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Pesachim 25


OPINIONS: Rebbi Yakov said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan that it is forbidden to heal oneself with (or derive any other benefit from) the wood of an Asheirah tree. Why? One is not worshipping or bowing down to the Asheirah by healing himself with it. At worst, he is transgressing the Torah's prohibition of deriving benefit from Avodah Zarah, which is no more than a Lo Sa'aseh (Devarim 13:18). Why is one obligated to give up one's life in order not to get Hana'ah from the wood of an Asheirah?

(a) TOSFOS (DH Chutz) and the ROSH say that the prohibition against using the wood of an Asheirah, even at the risk of losing one's life, applies only when the doctor says that one must specifically use the Asheirah's wood for his cure, and no other wood will do. Even though there is no Avodah Zarah involved, using the wood will cause people to be drawn after Avodah Zarah. Therefore, the commandment, "v'Ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha" -- "You shall love Hashem your G-d," applies here.

RASHI says that one who uses the wood of an Asheirah tree is "Nir'eh k'Modeh Bah" -- he appears as though he is avowing power to it. He, too, may mean that healing himself in such a manner will cause people who see him being healed to believe that the Avodah Zarah really has the power to heal.

(b) The RAMBAN (Milchamos, Sanhedrin 74a) and the RAN here explain that when the Torah commands one to give up his life and not to serve Avodah Zarah, the mandate to give up one's life applies as well to any of the "branches" of Avodah Zarah. The prohibition against deriving Hana'ah from Avodah Zarah is a prohibition which is linked to idol-worship, and as such it is considered a branch of the Isur of Avodah Zarah. Therefore, one must give his life to avoid transgressing it. (They cite proof for this ruling from the Yerushalmi in Pesachim 2:2 and Shabbos 14:4)

According to the Ramban, then, even if the doctor says that one may use *any* wood, he is not allowed to use wood from the Asheirah to heal himself.

HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 155:2 cites both opinions, but the SHACH (#11) rules like Tosfos, the more lenient opinion. One must only give up his life if the doctor prescribes specifically Asheirah wood.

However, the VILNA GAON points out that the REMA later on (YD 157:1) appears to rule like the more stringent opinion of the Ramban.


OPINIONS: The Gemara discusses the principle of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor." Of all the Mitzvos, only three require that one give his life in order not to transgress -- Avodah Zarah (idolatry), Shefichus Damim (murder), and Giluy Arayos (immorality). The Gemara explains that the source for one's obligation to be killed in order not to kill is based on logic -- "Mai Chazis d'Dama Didach Sumek Tefei..." -- one is unable to determine that his own life is more valuable than the other person's life.

Why exactly is it forbidden for a person to kill someone else in order to avoid being killed himself? Does the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach" apply in such a case, or is that Isur suspended because the person is being forced to kill, but it is nevertheless forbidden because of a new reason -- the logic of "Mai Chazis?"

(a) RASHI (DH Mai Chazis) writes that if not for the logic of "Mai Chazis," it would be permitted for the person to kill someone else in order to avoid being killed. The normal exemption of Piku'ach Nefesh, saving one's life by transgressing the Torah, would apply, permitting him to murder someone else. The logic of "Mai Chazis," though, teaches that Piku'ach Nefesh does *not* permit someone to kill in such a situation. Piku'ach Nefesh means that saving a Jewish life is more important than performing a Mitzvah. But in this case, either way a Jewish life is going to be lost, and therefore the Heter of Piku'ach Nefesh does not apply. Once the Heter of Piku'ach Nefesh no longer applies, the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach" remains. It is thus the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach" which prohibits one from killing someone else in order to save his own life.

(b) A number of Rishonim appear to disagree with Rashi on this point, though.

1. TOSFOS (DH Af) writes that the logic of "Mai Chazis" applies only if the perpetrator of the coercion demands that one do an action to kill someone else. If he demands that one merely stand still and allow himself to be thrown upon a baby, the logic of "Mai Chazis" allows him to be thrown on and to kill the other in a passive fashion. Tosfos explains that "Mai Chazis" means that one should always be passive -- "Shev v'Al Ta'aseh" -- and perform no action, whether the consequence will be that one will be killed for his inaction or one will kill as a result of his inaction.

From the words of Tosfos it is evident that a person does *not* transgress "Lo Tirtzach" by killing, since Lo Tirtzach does not distinguish between action and inaction. Apparently Piku'ach Nefesh exempts one from "Lo Tirtzach." The only reason one must give up his life is because of the logic of "Mai Chazis" but not in order to avoid transgressing "Lo Tirtzach"

2. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah 5:4) writes that if a person did not keep the Mitzvah of giving up his life in order to avoid killing someone else, but instead he followed the demand of the oppressor and murdered someone else, he is not liable to punishment. The reason is because his transgression was done under coercion, and the Torah exempts an "Ones" from punishment. The Rambam apparently understands the rule of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor" like Tosfos, that the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach" does not apply and the person has only transgressed the principle of "Mai Chazis," for which there is no punishment. If the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach" applied even when he is being forced to kill the other person, then just like being an "Ones" does not exempt him from the obligation of "Lo Tirtzach," it does not exempt him from the punishment for transgressing that obligation either.

According to Rashi, though, one is not considered to be under coercion; the fact that someone is threatening to kill him if he does not kill someone else is not enough of a reason to permit transgressing the Isur of "Lo Tirtzach," and therefore he should be Chayav if he does not keep the Mitzvah and he kills someone. If the Isur applies, then the punishment should apply as well.

3. Some explain that this argument is actually the subject of dispute among Amora'im in Maseches Avodah Zarah (54a). One must allow himself to be killed in order not to transgress the Isur of Avodah Zarah. Is it prohibited to worship Avodah Zarah in order to save one's life because of the normal prohibition against Avodah Zarah, "Do not bow down to them," or is it prohibited because of a different reason -- "You shall love Hashem your G-d?"

The Gemara there discusses a case where a person is forced, by mortal threat, to bow down to an animal. If the person transgresses the principle of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor" and bows down to the animal, does the animal become forbidden to be brought as a Korban? Rami bar Chama says that the animal becomes forbidden. Rav Zeira says that the animal does not become forbidden, because the person was coerced, and the Torah exempts a person when he is coerced. Rava defends Rami bar Chama and says that the Mitzvah of "v'Chai ba'Hem" -- "You shall live in them (the Mitzvos)" and not die in order to safeguard their fulfillment -- does not apply to Avodah Zarah.

It could be that according to Rav Zeira, bowing down to an idol in order to avoid being killed is prohibited because of a separate injunction in the Torah: "You shall love Hashem your G-d." Since one was coerced, one has not transgressed the prohibition against bowing down to idols, and therefore the animal is not an idol and may be brought as a Korban. According to Rami bar Chama, the injunction of "You shall love Hashem" merely teaches that the regular exemption of "Ones" does not apply in this case (where it is an action which goes diametrically against the love of G-d), and one must give up his life not to transgress the Isur of idolatry, "Do not bow down to them." Since the person who was coerced has transgressed the prohibition of idol-worship, the animal to which he bowed down should be considered an idol, and be prohibited to be brought as a Korban.

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