Halacha for Monday 14 Kislev 5781 November 30 2020

Uncertainty About a Life-Threatening Situation

Question: If one desecrates Shabbat on behalf of an ill person and it turns out that the action one performed that desecrated the Shabbat was actually unnecessary, does one require atonement for this transgression?

Answer: If one desecrated Shabbat for no good reason, such as driving on Shabbat under non-life-threatening circumstances, certainly when one repents for one’s sin, one will need to go through a repentance process for one’s terrible acts of desecrating the holy Shabbat. When Hashem sees one’s great suffering and remorse, He will in turn accept one’s repentance and forgive him.

However, if one desecrates Shabbat in order to help save a Jewish person whose life is in danger, one has performed a great Mitzvah, as we have discussed in previous Halachot, and this is actually required by the Torah. Indeed, our Sages tell us in Masechet Yoma that in such cases, Shabbat should be desecrated for the ill person by the generation’s greatest Torah scholars and there is no reason to try and facilitate the desecration of Shabbat by simple Jews; it is indeed forbidden to do so, for people might come to believe that there is something wrong with Shabbat desecration on behalf on an individual who is ill.

Some women had the custom that after they would desecrate the Shabbat on behalf of a woman who has gone into labor or any other sick individual, they would fast afterwards in order to atone for the Shabbat desecration that they performed. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that this is a foolish and pointless thing to do, for the Torah commands that Shabbat be desecrated for the Mitzvah of Berit Milah (ritual circumcision) and we see many Mohalim (ritual circumcisers) who freely desecrate Shabbat in order to perform the Milah. Does it make any sense that a Mohel, who is commanded by the Torah to perform a Milah on Shabbat, would need to fast afterwards to atone for his sin?! The same applies here where one desecrates Shabbat in order to save the life of someone in a life-threatening situation, one has certainly performed a great Mitzvah and no form of atonement or repentance is required at all.

Even if it turns out later that it was not necessary to desecrate Shabbat for this ill individual, for instance, when a woman feels that she is going into labor on Shabbat and her husband rushes her to the hospital by car but she only ends up giving birth a few days later, the husband need not feel any remorse for what he has done, for he has acted in accordance with Torah law which dictates that Shabbat must be desecrated even when there is a doubt regarding a life-threatening circumstance.

This is indeed illustrated by Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch who writes that if an ill person needs to eat one fig (in order to restore his health) and ten people go and each one plucked a fig off the tree on his behalf, none of them are liable for Shabbat desecration, as all of them acted according to Torah law and “all of them will receive great reward from Hashem.”

In the Responsa Benei Tzion, the author was asked by a certain Torah scholar who was instructed by doctors to eat on Yom Kippur and after doing so and recovering, he began to regret what he did and he started doubting whether the doctors’ instruction were really accurate as he did not feel so weak to begin with and maybe he really did not need to eat on this holiest of days. The author responded that the Poskim write clearly that even if the ill individual states unequivocally that he does not need to eat but the doctors say that he does, he is entirely obligated to heed the doctors’ instructions. He continues, “And I am certain that he requires no atonement, as our Sages say that a sick person does not recover until all of his sins are atoned for in Heaven.” Thus, this question does not begin and the patient does not need to repent at all.

Summary: In a situation where there is a doubt regarding whether or not one is suffering from a life-threatening illness (or situation), Shabbat must be desecrated on his behalf. Even if later on, it turns out that there was no need for the Shabbat desecration, still, this does not constitute any prohibition, as this action was performed in accordance with Torah law which dictates that one must desecrate Shabbat even in instances of doubtful life-threatening situations.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Mitzvah of Counting the Omer

The Torah states (Vayikra 21, 15): “And you shall count for yourselves, from the day following the Shabbat, from the day the waved Omer offering is brought, seven complete weeks shall they be.” Our Sages (Menachot 65b) have a tradition that the “day following the Shabbat” ref......

Read Halacha

Question: How many “Kezayit”s (olive’s volume) of Matzah must one consume during the Pesach Seder?

Answer: One is obligated to eat altogether three “Kezayit”s of Matzah during the Pesach Seder. Every Kezayit amounts to approx. 30 grams of Matzah. Nevertheless, there is room for stringency to eat four or even five “Kezayit”s of Matzah, as we shall now explain. The Order......

Read Halacha

Chol Ha’Mo’ed

The days between the first and seventh days (outside of Israel between the second and eighth days) of the Pesach holiday and the days between the first day of Sukkot and the holiday of Shemini Atzeret (outside of Israel between the second day of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret) are called “Chol Ha&......

Read Halacha

The Pesach Seder-Kadesh

The Pesach Seder-Kadesh The famous order of the Seder of the eve of Pesach, Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Magid, Rochtza, Motzi, Matzah, Maror, Korech, Shulchan Orech, Tzafun, Barech, Hallel, Nirtzah, was established by the leader of the entire Jewish nation, Rashi. The entire Jewish nation cus......

Read Halacha


Everything is Foreseen and Permission is Granted

Israeli Independence Day is celebrated today. Since we have discussed this topic several times in the past, we will not delve into this matter lengthily at this point. Let us just note that according to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, although one must show thanks to Hashem for removing the ......

Read Halacha

Megillah Reading- Coronavirus

Every member of the Jewish nation is obligated to read the Megillah on the day of Purim. One must read it during the night and once again the next day, as the verse states, “My G-d, I call out to you during the day and you do not answer; during the night I have no rest.” This verse is wr......

Read Halacha

One Who is Unsure Whether or Not One Has Counted the Omer

We have already explained that one who has forgotten to count the Omer one day during the counting period may no longer count with a blessing on the subsequent days. The reason for this is because the Rishonim disagree as to whether the Mitzvah of counting the Omer is one long Mitzvah that span......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Hearing Parashat Zachor- Coronavirus

“Remember What Amalek Has Done to You” On the Shabbat preceding Purim, which is this coming Shabbat, after the opening of the Ark immediately following Shacharit prayers, two Sifrei Torah are removed; in the first one, we read the weekly Parasha (which is Parashat Vayikra this year, 577......

Read Halacha