Monday, September 26, 2011

Is Pikei'ach Nefesh docheh Shabbos?

Summary: No, that is not a typo in the title.

Post: I discovered a hilarious midrash, brought down and discussed by Emek Halacha (HaMidrash veHaMaaseh), R' Yeshaya Yosef Margolin.
In Midrash Rabba (in this siman):
'A halacha, one who has troubles with his ears, what of healing it on Shabbat? So taught the Sages: Pikuach nefesh docheh Shabbat.'
This Midrash is entirely surprising. For if it is dealing with a sickness which has danger {sakanah}, have we not until this point heard that pikuach nefesh is docheh Shabbos? Is it not explicit in the Mishnah at the end of Yoma as well as in several braytot. And if it is danger only to limb, which appears to be the simple implication of the language 'One who is choshesh in his ears', behold in truth we do not violate a Biblical prohibition, as is stated in Maggid Mishnah, perek 2 of Hilchot Shabbat, and in Bet Yosef siman 328. And either which way, it requires explication, for what reason Chadal leaned this question of theirs in the midrash upon one who was choshesh in his ears specifically, and later on in our words it shall be explained."

Read on in Emek Halachah if you are interested in his resolution. I did not read it all the way.

But the midrash is extremely funny, as stated, though I am not certain that this is on purpose. As I would read it, there is an implicit al tikrei here. Read not פקוח but rather פקיח. A pikei'ach is one who has functioning hearing, as opposed to an ilem or a cheresh, a mute or a deaf-mute. Thus, pikuach nefesh, making certain that the nefesh remains a pikeach, is docheh Shabbos.

Perhaps. That was my first instinct when seeing the midrash. It turns out that this drasha was all in my mind. For it seems that the midrash was not quoted accurately. As it appears at Daat's Midrash Rabba:
אדם מישראל שהיה חושש באזנו, מהו שיהא מותר לרפאותו בשבת? 
כך שנו חכמים:

כל שספק נפשות דוחה את השבת וזו מכת האוזן אם סכנה היא, מרפאים אותה בשבת. 
רבנן אמרי:
מבקש אתה שלא לחוש באזניך ולא אחד מאיבריך, הטה אזנך לתורה ואת נוחל חיים.

שנאמר: (ישעי' נה) הטו אזנכם ולכו אלי שמעו ותחי נפשכם. 
This does not specifically mention pikuach nefesh, but rather safek nefashot, and if this affliction of the ear rises to the level of sakanah, then it is docheh Shabbos. (And if it does not, is the implication, then it is not docheh Shabbos.)

Why mention specifically the ear here, as opposed to any other ever? Not for any halachic implication or effect, as it seems Emek Halachah is going to take it. Rather, this is Midrash Rabbah, which is a non-halachic midrashic work. It is midrash aggadah. But it uses the halacha as a jumping-off point for it homiletic teaching, of inclining one's ears to Torah, such that one will inherit life, etc.

And so, no other ever would have been appropriate to mention in context, even though of course those other eivarim would have the same halacha. And the purpose is not to teach the halacha, which of course everyone already know -- it is so, so basic. It is to spin off from their into the homiletic material.

Whether the midrash was discussing sakanas eiver or sakanas nefesh is perhaps ambiguous, and can be discussed and resolved. But that was surely not the point of the midrash.

A gemara that speaks of healing ears on Shabbos is Avodah Zarah 28b:
Said Raba b. Zutra in the name of R. Hanina: It is permissible to restore the ear into its proper position on the Sabbath. Whereon R. Samuel b. Judah commented: Only with the hand, but not by applying medicines. Some report: By applying medicine, but not with the hand, the reason being that it causes soreness.

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