[Avodah] big 3

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Fri Jul 17 05:42:49 PDT 2020

R' Joel Rich asked:

> We learned that there are three mitzvot that a Jew is always required
> to give up his life for rather than violate the transgressions of
> idol worship, murder or forbidden sexual relations. Is there one
> overarching theme that links these three transgressions that explains
> why these and not others (e.g. shabbat, brit)?

If there's an overarching theme, I haven't found it yet. I have tried to
find the reason for each of these three, what makes them different than the
other 610, and I've come up with very different answers for each of them.

If I'm not mistaken, murder is the only one for which the Gemara gives an
explicit reason. If my life is at stake, and the only solution is at the
cost of someone else's life, who's to say that my blood is redder? Simple
math. Or simple logic, your choice.

Next is avodah zara. I came up with this answer myself, so I eagerly
welcome any comments about it. My logic is like this: An inventive mind can
come up with all sorts of justifications for violating mitzvos in extreme
circumstances. "Violate this Shabbos so he will keep many other Shabbosos,"
for example. Eliyahu built a bamah on Har Carmel, because he knew it would
lead to Kiddush Hashem. But Avoda Zara is the sort of thing where - by
definition - the means NEVER justify the ends. There is NO situation in
which actually doing Avodah Zara could possibly be Kiddush Hashem. It's a
contradiction in terms. Even the opportunity to do mitzvos for the rest of
my life can't justify an actual Avodah Zara today. (I'm not talking about
where someone merely pretends to do Avodah Zara; that's a more complicated
topic and might be justified by some poskim in some cases.) But to actually
do real Avodah Zara is treason against Hashem and never allowed.

That leaves Arayos. This is a very strange halacha, especially to the
general culture arounds us, which accepts these acts (when done by
consenting adults) as victimless pleasures, not capital crimes. Non-logical
chukim. So why is it that we must avoid these acts, even at the cost of our
lives? Doesn't make sense.

The tentative answer I've come up with is that this halacha is meant to
help insure solid family life. Society around us is falling apart, and many
people think that one of the causes is that too many children grow up
without strong family values. It is merely my guess, but I can't help but
suspect that this is why Hashem made Arayos so very very assur, to impress
this value upon us.

Even if (lo aleinu) a situation actually arises, and a person is tempted to
rationalize that he can do this aveirah today and live to do mitzvos
tomorrow, it is still not worth it. That's the message of the severity of
this halacha.

Akiva Miller
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