if the mixture is sixty times the amount of the prohibited item. Usually the mixture may then be eaten.

However, a dangerous substance that falls into a mixture does not become neutralized even if the mixture is one thousand times the dangerous substance. The mixture becomes forbidden...

The care that must be extended includes more subjective considerations, such as foods that are poison to some because of a medical condition, but are acceptable for others. These must be avoided by those for whom they are dangerous.

Then there are actions, activities, and habits that are so obviously dangerous and place one's life in jeopardy that they should be avoided at all costs.

The bottom line is that since life is a precious gift from God, it would be rank ingratitude to do anything less than meticulously care for this great gift to care in exceeding measures. That is the ultimate way of saying "thank you."



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