Of Water and Autopsies

On Hoshana Rabbah we recited the following:

למען ראש משוררים כתאב שתות מים, שב ונסך לך מים, והצליחה נא, והושיענו אל מעזנו.

This is an allusion to the following episode, listed among the valorous feats of King David’s heroes1:

וירדו שלשה מהשלשים ראש ויבאו אל קציר אל דוד אל מערת עדלם וחית פלשתים חנה בעמק רפאים. ודוד אז במצודה ומצב פלשתים אז בית לחם. ויתאוה דוד ויאמר מי ישקני מים מבאר בית לחם אשר בשער. ויבקעו שלשת הגברים במחנה פלשתים וישאבו מים מבאר בית לחם אשר בשער וישאו ויבאו אל דוד ולא אבה לשתותם ויסך אתם ליקוק. ויאמר חלילה לי מעשתי זאת הדם האנשים ההלכים בנפשותם ולא אבה לשתותם אלה עשו שלשת הגברים.

The Gemara interprets the episode Aggadically; David had a Halachic query, and his heroes risked their lives to pose it on his behalf to the Sanhedrin. The Gemara has several versions of the Halachic dialog, one of which is as follows2:

ויתאוה דוד ויאמר … מאי קא מיבעיא ליה … רב הונא אמר גדישים דשעורים דישראל הוו דהוו מטמרי פלשתים בהו וקא מיבעיא מהו להציל עצמו בממון חבירו שלחו ליה אסור להציל עצמו בממון חבירו אבל אתה מלך אתה [ומלך] פורץ לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו

The phrase “אסור להציל עצמו בממון חבירו” literally means “it is prohibited to save oneself with the property of another”. Tosfos, however, gives an alternative explanation3:

איבעיא להו אי חייב לשלם כשהציל עצמו מפני פקוח נפש:

The Rosh explains similarly4:

הכי איבעיא להו מהו למיקלינהו אדעתא דליפטר מתשלומין. ואמרו ליה אסור להציל עצמו בממון חבירו אדעתא דליפטר אלא יציל עצמו וישלם

The Shulhan Aruch codifies the language of the Rosh5.

Rashi, on the other hand, appears to have understood the Gemara literally6:

ויצילה. שלא ישרפוה הואיל ואסור להציל את עצמו בממון חבירו:

In my next post in this series I intend to discuss, בג”ה, the reactions of various Poskim to the rather startling implications of this Rashi, and its relevance to the permissibility of autopsies.

As a postscript, I note that one of the most famous stories told about Alexander of Macedonia is strikingly similar to the above episode of David and his heroes; Plutarch’s version, as translated by Dryden, is available here, but Arrian’s is even closer to our story7:

At this point in my story I must not leave unrecorded one of the finest things Alexander ever did. Where it actually took place is uncertain: perhaps here [Gedrosia], perhaps, as some historians have declared, in the country of the Parapamisadae, some time previously. The army was crossing a desert of sand; the sun was already blazing down upon them, but they were struggling on under the necessity of reaching water, which was still far away. Alexander, like everyone else, was tormented by thirst. but he was none the less marching on foot at the head of his men. It was all he could do to keep going, but he did so, and the result (as always) was that the men were the better able to endure their misery when they saw that it was equally shared. As they toiled on, a party of light infantry which had gone off looking for water found some – just a wretched little trickle collected in a shallow gully. They scooped up with difficulty what they could and hurried back, with their priceless treasure, to Alexander; then, just before they reached him, they tipped the water into a helmet and gave it to him. Alexander, with a word of thanks for the gift, took the helmet and, in full view of his troops, poured the water on the ground. So extraordinary was the effect of this action that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink for every man in the army. I cannot praise this act too highly; it was a proof, if anything was, not only of his power of endurance, but also of his genius for leadership.

I have no idea if there is any significance to this parallel.

  1. שמואל ב’ פרק כ”ג פסוקים כ”ג – י”ז []
  2. בבא קמא דף ס’ ע”ב – ס”א ע”א ובפירש”י שם []
  3. שם ד”ה מהו להציל []
  4. שם פרק ו’ סימן י”ב []
  5. חו”מ סימן שנ”ט סעיף ד []
  6. שם ד”ה ויצילה []
  7. The Campaigns of Alexander, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt, revised edition of 1971, ppg. 338-9 []

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