In yesterday’s shiur on Kiddush Hashem we discussed the issue of heroism. It is forbidden to hand someone over to be killed even if this refusal will lead to the killing of an entire community. This is what we learned last week. However, may someone voluntarily accept this fate in order to save the community? Is it permitted to be a hero? Is this a form of Kiddush Hashem? Is there a difference between giving up my life to save one person as opposed to saving a community? How does the Halacha view the subject of war and the necessity for soldiers to risk their lives?
The Gemara discusses the subject of giving up one’s life in Baba Metziah:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף סב עמוד א
שנים שהיו מהלכין בדרך וביד אחד מהן קיתון של מים אם שותין שניהם מתים ואם שותה אחד מהן מגיע לישוב דרש בן פטורא מוטב שישתו שניהם וימותו ואל יראה אחד מהם במיתתו של חבירו עד שבא רבי עקיבא ולימד וחי אחיך עמך חייך קודמים לחיי חבירך
In this case a person has two options. He can keep his water for himself and reach the nearest village safely, but his travelling companion will die of thirst. Alternatively, he can share his water. This will prolong his companion’s life but ultimately they will both die. Ben Patorah ruled that he must share his water; one must not see someone else’s death. Rabbi Akivah ruled differently. Based on the pasuk “וחי אחיך עמך” he held that a person’s primary task is to care for himself. Only when one has taken precautions to preserve his own life can he turn his attention to others.
We must keep in mind that Rabbi Akiva’s teaching is only valid in most situations. In a case where someone has been ordered to kill someone he must refuse even though he will put to death because of this refusal. Murder is יהרג ואל יעבור. The reason for this is the idea of “.מאי חזית” I cannot claim that my life is more precious than the life of another.
So what have we seen? I have no obligation to give up my life to save someone else. I also may not kill someone to save my own life. Where does this leave heroic self-sacrifice?
Rav Menashe Klein zt”l discusses this in his teshuvot “. משנה הלכות” He writes that “חייך קודמין” is a commandment of the Torah. It is not only teaching that I have no obligation to give up my life. It teaches that I may not give up my life. To follow the teaching of Ben Patorah is an act of suicide. I may not murder in order to save my life because of the idea of “.מאי חזית But “מאי חזית” works both ways. My life is not more valuable than someone else’s, but no one else’s blood is more valuable than mine.
Rav Klein goes on to discuss a situation where the rhetorical question of “מאי חזית” can actually be answered. If a great scholar and saint is sentenced to death may someone offer to die in his place? Rav Klein zt”l quotes the ספר חסידים that such an act of self-sacrifice is permitted. In such a case it is clear that one life is indeed more precious than the other and one may sacrifice one’s life to save the more valuable one.
Rav Kook zt”l in his teshuvot שו”ת משפט כהן has a different approach to the question. Rav Kook bases his approach on the laws of abortion. The Halacha permits aborting a fetus in order to save the life of the mother. However, once the baby is in the process of leaving the birth canal he may not be killed in order to save the life of the mother. Rav Kook says that this Halacha is absolute. Even if the mother would be a woman of the stature of מרים הנביאה would not kill the bay to save her life. In that case, there is certainly no doubt whatsoever that the mother’s life is of greater value to society than the baby’s. Nevertheless we do not say that the concept of מאי חזית has an answer; we will not say that “the mother’s blood is redder.”
Rav Kook asks, “Why not?” Why can’t we say that the answer to the question of מאי חזית is obvious? Rav Kook answers his question by citing the Halacha known as ,אומדנא- “assessment.” In the Halachic system of criminal law verdicts must be based on the testimony of witnesses. We don’t accept assessments of the situation. The Gemarah tells the story of Shimon ben Shetach who was the head of the Sanhedrin. Shimon ben Shetach saw a man armed with a sword chase another man into a room. Shimon ben Shetach saw the man standing with sword bloodied over a bleeding corpse. Shimon ben Shetach then said that he cannot bring this man to trial because he is the sole witness.
The Rambam says that to say that one life is of greater than another is an assessment by us of the relative value of the two lives. Rav Kook goes on to say that even saying that many lives are of greater value than a single life would be an assessment by us. Only Hashem can say what life is more valuable. This, Rav Kook says, is the reason that a community, even on pain of total extermination, may not hand someone over to the Gentiles to be killed.
However, Rav Kook says that a person may choose on his own to surrender himself to the Gentiles to rescue a community. The reason for this is that “assessing” is forbidden only to third parties such as judges or communities acting like judges. An individual may decide that he wishes to save the community and this is his choice of how to apply the laws of Kiddush Hashem.
When the issue is whether a soldier may risk his life to save a wounded comrade the issues are entirely different. Both Rav Kook in שו”ת משפט כהן and Rav Waldenberg zt”l in his שו”ת ציץ אליעזר say that the Torah’s laws for the conduct of war are simply separate from other mitzvoth. The mitzvah of וחי בהם cannot be applied. If this were not the case the Torah would simply have forbidden us from ever going to war. The fact is that the Torah permits not only the conquest of Israel and defensive wars (מלחמת מצוה) but wars for territorial gain as well .(מלחמת רשות) This being the case every soldier is expected to risk his life to rescue a wounded comrade.
This is a summary of the shiur . The shiur tself only touched upon these important issues which deserve greater study.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.
 Rav Klein though says the matter is .צריך עיון
 Shimon ben Shetach went on to say that Hashem has many agents. The man with sword was bitten by a snake and died.