Much of today’s daf (Yoma 82a) is dedicated to the mitzvah of lifesaving (פיקוח נפש), and it is here where we learn that, even on Yom Kippur, אין לך דבר שעומד בפני פיקוח נפש – nothing stands in the way of lifesaving – except for idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. As Rashi explains (on Yoma 82b), this is because ‘the physical & spiritual lives of the people of Israel are beloved to God even more than the mitzvot. Consequently, Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, “break a mitzvah to help this person live.”’
Given this rule, we must all be exceedingly careful – especially with respect to fast days – to ensure that we do not make decisions that might be dangerous to our health, and this is also why every community should have protocols to provide rapid medical assistance to those in need throughout the year, and especially on fast days.
However, beyond the topic of physical lifesaving (פיקוח נפש גופני), our Sages also speak of spiritual lifesaving (פיקוח נפש רוחני). For example, may one transgress the laws of Shabbat to help a Jew who has been brainwashed by apostates, or who has joined a cult, or who is at risk of making decisions that would likely disconnect them from living a Jewish life?
For some authorities like the Rashba (see Beit Yosef OC 306), פיקוח נפש רוחני is not the same as פיקוח נפש גופני and so he rules that Shabbat may not be transgressed for this reason. However, Tosfot seemingly equates the two (ibid.) and permits חילול שבת (Shabbat transgression) for פיקוח נפש רוחני. Significantly, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 306:14) rules according to Tosfot, which means that not only should someone break Shabbat and other festivals for פיקוח נפש רוחני, but also – as noted by the Shevet HaLevi (6:36) and others – a person should be prepared to ‘lose out’ on certain mitzvot in order to help others at risk of assimilation.
Today, there is great sensitivity in our homes and in our communities about פיקוח נפש גופני. However, in many communities, there is unfortunately less of an emphasis – and in some, no emphasis at all! – about the risks of פיקוח נפש רוחני. The problem is that if we don’t see things as a problem, they become normalized.
And this is why we need to remember that ‘the physical & spiritual lives of the people of Israel are beloved to God’ and that we should do all we can to preserve and protect both.