On yesterday’s daf we mentioned the concept of a rodef – someone who is chasing after another person to kill him, who can be killed by anyone. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches the law of a rodef, and in explaining the law that allows a rodef to be killed uses the terminology matzilin otan be-nafshun – “these people are saved by their lives.”
This enigmatic description can be understood in a number of different ways. According to Rashi, the Mishna is explaining that given the severity of the crime about to be committed, we save the perpetrator from sinning by killing him. The Arukh and Rabbeinu Yehonatan suggest that it means that we save the life of the person who would have been murdered by killing the perpetrator. The Ran points out that both of these explanations are difficult linguistically and that perhaps we must accept both of them, depending on the circumstances.
What is the source for this ruling?
The Gemara argues that most obvious source – lo ta’amod al dam re’ekhah – neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (see 19:16) – cannot be used to teach this law, since it is needed to teach the simpler rule that a person cannot ignore his neighbor’s needs if he is drowning, for example. Rather the source is a passage that connects the laws of murder with the laws of a woman who is raped in a field (see 22:26-27) where the Torah frees her of any culpability, since there was no one around to come to her defense. In the study hall of Rabbi Yishmael this was understood to imply that if anyone could have helped her they would have been required to do so – in any way that they could, including killing the potential rapist.