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The Mitzva of Saving Lives

This week’s Parasha contains the verse, “And you shall diligently guard your souls…” (Deut. 4:15).

“Souls” is understood as meaning “lives.” As such, this is the commandment to do whatever is necessary to stay healthy, and to avoid anything that could jeopardize our health. It is actually a religious imperative to eat healthily, to exercise, to wear seatbelts when driving and helmets when cycling, and even to do things which bring us joy, since one’s psychological well-being is no less important than one’s physical well-being.

Traditionally, this verse was seen as “permission” for doctors to heal. Without it, one may have assumed that if God afflicted someone with an illness it is not our place to interfere and reverse God’s doing. But since God commands us to diligently guard our lives, this includes seeking medical assistance, and giving it to those who need it.

We are expected to trust the prevailing scientific, medical understandings of what is healthy and what isn’t. Vaccinations are a religious obligation.

We have no business deciding what God intends for a certain individual or even for ourselves. We merely need to face the facts as they appear before us, and if we’re able to preserve someone’s life of heal them, we are obliged to do so.

While we certainly aren’t all obligated to go become doctors, and definitely need to have the humility to leave the healing to the experts, situations occur in which regular individuals find themselves with someone in need of urgent life-saving. We should prepare ourselves for these possibilities. We should all take first aid courses and learn CPR and how to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. And we should all learn how to use Naloxone in case we encounter someone experiencing an accidental opioid overdose.

We will of course pray that we never need to put this training into practice. But we will be ready to save lives if it is ever necessary.

Shabbat Shalom!