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Section: Parshas HaShavua   Category: Quick Vort
Parshas Acharei Mos: Rav Moshe Feinstein - Life is Not More Important Than Any Mitzva

The pasuk  says, "You should keep My statutes and My laws, which if a man obeys, 'v'chai bahem' [he shall live through them], I am Hashem." [Vayikra 18:5] The Gemara learns from this source that if a person is faced with the choice of committing a sin or being murdered, the halacha requires the person to commit the aveira, and not die. However, there are three exceptions: avoda zarah [idol worship], shfichas damim [murder], and giluy arayus [illicit relations].

Barring these three exceptions, the halacha says that one should eat pork, violate the Shabbos, eat bread on Pesach, and do not die. Why? Because we learn from this pasuk: these are the mitzvos that I gave you, "v'chai bahem," and you should live by them. The Gemara interprets this to mean that "you should live by them, and not die by them." [Sanhedren 74a]

It seems from this pasuk, the Torah is telling us that human life is more precious than keeping the mitzvos. Therefore, if you have a choice between observing Shabbos or staying alive, your life is more valuable than the mitzva. We would conclude that there is a general rule: life is more important than the mitzvos, with just three exceptions.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt"l, in Sefer Igros Moshe, writes  that this common understanding of the pasuk is incorrect. That is not what the pasuk is saying. The true explanation is what Targum Onkelos says. The Targum Onkelos translates this pasuk as: "and you should live through them in the World to Come." In other words, the pasuk is not telling us to stay alive and neglect the mitzvos, because life is more precious than mitzvos. The pasuk is telling us that the most precious thing in life is keeping mitzvos, because they bring us to olam haba, the World to Come.

Therefore, if I have a choice between observing the Shabbos or being murdered, the Torah says, "live!" Why? Not because life, for its own sake, is more precious than Hashem's Commandments. Rather, life is precious because you can do those Commandments! Therefore, perform work on this Shabbos so you can keep so many more Shabbasos in the future. Eat chometz on Pesach. Why? So you can go on and do more mitzvos, and be worthy of life in the world to come.

This is an entirely different perspective. Life is not valuable just for the sake of life itself, without a purpose. Life is not valuable simply in order for a person to work, and play. That is not what makes life worth living! What does make life worth living? "V'chai bahem" - "l'chayei alma" [in the world to come]. Life that leads to this goal is worth living. The Torah is instructing us to violate the Shabbos and to eat chometz on Pesach. Why? The reason is because a human life is valuable because it can do so many more mitzvos in this world. Therefore, violate the Shabbos once so that you can observe Shabbos many more times.

RELATED ARTICLES:life  mitzva  Parshas Acharei Mos  Rav Moshe Feinstein  yaharog v'al ya'avor

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