בצדק תשפט עמיתך...ואהבת לרעך כמוך יט:טו,יח
The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah (perek shvii and shmini) avers that the mitzvos of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha and b’tzedek tishpot amisecha comprise the backbone of avodas Hashem. He explains that Hashem feels every Jew’s joy and suffering. By alleviating someone's pain, or by giving them joy, one does the same for Hashem, as it were.
Why does that make them, though, the backbone of all avodas Hashem? Don’t all mitzvos bring Hashem nachas ruach? Why should these two particular mitzvos be any more significant?
The following mashal can help us understand this idea (in fact, everything in this world is a mashal for avodas Hashem). Two people need help. One individual is a penniless pauper who lives in a mud hut and he dreams of one day living in an opulent palace. The other is a man whose child is suffering from an extremely life-threatining illness. Who do you think should take precedence? In which one of these two situations will there be a greater transition “from darkness to light”?
We are the children of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu. True, He gets nachas ruach from every mitzvah that we do, but He gets a unique nachas ruach when His children love each other and are happy. Learning Torah and fulfilling mitzvos indeed creates “castles and palaces” in Shamayim, but the nachas ruach of helping a fellow Jew is still unique.
(From Reb Avi Klotz)
לא תעמד על דם רעך יט:טז
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a) says that this pasuk is the source for the obligation to save a Jew who is in danger. “From where do we know that if you see someone drowning in a river, being dragged away by a wild animal, or under attack by highway men that you must save him? As the pasuk says, “lo saamod al dahm reih’echa.” Therefore, says the Gemara, we need a different source to teach us that if one Jew is trying to kill another Jew that you must kill the rodef, if necessary, to stop the murder from happening. That, we learn from the words “ein moshia lah” by naarah ha’meurasah. Seeing that someone chasing after arayos must be killed, if necessary, to stop him from doing that aveirah, all the more so if he is chasing after a Jew to kill him.
The Rishonim grapple with this question: once we have “ein moshia lah” which teaches us that one must even kill a rodef to save a fellow Jew, why do we need “lo saamod al dahm reih’echa”? Obviously, if one must kill – when absolutely necessary – to save a Jew’s life, all the more so that he must do so when no killing is necessary.
The Ran answers that from “ein moshia lah” we only know about cases of certitude. It has to be a vadai to kill the rodef. If it’s a safek, you can’t kill him. Therefore, if not for “lo saamod al dahm reih’echa”, we would not have known about cases of safek when no killing is involved. “Lo saamod al dahm reih’echa” teaches us that if someone is drowning, or the like, even if you are not certain that the person’s life is truly in danger, you are obligated to save him.
There is a basic query regarding the extent of this obligation to save a fellow Jew. The Radvaz (cheilek gimel, teshuva 1,052) was asked if one is obligated to give up a limb in order to save another. For example, if a non-Jew says to you, “Let me cut off your finger, or else I am going to kill that Jew over there.”
The one who wrote the shailah to the Radvaz asserted that one is obligated to do so. His reasoning? A kal v’chomer from Shabbos. One is not allowed to violate Shabbos to save a limb if there is no danger to life involved. So we see that chillul Shabbos is more severe than loss of a limb. Yet, we are obligated to violate Shabbos in order to save a Jew’s life. That being the case, giving up a limb – which is of lesser significance than chillul Shabbos – most certainly is included in the obligation to save a life.
The Radvaz, though, rejects this reasoning. He avers that to give up a limb to save another is only a middas chassidus, but not an obligation. He provided four lines of reasoning to reject that questioner’s kal v’chomer. 1) When one is in a situation of danger only to a limb on Shabbos, that is a situation that was imposed on him from Heaven. He is not allowed to actively violate Shabbos to save it. However, we cannot learn from here that one is obligated to actively give up a limb in order to save another. 2) One can never really know when severing a limb may cause a life-threatening situation. A man once hemorrhaged to death from a cut in his ear! 3) When it comes to Shabbos, both the person and all of his limbs are obligated to keep Shabbos. 4) The Torah’s “rule of thumb” is derachehah darchei noam” and to obligate a person to give up a limb to save another would be a violation of that creed.
