Yoma 85b expounds from Vayikra 18:5 that one should violate mitzvos if the other option is death. Sanhedrin 74a gives three major exceptions to this rule: idolatry, immorality, and murder.

Now, let's look at the context of Vayikra 18:5, with the key phrase from which Yoma 85b learns this law boldfaced:

אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֧י תַּעֲשׂ֛וּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַ֥י תִּשְׁמְר֖וּ לָלֶ֣כֶת בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃ אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ אֶל־כָּל־שְׁאֵ֣ר בְּשָׂר֔וֹ לֹ֥א תִקְרְב֖וּ לְגַלּ֣וֹת עֶרְוָ֑ה אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃ [...]‏

Guard my laws and ordinances that a man will do them and live in them, I am Hashem. No man should draw close to any close relative to expose nakedness; I am Hashem. [...]

Verses 6-30 continue on the theme of immorality, which is one of the exceptions to the rule that one should violate mitzvos rather than die!

Hashem could have taught this halacha anywhere; why did He teach it in the context of immorality, one of its exceptions?

  • 1
    And Molech which is one or both (machlokes) of the other exceptions in that category, and then in that same pasuk ולא תחלל which is the other category of exceptions.
    – Heshy
    Aug 19, 2019 at 23:45
  • I don't have time to write it up as an answer, but see beta.hebrewbooks.org/reader/reader.aspx?sfid=47428#p=178 for several answers and sources.
    – Meir
    Aug 19, 2019 at 23:53
  • @Meir Nice find! When you get a chance to write it up you'll definitely get my imaginary bonus points I can grant you.
    – DonielF
    Aug 20, 2019 at 1:57
  • 1
    I haven’t read @meir’s link, but it might be exactly because they are exceptions that they’re listed there.
    – Lo ani
    Aug 20, 2019 at 21:05
  • Your question assumes that the injunction of וחי בהם applies to the mitzvos that are discussed in the FOLLOWING pesukim. Perhaps the pasuk of וחי בהם is not put AFTER the arayos pesukim is to teach that it does NOT apply to them? In other words, He did NOT teach it in the context of immorailty but before he got to that topic.
    – Gavriel
    Dec 11, 2022 at 13:45

1 Answer 1


Adapting from here:

  • Panim Yafos (by the Baal Hahaflaah) and Pnei Dovid (by the Chida): to teach us that (according to Tosafos) even with arayos, where there's no maaseh, יהרג ואל יעבור doesn't apply.

  • Meshech Chochmah: to teach us that (according to the Shach's understanding of the Rambam) יהרג ואל יעבור doesn't apply to אביזרייהו דעריות, which is the subject of the next posuk.

  • Haamek Davar (Netziv): the whole reason for יו"י by arayos (according to the Sheiltos) is because of the woman's פגם; if she forgoes that, then וחי בהם applies.

  • Based on Tosafos: to teach us not to learn from arayos to the rest of the mitzvos (and say that יו"י applies to all of them).

  • Baal Haturim and Ohr Hachaim: almost the opposite -- that וחי בהם applies only to the rest of the mitzvos, but specifically not to arayos (and others like it).

  • FWIW Panim Yafos only works with some Rishonim, and Meshichah Chochmah is supported by Rambam but not other Poskim. Nice find!
    – DonielF
    Aug 20, 2019 at 23:07

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