The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
Sanctification of The Name- To What Degree? Part 1
By: Rav Noam Koenigsberg
The Torah states "I will be sanctified amongst the Sons of Israel". Rashi comments that this constitutes a command to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the Mitzvoth of the Torah. Yet, the Torah instructs us to "live by them (the Mitzvoth)"- vechay bahem. The gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (74) resolves this apparent contradiction. As a rule, the preservation of human life takes precedence over fulfillment of the Mitzvoth. However, the three cardinal sins- idolatry, sexual immorality and murder, trump self-preservation. This is known as the halacha of yehareg va'al ya'avor (YVY).
What is the halacha if an individual violated one of the sins subject to YVY? Logic would dictate that he is subject to the appropriate punishment for the relevant sin. Because the Torah requires this individual to forfeit his life rather than commit these sins, the normal clause of ones (an action committed under duress) would not apply. Indeed, the Ran in Masechet Pesachim quotes Rabeinu David to this effect.
In the fifth chapter of Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, the Rambam exempts an individual from the death penalty in such a case. He quotes the verse that a betrothed woman who was forcibly violated in an abandoned field is free of culpability (due to the impossibility of receiving assistance). How can this serve as an exemption for an individual who actively committed one of the three cardinal crimes? The Torah insists that one forfeit his life in such a situation. The perpetrator is willingly violating the command of the Torah to forfeit his life in such a situation! Why is he exempt from punishment?
HaGaon Rav Asher Weiss (in the Minchat Asher on the Torah) explains the Rambam in the following fashion. If the requirement to forfeit ones' life stems from the severity of one of the 3 cardinal sins, then Rabeinu David is correct- the absence of " vechay bahem"- pikuach nefesh- necessitates the perpetrator to receive the appropriate punishment. However, the Rambam maintains that the desecration of The Name ( Chillul Hashem) generates the requirement to forfeit ones' life. The prohibition of idolatry, per se, does not generate the halacha of YVY. Rather, the Torah indicates to us that in the case of the 3 cardinal sins one is required to forfeit biological life to sanctify The Name and to avoid a desecration of The Name.
Thus, an individual who is faced with death or committing idolatry and chose the latter option is not punished for idolatry. He is coerced and there is no punishment under such circumstances. However, he has violated the prohibition of Chillul Hashem. This transgression is not included in the category of YVY, and consequently the individual is exempt from punishment.
What is the halacha if the possibility of escape form such a predicament (committing the transgression or forfeiting one's biological life) exists? Te Shvut Yaakov opines that in such a situation an individual is required to escape; thus avoiding the transgression and saving one's own life. A person who forfeits his life in such a situation is culpable for willingly forfeiting his life ( me'abed et atzmo lada'at).
The Minchat Asher maintains that according to the Rambam one may arrive at a different conclusion. Once the coercer has demanded of the Jew to commit a transgression, the capability of sanctifying The Name (Kiddush Hashem) exists. If the Jew will escape, he will not fulfill this commandment. Thus, one would be permitted (but not required) to forfeit his biological life to sanctify The Name.
Be'ezrat Hashem next week we will delve into an apparent contradiction in the Rambam concerning saving one's life via items associated with idolatry.
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