Another issue that is discussed in the Poskim concerns a situation of safek sakanah for the rescuer. In Kesef Mishneh (at the end of perek alef of Hilchos Rotzeiach) and Beis Yosef (in Choshen Mishpat, siman 426), the Mechaber brings a Yerushalmi that clearly states that one is in fact obligated to save another Jew even if that will put the rescuer in a situation of possible danger to life. However, in Shulchan Aruch, he omits this. The Perishah (there in siman 426) explains that the Mechaber retracted because neither the Rif nor the Rambam bring this Yerushalmi.
Indeed, this is the halachah l’maaseh that the Mishna Brurah brings (329:19) in the name of the Pischei Teshuva: chayecha kodmin, one’s own life takes precedence – even if the danger is doubtful – to saving another. However, one must weigh the situation carefully to be sure that there really is possible danger involved for the rescuer, and not be machmir about that definition.
ואהבת לרעך כמוך יט:יח
The Gemara in Kesubos (37b) says that v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha is the reason why someone who is chayav misas sayif is not executed with a butcher’s knife and/or from the back of his neck. Bror lo misah yafah, says the Gemara, we have to select for him the easiest form of execution possible.
The Shitah Mekubetzes explains that we see from here that “reiacha” includes even a rasha who is chayav misah. “Reiacha” implies even “ra’im sheh’b’cha”, the wicked amongst you. And the reason, elaborates the Shitah Mekubetzes, is as the Gemara in Megillah (7b) says, “Once the guilty party receives his punishment of malkos, he is once again called achicha”. So too this rasha who is getting his punishment of misas beis din. In fact, concludes the Shitah Mekubetzes, he is even called a reiah ahuv, as the pasuk says, “b’sar chasidecha l’chayso aretz” – that once they get their punishment, they are called “chasidecha”.
There is a tremendous kashya on this Shitah Mekubetzes. It seems to be in direct contradiction to the Gemara in Sanhedrin (47a) which is the source for that drasha on the pasuk “b’sar chasidecha l’chayso aretz”. The conclusion of the Gemara there is that there is a difference between a rasha who gets killed by non-Jews versus a rasha who was executed by Beis Din. Since the latter, says the Gemara, was executed in consonance with the Torah’s mandate – he was rightfully killed – his death alone does not serve as an atonement for him (if he did not have even the slightest thought of teshuva). Only once he is buried and his flesh has decomposed does he gain atonement. This certainly sounds not like the Shitah Mekubetzes. Tzarich iyun.
וְכִי יָגוּר אִתְּךָ גֵּר בְּאַרְצְכֶם לֹא תוֹנוּ אֹתוֹ...כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ יט:לג-לד
The Meshech Chochmah has a fascinating explanation of these pesukim. He bases it on the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Biah, 13) who says that the reason the Sanhedrin in the time of Dovid Ha’Melech and Shlomo Ha’Melech held that geirim could not be accepted is that it was impossible to know if the prospective convert genuinely wanted to become a Jew for the right reasons, or if they simply were interested in the immense worldly success and material wealth that was in such abundance for Klal Yisrael at that time. One who converts out of interest in the latter, continues the Rambam, is not a ger tzedek. Nevertheless, adds the Rambam, there were numerous geirim that managed to find batei din that would convert them during that time. The Sanhedrin’s approach, concludes the Rambam, to such de facto geirim was one of ambivalence: on the one hand, they did not reject these converts, but, on the other hand, they also refrained from “bringing them close”.
So, says the Meshech Chochmah, that can be how we are to understand these pesukim. The first pasuk – which employs the term “itcha” (with you) in the singular tense, thus implying a situation in which Klal Yisrael is wholly unified and dwelling peacefully and prosperly in its land – only says to not cause pain to the ger. Don’t reject him. But that’s it. It does not say you have to show him love. Why? Because it is talking about times when everything is great for Klal Yisrael, and we therefore really should not have allowed converts to join to begin with since they may have only converted because they wanted to have a part in our prosperous society. But, still, the pasuk is telling us, if they somehow managed to find a Beis Din that converted them, don’t cause them pain. Don’t reject them. The second pasuk is telling us much more: it’s not enough to simply be careful to not cause a ger pain, you have to go out of your way to love him. To bring him close. This second pasuk employs the term “itchem” (with you) in the plural tense. It is talking about a time when Klal Yisrael is scattered and spread out amongst the Gentile nations –downtrodden persecuted – in which case it is obvious that the ger converted for only the right reasons. Such a ger is most certainly a ger tzedek in the full sense of the term and most be shown tremendous love. Provided courtesy of VayigdalMoshe.com