Emanuel Synagogue

Achrei Mot - 5782

Halachah declares the permission to practice medicine to be a mitzvah, and therefore a requirement to do so. It is clearly articulated in the general rule concerning piku’ach nefesh, the preservation of life. This is based on a text in this week’s parasha; You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which one shall do and live by them” (Lev. 18:5). Our Sages added; “and not die by them” (Yoma 85b).

By this, they meant two things:

1) The performance of almost any other mitzvah may be set aside if it is found to endanger life; and 

2) The Torah itself sees the preservation of life as its highest goal, and we are commanded to take all reasonable action that may be necessary to protect our lives and the lives of others.

The laws pertaining to piku’ach nefesh are placed so highly on the agenda of Jewish principles that there are only three circumstances where one cannot follow the instructions of another to save a life. They are idolatry, illegitimate sexual intercourse, or murder.

Outside of those three situations, the value of human life, regardless of religion or any other criteria, is valued over everything else. This includes the sanctity of Shabbat. Halachically, there are 39 categories of “work” forbidden on Shabbat. These include kindling a fire and extinguishing a fire, which in today’s terms extend to include driving on Shabbat and/or using electricity. 

However, should there be even the slightest chance that someone’s life may be in danger, it is permissible to transgress those laws, in order to save that person’s life. This could include driving them to the hospital, phoning for help, and using electronic equipment (such as a defibrillator).

Another aspect of piku’ach nefesh that has been the subject of much debate amongst Jewish authorities is that of organ donation. Historically there are a few objections to organ donation. There is nivul hamet (not to interfere with the body after death), halanat hamet (delaying the burial), and hana’at hamet (deriving benefit from a dead body).

In many ways, it is surprising that it was only in the mid to late 20th century that many rabbinic authorities moved from upholding the reasons for objecting to organ donation, to allowing it, and later to encouraging organ donation. Unlike many other areas where debate and opinion has changed due to medical or technological advances (e.g. IVF or electronic devices), the tenets of piku’ach nefesh are the same now as they have always been with regards to organ donation – preservation of life is paramount, and the donor’s life must not be put at risk. 

The Torah and our Sages are explicit in the promotion of the preservation of life. Organ donation is one of the connected areas in which we have a direct influence. It is clearly laid before us a key value of humanity, for us to learn, implement and teach. It is up to us to act appropriately and promote these principles. 

Shabbat Shalom.


Emanuel Synagogue
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025

Contact Us

p: 02 9389 6444

e: info@emanuel.org.au

Shabbat Times

Parashat Lech-Lecha
Shabbat, October 31, 2020
13th of Cheshvan, 5781

Candle Lighting
Friday, October 9  6:57PM

Motzei Shabbat 7:03PM

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