Rabbi Nechemya Taylor
Torani Advisor to Torah Mitzion
In the previous Dvar Halacha we brought a controversy between the Rambam and Sefer Hachinuch if the mitzvah of “being most careful of your lives” regards only to be ware of life-threatening dangers or of any type of danger. From the Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeach Ushmirat Hanefesh 11:4, we learn that the mitzvah regards only being ware of life-threatening dangers because it says: “and all obstacle that may be life-threatening it is a positive commandment to remove, guard against, and warn against any life-threatening obstacle, as it says ‘Take utmost care and guard yourself scrupulously’ and if one did not remove it, and left the dangerous obstacles in place, he has violated a positive commandment and transgressed the negative commandment ‘Do not put blood’.” However, from the Sefer Hachinuch we learn: “Do not put obstacles and mines in our country and in our homes so that people will not die and will not be harmed, as it says (Deuteronomy 22,8) “Do not put blood in your home”. The Dvar Avraham already expanded on this in chelek 1, siman 37, letter 25.
We also mentioned the Kessef Mishne who brings the Gemara as a basis for the Rambam in Masechet Babba Kama daf 15:2 “It is taught: Rabbi Nathan says: How do we know that nobody should breed a bad dog in his house, or keep a broken ladder in his house? We learn from “Do not bring blood-guilt on your house.” We learn that the Kessef Mishne understood that the prohibition to breed a bad dog is because it can lead to a lifethreatening danger, however, there is no problem with owning a dog that only harms and learn more in what we wrote in the previous Dvar Halacha.
However, the Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah 6:14 writes: “… for 24 reasons man is banished whether if he is a man or if she is a woman. And they are:…(7) whoever owns anything that harms such as a bad dog or an unsteady latter he is banished until he removes the danger.” Also in Hilchot Nizkei Mamon 5:9 it says: “Chachamim also prohibited breeding pigs anywhere and not to breed a dog unless it is chained, but one can own a dog in a town that is close to the border. During the day the dog will be chained and at night its owner will let it free. Chachamim say: ‘cursed is the man who breeds dogs and pigs because it is very common that they cause damage’.” It seems simple from the Rambams’ words that man must distance anything that may cause damage. The controversy between the Rambam and Sefer Hachinuch is only about the severness of the prohibition; the Chinuch thinks that the source for the prohibition is from the Torah and the Rambam believes it is only from Chachamim.
It is important to bring the Chazon Ish in Choshen Mishpat Likutim 18:9, where we learn: “Hashem desires to be ware of things that damage…and who does not in owning a bad dog (a person who owns a bad dog in his home does not violate) building a banister but only violates appertaining violations because he did and is doing something that Hashem hates.” A man that does not distance things that harm from his home violates prohibitions and he must be careful to observe them.
In Shut Minchat Yitzchak 8:148 it writes: “If one parks his car in a way that endangers pedestrians or on the side walk which forces pedestrians to walk in the street which is meant for cars and is dangerous for pedestrians, etc… or even if he has something in his authority that is dangerous.” Due to “Do not put blood in your home”, and as explained in the Rambam (Hilchot Rotzeach Ushmirat Hanefesh,11) and in the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat (427) and learn there (seif 8) that “All obstacles that may be life-threatening it is a positive commandment to remove, guard against, and warn against any life-threatening obstacle, as it says ‘Take utmost care and guard yourself scrupulously’ and if one did not remove it, and left the dangerous obstacles in place, he has violated a positive commandment and transgressed the negative commandment ‘Do not put blood’.”
Until now we learned about external things that endanger the human body and one must distance others from them. The Rambam innovates another interpretation in Hilchot Deot 4:1 and he writes: “Due to the fact that the body is complete and healthy as Hashem wants so, because it is impossible to understand or to know anything from Hashems’ knowledge if one is sick, therefore, man has to distance himself from things that destroy the body and to lead himself towards things that will keep him healthy.” His innovation is that man must distance himself not only from things that are harmful like a roof without a banister but he also must distance himself from foods that may damage the body, and he continues: “They are: one should never eat unless he is hungry, and should not drink unless he is thirsty, and he should go to the restrooms immediately when he feels a need to go.”
The reason for which man has to care for his health according to the Rambam is: “Because it is impossible to know the knowledge of Hashem when he is sick.” The source for this idea appears in Masechet Brachot 34:2 that we brought in the previous Dvar Halacha about the pious man who was praying by the roadside, and an officer came by and greeted him, but he did not return his greeting. So the officer waited for him until he had finished his prayer.
When he had finished, the officer said to him: “Fool! Is it not written in your Torah (Deuteronomy 4:9), ‘Take utmost care and guard yourself scrupulously,’ and is it not also written (Ibid., v. 15), ‘Be most careful of your lives’? When I greeted you, why did you not return my greeting? If I had cut off your head with my sword, who would have demanded satisfaction for your blood from me?”
The pious man replied: “Be patient and I will explain it to you. If you had been standing before a king of flesh and blood and your friend had come and greeted you, would you have returned his greeting?”
“No,” he replied.
“And if you had returned his greeting, what would they have done to you?”
“They would have cut off my head with a sword,” he replied.
The pious man then said to him: “Isn’t it a kal vachomer (a fortiori argument)? If you would have behaved in this way when standing before a king of flesh and blood, who is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more so when I am standing before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who endures for all eternity!”
The officer immediately accepted his explanation, and the pious man returned to his home in peace. Since the pious man accepted the officer’s application of the verses and answered him in kind, the Vilna Gaon deduces that these verses indicate an obligation to take care of one’s health.
We also mentioned there the Maharshas objection to using this story and its psukim and he writes there: The pasuk of “Take utmost care and guard yourself scrupulously” (Deuteronomy 4:9) is speaking about forgetting the Torah, as it says immediately afterwards, “lest you forget the words” which you heard at Sinai. It says in Pirkei Avot (3:10), “If someone [deliberately] forgets even one word of Torah that he learned, his life is considered forfeit, as it says, ‘Take utmost care and guard yourself scrupulously’.” As for the other pasuk, “Be most careful of your lives” (Deuteronomy 4:15), its context is referring to the prohibition against idols. These psukim do not speak about protecting oneself from physical danger at all.
The Tzitz Eliezer 21:8 writes: “According to the Rambam in Hilchot Deot, the above is explained by saying that the warning to take care of ones body is included because if the body is not healthy and complete it leads to forgetting the Torah, because then “it is impossible to understand or to know Hashems’ knowledge.”
This means that the first explanation for which man has to beware of his health is due to the permanent obligation to understand and to be connected to Hashem and a sick man cannot do this.
It is important to mention the Rambam at the end of Hilchot Mezuza: “Man must be careful with the Mezuza because it is a permanent obligation, every time that man enters or leaves he will interact with Hashems’ name and he will remember his love and wake up from his doze and his deeds of nonsense, and he will know that there is nothing that exists for ever except for knowing Hashem and immediately he will return to the right path, Chachamim say that whoever has Tefilin on his head and on his arm and Tzitzit on his clothes and a Mezuza at his entrance he is sure to never sin because he has many reminders.”
The Rambam connects between a healthy body and the most basic obligation: “I have set Hashem before me always.”