Monday, September 12, 2011

Rabbi Min on Pikuach Nefesh

Saving A Life - Basic Jewish Value #13:  The mission statement of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico reads: “Guided by Jewish values, we offer targeted social services that help preserve and improve the quality of life for New Mexicans.” What are these Jewish values? How do they help guide the day-to-day work that we do at JFS? When new employees join the staff of JFS, they are introduced to eighteen of these basic Jewish values.

Pikuach nefesh, ("saving of human life") is the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration. When life or health is involved, most Jewish laws may be suspended to safeguard the health of the individual. One is not merely permitted--one is required to disregard a law that conflicts with life or health. This duty to ignore the law, if necessary to safeguard health, is also stressed in connection with fasting on Yom Kippur. A sick person is obliged to break the fast. Neither the patient nor those attending him need atone when performing such acts that are forbidden under normal circumstances.

For JFS staff, whose work is often fast paced and stressful, this principle applies to self-care. By making sure that staff take time off, seek professional support when necessary, and pursue opportunities for professional growth, JFS staff can address the issue of "burn out" so common in the helping professions.

For our clients as well, it is often helpful for JFS staff to encourage them to care for their bodies, minds and souls. By supporting those activities and by referring clients appropriately, we can help them maintain healthy, active, engaged lives. Following the principle of pikuach nefesh is an important way to maintain balance in our lives.

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