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Guard Duty

Rabbi Zev Isaacson

When tragedies happen, r”l, we are often reminded that “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem” is a mitzvah to protect ourselves from danger. But in the Torah, this verse actually seems to be a commandment not to conceive of Hashem as a physical being. Is safety truly a Torah commandment?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Shlomo bit his lip as the police officer drove off. He kept his frustration in check and glanced over at his illustrious passenger, the venerated Rav Moshe Feinstein.

“Rebbi,” he asked, “why did I get fined? The officer is right; I was speeding. But don’t Chazal teach that a person involved in a mitzvah endeavor will not be harmed?”

“That is precisely why you were caught and fined,” replied Rav Moshe. “Since you were involved in a mitzvah, Hashem sent the officer to catch you speeding before you could harm yourself or others.”

 

The cry of “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem!” reverberates now more than ever, as we constantly hear of tragedies that could have been avoided with some extra caution. Traffic fatalities are on the rise worldwide, as the urge to speed is compounded by people’s seeming addiction to “DWC” — driving while communicating. In blatant violation of traffic laws, and in the face of clear proof of its inherent danger, people continue to converse on cell phones and even “text” while driving.

But with all due respect to the need to take care of our health, some argue that quoting the Torah’s commandment of “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem with regard to personal safety is just a misapplication of a pasuk. When we read this verse in context, it indeed seems to have an entirely different meaning: “And you shall be extremely careful for your life, for you saw no form on the day that Hashem spoke to you in Chorev from within the fire” (Devarim 4:15). In this verse, the Torah warns us in dire terms to avoid conceiving of Hashem as a physical form, and intimates that our lives depend on this.

Is it incorrect to apply this verse as a directive to care for our safety, or is there a basis for doing so?

 

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