Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sacrificing One's Life for Another

The Gemora (Kesuvos 61b) records an incident: Ameimar, Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi were once sitting at the gate of King Izgur’s palace (a Persian king). The King’s table-steward passed them by (carrying food for the king). Rav Ashi, observing that Mar Zutra turned pale in the face, took some of the food with his finger and put it into his mouth. “You have ruined the king’s meal,” the table-steward exclaimed. “Why did you do such a thing?” he was asked by the king’s officers. Rav Ashi responded, “The man who prepared that dish has rendered the King's food objectionable.” “Why?” they asked him. “I noticed,” he replied, “leprous pig meat in it.” They examined the dish but did not find anything. Rav Ashi took hold of the chef’s finger and put it on one piece of meat, and he asked them, “Did you examine this part?” They examined it and miraculously found it to be as Rav Ashi had said. The Rabbis asked him, “Why did you rely upon a miracle?” Rav Ashi replied, “I saw the demon of leprosy hovering over him.”

The Maharsha explains that the Rabbis asked Rav Ashi: Why did you put yourself into a severely dangerous predicament in order to save Mar Zutra from a minor danger.

What did Mar Zutra answer? Reb Avi Lebovitz explains: The Gemora answers that Rav Ashi saw the demon of leprosy hovering over him. One could interpret that he wasn't relying on a miracle since he saw that there were signs of leprosy on the meat. However, Rashi implies that Rav Ashi’s answer was that he saw signs of leprosy on Mar Zutra, indicating that the element of danger for Mar Zutra was actually more severe, therefore he was willing to give up his own life to save the life of Mar Zutra.

The Chasam Sofer proves from this dialogue that one is obligated to risk their own life in order to save another. Although this Gemora doesn't prove any obligation, and would only prove that one is allowed to risk their life to save another; the Chasam Sofer seems to hold that when it comes to life, there can't be a choice; it is either mandatory to sacrifice one’s own life or a prohibition.

The Radvaz rules that one is not permitted to sacrifice a limb of his own in order to save the life of another.

The Chasam Sofer challenges this form our Gemora. He understands that the danger to Rav Ashi was that the king will sever his finger. Rav Ashi relied on the miracle in order to save the life of Mar Zutra, for if would not have interceded, Mar Zutra would have died.


Anonymous said...

I am a perspective organ donor. It is possible that my bone marrow might prolong or even save the life of another person. I am 60 yrs. old and she is 23. I have an ailing husband and an 18 yr. old. I have some non life threatening health issues and possibly life threatening anesthesia allergies. If I survive the surgery I could suffer severe pain and possibly longterm disabilities. Conversely, I might have minor issues post surgery. What are my moral and religious obligations?

Avromi said...

You have no moral or religious obligations to donate. Stay healthy and have a Happy Chanukah.