By Chana Kehat
Before Shavuot, Kolech was privileged to host a moving “gathering of sisters” when the JOFA mission came to support and express their solidarity with Israel. This visit warmed our hearts and we would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks.
For the last two years Israelis have found themselves in a situation of terror. During this time Jews from all over the world have visited in order to demonstrate their solidarity and support. This gesture should be seen as a mitzvah on two accounts; on the one hand, as an act of g’milut chasadim, a charitable deed, and on the other as strengthening the settlement of the Land. Traveling to Israel at such a time can be compared to the mitzvah of visiting a sick person. R. Dimi calls this a “reviving of souls” because of its capacity to comfort the depressed and lonely.1 Similarly, by visiting Israel, where the population feels abandoned and deserted, every visitor offers encouragement and support.
But is it permissible for the sake of a mitzvah to take a risk and visit Israel in the face of repeated warnings of possible terror attacks?
This question is worthy of examination since the halakha clearly states that one must not knowingly put oneself into danger; as it is said in the Talmud: “A person should never stand in a place of danger and say that a miracle will be wrought – lest it is not. And if a miracle is wrought, it is deducted from his or her merits.”2 While halakha allows us to take such a risk for the sake of our livelihood,3 are we permitted to put ourselves in danger for the sake of a mitzvah?
For the purpose of comparison we find in the G’mara4 that Rabbi Yehoshua went to teach those who were stricken by boils. Contrary to other Sages who stayed away from these very sick people, Rabbi Yehoshua was not afraid and, as a reward for studying Torah, he was not infected. In his book, Tzitz Eliezer, 5 Rabbi Eliezer Judah Waldenberg, gives a long response to the question of whether a person is permitted to put him - or herself at risk in order to save a friend. He quotes the Radbaz6 who believed that one must not exaggerate and face mortal danger in such a situation. If a person is especially stubborn and insists on saving a friend in spite of the danger, this person is considered a Chasid shoteh (a foolish Chasid.) Rabbi Waldenberg attacks this opinion and says that if so, a doctor is not obligated to put himself at risk in order to save the life of another.
Furthermore, in Sefer Chasidim7 it says that if a heavy man is drowning in the river one should not jump in to save him for fear of drowning. Rabbi Waldenberg rejects this approach as well and, relying on the Rema8 , he concludes that one should take a risk when there is a good reason, especially for the sake of a mitzvah. Doctors, for example, must treat patients because after all, in addition to doing a mitzvah by visiting the sick,9 they also perform additional mitzvot of healing and restoring the body.10 Consequently it is said that one may depend on the merits of fulfilling important mitzvot in order to be protected from danger.
Rabbi Waldenberg considers that the Radbaz only prohibits a person from entering dangerous situations for the sake of a mitzvah when there is concrete physical danger, such as removal of a limb, going to a place of bandits and ferocious animals or going to the depths of the sea, because a person who puts himself at the mercy of man, beast or the forces of nature needs great merit for God to spare him. This is not the case when there is only the possibility of danger because one must take the risk in order to help a person in need. Whereas the Rema says that God controls the outcomes, it is obvious that when the danger is certain then not only are we not obliged to expose ourselves to it, but we are even prohibited from doing so.
Quoting from Nishmat Kol Chai by Rabbi Chayim Palache in a discussion of doctors confronting an epidemic, Rabbi Waldenberg says it is obvious that doctors should be permitted to expose themselves to danger for the sake of their patients.
Rabbi Waldenberg adds that in such circumstances, when entering a situation of potential danger for the sake of a mitzvah, a special prayer cited by the Sages must be said, asking the Almighty for protection: “One who travels in a dangerous place prays a short prayer and says save your nation, O’ God at every Parshat Ha’ibur... and they asked, what is the meaning of Parshat Ha’ibur? Rav Hisda said in the name of Mar Ukva: even at a time that you become filled with anger against them...”11 Thus, by walking in a place of danger one violates the commandment “take good care of yourselves”12 and angers God, but if one must enter into this situation for a livelihood or for a mitzvah our Sages, instruct one to first say this prayer.
To return to the original question, visiting Israel at this time in order to strengthen the morale of the people is permissible and is above all, a mitzvah. Rabbi Waldenberg’s conclusion is that when performing a mitzvah, a person does not have to be afraid because it is said: “one who observes a mitzvah will not know a bad thing.”13
1. Nedarim, 40a
2. Shabbat, 32a and Ta’anit, 20
3. Bava Metziah, 112a
4. Ketubbot, 77b
5. Rabbi Eliezer Judah Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer (1945-1970), 9, no. 17, Kuntras Refu’ah, Shabbat, 5
6. Rabbi David ben Zimra of Spain, 1480
7. Sefer Chasidim, paragraph 674
8. Rabbi Moshe Isserles
9. Nedarim, 40a
10. Yoreh De’ah, part 336, paragraph 1
11. Brachot, 29b
12. Deuteronomy, 4, 15
13. Ecclesiastes, 8,8
Chana Kehat is one of the founders and the chair of Kolech, a women’s organization which is the ideological counterpart of JOFA in Israel.