Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Destinations Unknown

During Shabbat in Sderot, we took some time with Rav Goldenberg to learn the halachot (Jewish practice) regarding visits such as these. After all, Pikuach Nefesh, the preservation of life, is a fundamental principle of Judaism. One is not only permitted but commanded to violate Shabbat, as well as almost every other mitzvah in order to save a life. The only three aveirot (violations) which one is not permitted to do even at the cost of one's own life are murder, idolatry, and forbidden sexual relations. Visiting a town under rocket bombardment like Sderot does not fall under any of these three categories, so it would seem that the visit should be forbidden.

Is it permissible to visit a border town which is on the front lines if that entails danger?

Of course, I'm doing this from memory, so I don't have the actual sources handy, but the explanation is as follows:

First off, one must define what is danger. As anyone who lives in Israel can testify, risk is a subjective matter. There are a few in Israel who do not drive over the green line (the 1949 armistice line,) even to settlements far from Arab communities. Then, there are those who will not drive beyond the wall. Of course, some are happy to drive past the wall, but only drive on route 60 and other "secure" roads during the day. And there are a brave few who will drive anywhere any time, even right through an Arab village. The example given during our shiur (lesson) came from older times, when a farmer living in the countryside asked his fellows about taking a sea voyage. The other villagers, of course, were terrified of the dangers and instructed him not to place his life at risk. But when he reached the port, the city dwellers there watched sailing ships come and go all the time, and of course approved the mission without a problem. Often fears can be inflated, and this is especially true regarding those who visit Eretz Israel.

There is a small probability that even just walking outside of one's house, one would be run over by a truck. Should one therefore avoid going to shul in the morning? Of course not. The general standard which is used to determine danger is that if a place is visited by merchants, it is generally considered safe enough. If people are willing to visit an area in order to make a profit, then of course they can visit it to fulfill a mitzvah. This would apply even to areas where there is no direct mitzvah to be present.

Secondly, we have to remember that we can't always use one precept of Torah to eliminate another positive commandment (this is not true in all cases, consult your local rabbi.) For example, it is forbidden to cause one's self to bleed on Shabbat (don't scratch your insect bites.) But the Torah commands us to perform a brit milah (circumcision) on the eighth day after the birth of a baby boy. If the eighth day falls on Shabbat, then brit milah overrules Shabbat, and we commence. Similarly, one might claim that it is Pikuach Nefesh to avoid enacting the death penalty in a capital case. However, the Torah itself commands us to enact the death penalty, and thus the positive mitzvah overrules the preservation of life.

Unlike outside Israel, where there is no commandment for Jews to settle, and one should therefore flee a war zone immediately, the commandment of Yishuv Haaretz, settling the land, applies to Jews in Israel. No nation was ever built or maintained without wars and sacrifice, and it therefore follows that if the Torah commands us to settle and build, it is implicit that we will be exposed to some risk. Therefore, like the capital case, the injunction of Pikuach Nefesh does not apply.

While our visit was not directly an act of settling the land, we were there to give our support to the residents and strengthen them, and therefore it falls under the same category. Even if that were not the case, Sderot is still a place that's visited by merchants, and therefore even a casual visit would still be permissible.

No comments: