We are so proud of our faith that it values life over virtually all else. In this week’s portion, God tells us something special about all of the mitzvoth (our laws and statutes). We are supposed to “Chai bahem”—LIVE BY THEM! Leviticus 18:5.
It is something that we all know almost instinctively that “saving a life” trumps almost any law, rule or ritual. We have expanded this so that matters of health may even be seen as creating exceptions.
We do not create risks to health and life if strict observance may have that effect. Common examples of such an exemptions might be eating or drinking small amounts on fast days, eating chametz on Passover, or violating the Sabbath to get someone to a hospital. We also know that we are only to transgress to the minimum amount necessary.
I read recently though that our focus may be misplaced. In addition to focusing on the moment involved, our focus should also be on the future.
We are to keep in mind that violating the Sabbath in one instance is being done so that we will be able to observe many more Sabbaths in the future. Someone may be eating on Yom Kippur so as to be able to experience many more. Eating chametz one Passover is to enable someone to have many more Seders. We will delay the required eighth day circumcision to avoid risk to the child, but will bring the child into the covenant performing the ritual as soon possible thereafter because of its critical importance.
Yes, life is important, but it is not merely life. It is living with purpose and meaning. We do not look at “Chai bahem” only as a permission to violate a mitzvah when necessary Rather we are being urged to use all of Torah as a way to really live, to feel alive, to have a fulfilling and rewarding life and to share our lives l’dor vador. These are your mitzvoth. Now “Live by them!”
Our Torah is called the Tree of Life for a reason.
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Aaron Bergman. Acharei Mot also discusses the unique Yom Kippur rituals. Rabbi Bergman will teach us on the subject, “How to Exercise Your Demons: The Strange Story of Azazel and the Scapegoat.” 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
I will look forward to seeing many of you there.