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In parshas Acharei it says, "And you should keep my rules and ordinances, which a person must do and live by them, I Am Hashem."
This verse is quoted by the Talmud, as proof that one should save a life , even if it means desecrating Shabbos. The Talmud asks, "How do we know that saving a life pushes off Shabbos?" The Talmud tries several different ways to prove it, but they all are not concrete. Then it brings the proof from our verse, which stands up to the test and is not disproven. It says "And you should keep my rules and ordinances, which a person must do and live by them, you should live by them and not die by them."
There is a general rule in all of Torah, "There is nothing that stands before saving a life, other than idolatry, adultery and murder." So why do we need a separate proof to teach us that you can break Shabbos to save a life? Isn't Shabbos already included in this rule?
It is brought down in several places, that the law of "(It is better to) break the law, rather than be killed," is also learned from this same verse, "You should live by them and not die by them." So being that the Talmud says this teaching specifically by Shabbos, we must conclude that there is something unique about this teaching, "You should live by them and not die by them," that has specifically to do with Shabbos, different than any other mitzvah. What is the unique aspect of this teaching that pertains to Shabbos? The verse itself, "And you should keep my rules and my ordinances... And live by them," is talking about all mitzvahs. So why does the Talmud specify Shabbos?
The Rambam also says this teaching twice. When speaking about the general rules of the Torah, he says, "For example, if an idol worshipper were to threaten a Jew, that he should break one of the mitzvahs of the Torah or he will kill him, he should break the mitzvah and not be killed. As it says with regards to mitzvahs, 'Which a person does and lives by them,' you should live by them and not die by them." And then again by the laws of Shabbos he says, "It is forbidden to hesitate to break Shabbos for a sick person who is in danger, as it says, 'Which a person does and lives by them,' and not die by them." Why the specific mention by Shabbos?
By Shabbos the Rambam continues, "This teaches you that the rules of the Torah are not a revenge on the world, but rather compassion, kindness and peace for the world." It seems that this should have been written by the general rules, because it talks about all the rules of the Torah. Being that he mentions all the rules of the Torah, we must conclude that there is something that we will learn from Shabbos, that will give us a deeper understanding of this teaching, and that will also apply to the rest of the mitzvahs. What are we meant to learn from Shabbos?
There is a difference between all the mitzvahs and keeping Shabbos. When it comes to mitzvahs in general, the rule is, "There is nothing that stands before saving a life." Meaning, that saving a life "pushes away" the obligation of doing the mitzvah. You are still obligated, but saving a life trumps the obligation. However by Shabbos, the Rambam says, "When it comes to a sick person, Shabbos is like a week day, for all the things that he needs." In other words, when it comes to saving a life, it is not Shabbos, there isn't any obligation to begin with.
Similarly, Rashi on the Talmud, when explaining why saving a life trumps mitzvahs, he says, "The reason for this, is because the souls of Israel are more dear to Hashem than the mitzvahs, Hashem says, 'Nullify the mitzvah and he should live.'" Meaning, that when it comes to all mitzvahs, we nullify the mitzvah. The mitzvah is still obligated, but we nullify it. However, when it comes to saving a life on Shabbos, he says, "The person should do the mitzvahs in a way that he will certainly live, and not to come to a possibility of death by doing it, so we break Shabbos when in doubt." In other words, when it comes to Shabbos, we don't nullify the mitzvah, rather, part of keeping Shabbos, is that it should be done "in a way that he will certainly live, and not come to a possibility of death." So saving a life is part of keeping Shabbos.
When it comes to saving a life on Shabbos, the Talmud says, "One who hurries is praised, one who asks a question is shedding blood." But the Rambam doesn't use these terms, instead he says, "It is forbidden to hesitate." In other words, the Talmud is telling us how to save a life , "hurry and don't question." The Rambam, on the other hand, uses the term "It is forbidden," in the laws of Shabbos, he is telling us a law of keeping Shabbos, "It is forbidden to hesitate." He is saying, that saving a life is part of keeping Shabbos.
There is another Talmudic passage about saving a life on Shabbos, "Desecrate one Shabbos, in order to keep many Shabbosim." This is saying, to break Shabbos for Shabbos' sake, but it is not saying that saving a life is part of keeping Shabbos. On the other hand, "You should live by them and not die by them," is saying that living is part of keeping mitzvahs, and in our case, saving a life is part of the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos.
Why is saving a life part of keeping Shabbos?
Regarding Shabbos, the Torah says, "You should keep My Shabbosim, for it is a sign between Me and you for generations, to know that I Am Hashem Who makes you holy." Rashi explains, "It is a great sign between us, that I chose you, when I bequeathed to you my rest day, to rest."
In order to have Shabbos, there is the necessity of both Hashem and us, if there is no us, there is no Shabbos. So when a person's life is in danger, the existence of Shabbos is under threat. Therefore, his life must be saved in order to have Shabbos.
It is not just that he is being saved, but the act of breaking Shabbos in this case is how you keep the Shabbos. In other words, Shabbos itself is saying, that you have to do the act of breaking Shabbos, for its own sake. So there could be "a sign between Me and you," if there is no you, there is no Shabbos, and the sign doesn't exist.
In truth, every mitzvah is a sign between Hashem and us, but the Torah only says it openly by the mitzvah of Shabbos. That is why the Talmud and the Rambam repeat the teaching of "You should live by them and not die by them." by Shabbos. So that we apply to all the mitzvahs what we learn from Shabbos, that saving a life is part of keeping the mitzvah.
As you can imagine, writing this article was very meaningful to me, as I am in a constant state of being "a sick person who is in danger." There were countless times that I had to be saved on Shabbos, and I am grateful that I am so important to Hashem and to His Shabbos.
We are so precious and dear to Hashem, He chose each and every one of us, and He shared with us His most prized possession, Shabbos. He made it so, that without us, it is nothing.
May we soon merit to see the coming of Moshiach, and experience the era that is called "The day that is entirely Shabbos," the era of Moshiach. The time has come.