Friday, January 26, 2007


by Zvi Akiva Fleisher


Ch. 21, v. 1: "L'nefesh lo yitamo" – A Kohein is prohibited to defile himself to a dead human body. The Tosfos on Bovo Metzia 114b d.h. "omar lei" asks, "How was Eliyohu permitted to resuscitate the son of the Ishoh haTzorfosis by coming into contact with him (M'lochim 1:17:21)? Since Eliyohu is a Kohein, he is prohibited to defile himself, as per our verse." Tosfos answers that he was CERTAIN that he would be successful in bringing the child back to life and was therefore permitted by virtue of the rules of "pikuach nefesh," saving one's life. (Technically he didn't save a life, but rather brought about the existence of a life, according to those who say that the child had expired. However, this is also permitted, as per commentators on gemara Shabbos 151b and Yoma 85b who derive from the words, "Tov she'y'chalel Shabbos achas k'dei she'yishmor Shabbosos harbei" that this too is permitted. Rabbi Eliezer Moshe Horovitz, Rov of Pinsk asks that even if Eliyohu wasn't certain, but even in DOUBT whether he would be successful, he should have been permitted to defile himself, as per the gemara Yoma 83a, that "sofik pikuach n'foshos docheh Shabbos."
He answers that the gemara Taanis 19a says that if a Jewish community becomes surrounded by enemies who want to attack, it is permitted to blow trumpets with a signal to outlying Jewish communities to come to their aid in battle even on Shabbos. Rabbi Yosi says that a blast to indicate that they should assemble in prayer for their welfare is not permitted. Rashi explains that this is not permitted, because to transgress the Rabbinical decree of sounding instruments is not cast aside for prayer, which might be ineffective. We see from here that although a call to arms might also not be successful, nonetheless the Rabbis only permitted pushing aside prohibitions for physical help in attempting to save lives, and not spiritual. A Kohein defiling himself to a dead body is even stricter than the Rabbinical prohibition. Therefore Tosfos says that Eliyohu had to be CERTAIN that his prayers would be successful, since his reviving the dead child was through prayer.
Along the same line: The responsa of the Divrei Yechezkel of Shinov has the following question raised: Is it permitted to send a telegram to a great tzadik on Shabbos, to advise him that someone is gravely ill, so that the tzadik will pray for his well-being? The Shinover Gaon answered that this is not permitted since it is a spiritual approach.
A subject relative to the above is if one may transgress a prohibition to attempt to save one's life through bringing it about by way of a supernatural manner, such as a "seguloh." The basis for this is a Mishneh Shabbos 67a.