Torah Fax
Friday, May 5, 2006 - 7 Iyar, 5766

Torah Reading: Acharei-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:38 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:43 PM
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 3
Shabbat is 23 days of the Omer
Life is Judaism's most precious commodity. The great value that Judaism places on human life is based on a verse in this week's Parshah: "You shall keep My statutes, and My ordinances, which a person shall do and live with them." (Leviticus 18:5) Our sages in the Talmud (Yoma 35b) point out the juxtaposition of the admonition to keep G‑d's commandments with the admonition to "live with them." This, the Talmud says, teaches us that we should live to do G‑d's commandments and not die for them. Thus, Jewish Law rules, if a person is at risk of losing his life, G‑d forbid, he may break virtually any law in the Torah, including driving to a hospital on the Sabbath, eating non-kosher food if one is lost in the desert, etc.
To be sure, Judaism has a place for martyrdom, as our history sadly shows all too often. But this does not mean that Judaism is founded on the notion that we should strive to die for G‑d. Rather, the focus in Judaism is to strive to live for G‑d, in all that we do.
But why is Judaism so obsessed with life?
There have been some in the Jewish community that have mistakenly thought that this concentration on life is based on the idea that Judaism only believes in the here and now and rejects a belief in the Hereafter. Judaism unequivocally believes in the immortality and the soul (and for that matter, once Moshiach comes, Judaism believes in the immortality of the body as well). Indeed, the concept that a soul goes on the Heaven after the body passes away is illustrated quite well by the passage in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, which states: "This world is like a vestibule to enter the World To Come. Prepare yourself in the vestibule so you can enter the palace."
Thus, if Judaism affirms the immense value of life in this physical world, it is not because it denies the afterlife. Rather, Judaism believes that there can be no greater affirmation of G‑d's existence than the introduction of a soul into a human body. The connection of a soul and a body is the fulfillment of G‑d's plan to bring the holy in to the mundane. And that body-soul has the ability, at least in potential, to do Mitzvahs that bring holiness into the world in a tangible and real way.
For this reason, Judaism puts great value on every single life, even on the life of a person who is in a coma G‑d forbid. True, the person can no longer function, but the fact that his body and a soul are together means that he has a value that transcends the value that any specific activity might have. Wherever there is life, there is a potent presence of G‑dliness.
The power of a human life can never be underestimated. A story is told of a new born baby who, from the moment she was born, had to struggle to stay alive. Ultimately, after two months of intense effort to save the child, she died. The event galvanized the entire community. There were those who helped the family with material support; some organized groups to say Psalms for the child's recovery; huge amounts of charity were given in the child's honor; many people did some personal soul-searching and improved their lives in a  significant way. In short, this event changed countless lives. As one woman explained it, "this little baby, in her brief two months of life, accomplished more than a dozen rabbis could have accomplished in a lifetime."
This moving (and true) story demonstrates the intrinsic value of human life. This precious soul had never spoken a word, nor performed any act that could directly benefit anyone. Yet, her mere presence in this world was able to change an entire community.
With this positive view of life, we can better appreciate the Jewish belief that the deceased will be resurrected in the Messianic Age. Even though Judaism believes in Heaven, where the soul lives on without the body, the Torah tells us that when Moshiach comes, the souls will be removed from Heaven, to be reunited with their physical bodies. This is known as Techiyat HaMeitim, the resurrection of the dead, and, according to Maimonides, it is one of the 13 fundamental principles of Jewish faith. Based on what we have written above, the centrality of the resurrection in Jewish thought can now be understood more clearly: As great as the experience is for the soul in heaven, there is nothing more intensely G‑dly than the connection of the soul with the body - L'Chaim!
Moshiach Matters
Our efforts in Jewish outreach have to permeated with the spirit of Moshiach. In practical terms: just as in the days of Moshiach there will be no famine, meaning there will be nothing to distract us from serving G‑d; so too when we reach out to our fellow Jews, we need not be afraid or feel any inhibitions. We should reach out to others in a spirit of peace and serenity. (The Rebbe, Parshah Acharei, 1986)
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