The passuk says one should "do the mitzvos to live by them" (Vayikra 18:5), from which the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) learns that one, in general, must violate the mitzvos rather than die.

Is this a mitzvah (i.e. one of the 613 mitzvos - "you will only perform the mitzvos when you will live by then") or a logical deduction based on the wording of the passuk ("one does the mitzvos to live by them - therefore one should not do them if he will die by them")?

A practical difference could be if this comes into conflict with a different logical deduction: you can pin two logics against each other and try to work out which one should be applied, but if it's a gezeiras hakasuv, obviously that is to be followed over logic.

  • Offhand, I wonder if this fits either as I think Venishmartem (in parshat Va'etchanan) is a mitzvah, and if so, what would this verse be adding?
    – DanF
    Jul 5, 2017 at 16:21
  • @DanF Assuming that's a valid interpretation of v'nishmartem, even if it could push aside a lav, it couldn't push aside an aseh (shamor always means lav, and asi aseh v'dachi lo sa'aseh - not the other way around.) This passuk not only gives it a status of an aseh but would also make it impervious to asi aseh (eino docheh aseh v'lo sa'aseh).
    – DonielF
    Jul 5, 2017 at 17:36
  • It does not need to be a mitzvah to be gezairat hakasuv , I guess it only needs to be a chidush
    – hazoriz
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:30
  • @hazoriz Perhaps. But in that case, it would be the second category - "live by them" implies "don't die by them."
    – DonielF
    Jul 7, 2017 at 18:08
  • Maybe it is one of ha-Tzivuyim ha-Kolelim ha-Torah Kulah (translated as "'encompassing' directives" on chabad.org), mentioned in Shoresh / Kelal #4 of the introduction to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, which are not part of the 613 Mitzvot. (I don't know how that would affect pitting it against other considerations.)
    – Tamir Evan
    Aug 24, 2017 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


If this concept is considered from the viewpoint of Sefer HaChinuch 296:1, it is found that this idea of living by them is associated with the mitzvah of sanctifying G-d's name, just as to die by them is.

מצות קדוש השם - שנצטוינו לקדש את השם. שנאמר (ויקרא כב לב) ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל. כלומר שנמסר נפשנו למות על קיום מצות הדת. וכבר בארו זכרונם לברכה מפי הקבלה ומן הכתובים באי זה ענין ובאיזו מצוה נצטוינו בזה, ואף על פי שכתוב בתורה וחי בהם, דמשמע ולא שימות בהם כבר קבלו הם, שלא נאמר מקרא זה בכל ענין ובכל עברה. ומפי הקבלה אנו חיין בכל דברי התורה.

That in either situation, whether to live or to die, the concept of mesirat nefesh מסירת נפש (to surrender, or deliver or hand over ones life) means to sanctify G-d's name לקדש שמו ב״ה in regard to fulfilling the commandments like is seen in regard to Yosef HaTzaddik in Sotah 10b.

א"ר שמעון חסידא יוסף שקדש ש"ש בסתר

Yosef did not die or sacrifice his life. He demonstrated his faithfulness meaning he sanctified G-d's name and continued to live.

In fact, this is also understood from Shmuel 1 25:29 which states:

וַיָּ֤קָם אָדָם֙ לִרְדָפְךָ֔ וּלְבַקֵּ֖שׁ אֶת־נַפְשֶׁ֑ךָ וְֽהָיְתָה֩ נֶ֨פֶשׁ אֲדֹנִ֜י צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים אֵ֚ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וְאֵ֨ת נֶ֤פֶשׁ אֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ יְקַלְּעֶ֔נָּה בְּת֖וֹךְ כַּ֥ף הַקָּֽלַע׃

This phrase צרור בצרור החיים is commonly associated with when one dies. But as Sifrei Devarim 344:7 emphasizes this is actually emphasizing the acceptance of the Torah and it's commandments, commitment to fulfilling the commandments.

These are the souls of the righteous which are reposited with Him in the "treasure-trove," as it is written (I Samuel 25:29) "May my lord's soul be bound up in the bond of life, with the L-rd your G-d." "And they planted themselves at Your feet": Even though (at the giving of the Torah) they recoiled twelve mil and returned twelve mil," they bore (the yoke of) Your words — "All that the L-rd has spoken, we shall do and we shall hear."

לקדש, which means to sanctify or to manifest fidelity toward (fidelity means demonstrating faithfulness, loyalty and support) or to dedicate, as in להקדש ספר.

And so, וחי בהם means to dedicate ones life to the fulfillment of the commandments which is the mitzvah of Sanctification of G-d's name.

So even if limiting the question to Is וחי בהם one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, it would appear to be yes.

  • This sounds to me like a novel (though perhaps valid) understanding of this mitzva in the Chinuch. The last paragraph indicates that failure to fulfill this mitzva constitutes "chilul Hashem" - desecration of God's name. Do you claim that [according to the Chinuch] choosing to die rather than violate Shabbat constitutes a "chilul Hashem," with all that entails?
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 5, 2017 at 20:41
  • 1
    @IsaacMoses Neither does the citation from the Chinukh. The Chinukh just says that the obligation of Kiddush Hashem applies even though in general "VeChai Bahem" applies. That doesn't tell us what the nature of "VeChai Bahem" is. Afterwards the answer shows that living a good life is a Kiddush Hashem, which also doesn't answer the question. (FTR I support closure of the question as unclear anyway.)
    – Double AA
    Jul 5, 2017 at 20:44
  • @DoubleAA Yaacov Deane argues here that the Chinuch could be read to mean that this mitzva includes both the obligation to die when required to and the obligation to live when required to. As I said, it sounds like a novel reading to me, but if you look through the entry in the Chinuch, including the Dinim section, which points both ways, it seems plausible. In any case, it's a claim that's relevant to answering the question at hand, unlike the current first half of this post.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 5, 2017 at 20:47
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    @IsaacMoses "VeChai Bahem" isn't the obligation to live when required to, so that doesn't seem relevant. "VeChai Bahem" is the principle that in ordinary cases Mitzvot needn't/shouldn't be done if they will cost you your life.
    – Double AA
    Jul 5, 2017 at 20:47
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    But again, that might be an important statement if we're trying to work out the details of v'chai bahem, but I don't see how it's relevant to the chakirah in the OP.
    – DonielF
    Jul 6, 2017 at 3:32

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