June 21, 2024

The Importance of Pikuach Nefesh and the Sanctity of Human Life

Jewish Soldiers Taking a Group Photo

Throughout history, Jews have faced persecution and discrimination, often putting their lives at risk. Yet, despite these challenges, they have always held onto the belief that saving a human life takes precedence over any other religious or cultural practice. In this article, we discuss the concept of Pikuach Nefesh and explain how it is practiced in both life and philanthropy.

What Does Pikuach Nefesh Mean?

Pikuach Nefesh is a Hebrew term that means “saving a life” or “preserving a life.” Throughout Jewish history, it has been used to refer to the principle that preserving human life takes precedence over all else.

The Origins of Pikuach Nefesh

Pikuach Nefesh originates from the Torah and several other important religious texts. Sanhedrin 4:5 says: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”. That is interpreted to mean that the preservation of even one life is of infinite value. Similar views can be found in the Bible, which makes several references to the importance of saving lives and preserving health.

Pikuach Nefesh Under Jewish Law

Pikuach Nefesh is a significant principle in Jewish law. In fact, it is one of the few principles that can override almost all other commandments. Health emergencies are often used as an example. If someone is in danger of losing their life due to a medical emergency, the laws of Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) can be suspended to provide the necessary medical care to save the person’s life.

However, there are a few notable exceptions to Pikuach Nefesh. The Talmud specifies that one may not commit idolatry, engage in forbidden sexual relations, or commit murder, even to save a life. But outside of these most severe transgressions, Pikuach Nefesh reigns supreme as a core Jewish value. Preserving life and health is of utmost importance.

Pikuach Nefesh and Kavod HaBriyot Go Hand in Hand

It should go without saying that saving a life is rarely a predictable or convenient task. It’s easy to offer hospitality or visit the sick, but actively putting someone else’s best interests before your own means overlooking biases and fully embracing Kavod HaBriyot, or respect for all human beings. 

With so many people divided in today’s world, it can be difficult to see past our differences and truly value the life of another. Pikuach Nefesh reminds us that regardless of race, religion, or any other factor – every human life is sacred and worth saving.

Pikuach Nefesh and the Jewish Tradition of Giving

This concept is just one of many examples of the importance of compassion and avodah (service) in Judaism. Our people believe in protecting those who are less fortunate through acts of loving kindness, even if performing that mitzvah (good deed) means making personal sacrifices.

The concept of Pikuach Nefesh is not limited to physical preservation but also includes mental and emotional well-being. All efforts made towards promoting life, health, safety, and happiness are considered part of this sacred duty according to Jewish beliefs.

Pikuach Nefesh In Action

We can honor the underlying meaning of Pikuach Nefesh by supporting community healthcare initiatives, programs against food insecurity, and organizations that support poor and vulnerable Jewish populations. Giving up the soul to repair the world and sanctify G-d’s name, as also promoted through tzedakah (charity), is central to the work of organizations for children’s education, groups for widows, and nonprofits for orphans, as well.

While these causes may not seem directly related to preserving life, they all contribute to the larger goal of supporting and improving the well-being of individuals and communities. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) and a sense of collective responsibility are at the heart of Pikuach Nefesh. Some interpret saving a soul also as saving oneself through the psychological and spiritual benefits of giving and doing good deeds.

Colel Chabad Is Dedicated to Practicing the Principle of Pikuach Nefesh

Historic Jewish charity organizations exist for a wide range of causes, but none are as impactful and far-reaching as Colel Chabad. Our centuries-old non-profit was founded by prominent Chabad rebbes and religious leaders for the sole purpose of perpetuating good in the world. We live by the principles of the Chabad movement, which emphasizes the importance of kindness, love, and compassion towards all individuals. 

We Are More Than a Charity

Colel Chabad has a rich history of providing assistance to those in need through various programs and initiatives. We’re much more than a charity for the poor, we strive to support and uplift all members of the community, regardless of their background or circumstances. 

Our Programs Include:

We are in the sixth year of our countrywide project, which spans 239 municipalities and provides elderly individuals living alone, low-income families with small children, and Holocaust survivors with thousands of meals every month.

The interest-free loan known as GeMaCH (Gemillut Chasadim) in Jewish tradition enables those in need to better their personal or professional circumstances without depending on predatory lending sources. We provide interest-free, easily repaid loans with short- and long-term options.

Many families depend on summer camps for their needs. It provides a much-needed break for single parents who work hard to maintain their children. Plus, summer camps also give the kids a refuge from the difficulties of their everyday life. 

Charitable Giving With Colel Chabad

Colel Chabad is also actively supporting Israel during its current crisis. We provide essential aid and supplies to those affected by the ongoing conflict, including food packages, medical equipment, and psychological support. Our goal is not only to provide immediate relief but also to help rebuild communities that have been destroyed.

Modern charitable giving tools make it easy to find an Israeli charity to donate to, and even easier to make a difference. Whether you’re a seasoned Jewish philanthropist or new to giving, there are many ways to support Colel Chabad’s work. You can make a one-time donation, become a monthly donor, or even volunteer your time and talents to help us in our mission. Every contribution supports programs that provide for those in need.

Prayers and blessings paired with tangible action have the power to change the world. Build support networks for families in need across the Jewish diaspora by getting involved with Colel Chabad today.


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