Shabbat Parashat Vayechi| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Organ Donations - Part II - Donation by the Living (II) - From Chavot Binyamin, siman 109
[We saw that the obligation to save a life is both a positive and negative commandment, and, as the Radvaz understands the gemara, includes readiness to enter a certain level of danger.]
The Radvaz based his determination that one should enter danger of up to 50% on the Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi is brought by the Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 426) as follows: “In the Yerushalmi it is decided that one is required even to place himself in a doubt of danger. And the reason appears to be that the other person is [in] certain danger and he is [only in] possible danger, and whoever sustains a life in Israel is as if he sustained an entire world.” According to the Radvaz it is not referring to only a distant danger. (See Minchat Chinuch 237 who wondered about the halacha of the Yerushalmi and points out that it was omitted by the Shulchan Aruch).
In comparing the two responsa of the Radvaz we have some difficulty. The first one requires saving only where there isn’t danger (as it stresses that when the matter involves danger, the one who saves is but a “crazy righteous man”). Why, in the second case, of someone drowning in the river and the like does he determine that if he does not save [because of the danger] he violates “lo ta’amod al dam reiecha” (do not stand aside as your brother’s blood is spilled), whereas in the first case he categorized his willingness for self-sacrifice as an attribute of righteousness, without an obligation?
The explanation is based on what we stressed, that the obligation to save one’s friend is within the framework of returning lost objects. Even though it is broader than the obligation to return property, it too is limited to the obligation to toil. The toil requires even exertion, but the obligation does not reach the point of damaging his life, even a single limb in a case that does not involve danger. The reason is that bearing suffering and physical pain is not included in the obligation which the Torah places on a person to help his fellow. Therefore, the requirement is only of an act of righteousness, which is a higher level [and lower obligation] than matters of “beyond the letter of the law.” (“Beyond the letter of the law” is at least something that can be demanded and [if one refrains from doing it] is close to the attribute of Sodomites). Igrot Moshe (YD II, 174) agrees with this approach.
What if that which is needed is a donation of blood or the like, which are things that the body replaces? If we follow the rule that we see from the gemara’s examples, which are within the boundaries of toil, it seems that this too is not included in the mitzva to “return his body.” However, it is proper to include it within the category of “beyond the letter of the law,” since a person doesn’t really lose anything by doing it, and it causes him unpleasantness only for a short time.
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