Rabbi Reuven Mann - Dean, Masoret Institute


The issue you raise regarding the need to jeopardize oneself to rescue a sheep is a good one. Clearly this would pose a halachik problem if an ordinary person were to risk his life for his property. Chazal say that Eliphaz, the son of Essav, came after Yaakov to kill him{on orders from his father} and that Yaakov gave him all his money so that he could tell his father that he had accomplished his task- since "ani chashiv k'mais" " a poor person is considered as dead". Thus a person is obligated to give all his money to save his own or even someone else's life. Certainly Dovid was aware of this and did not suffer from a crazy attachment to money. Since we don't know all the circumstances surrounding his decision to pursue the lion and the bear, a certain amount of speculation is in order.We don't know exactly why but the rescue of the sheep had importance otherwise he wouldn't have wasted his time, and endangered himself. Remember this was not his own personal 'business". He was guarding the sheep for his father and took the responsibility very seriously. If a sheep was lost because of his negligence then he was guilty of a serious injustice in failing to fulfill his responsibilities to his father.
Thus he could not simply walk away from the problem. He decided to go 'lifnim meshuras hadin' , to put all of his energy into the decision. His thoughts and deliberations were on the level of ruach hakodesh in terms of their clarity and accuracy. His knowledge of his ability took the situation out of the level of sakana which would make it assur. He thus had the right to undertake the action, and I believe that for him it was a matter of justice in terms of fulfilling his responsibilities as a roeh tzohn. Is it assur to skydive, ski dangerous slopes? It all depends on the level of expertise. Just because something is dangerous and can cause death does not make it assur. If so, you would never be allowed to swim or drive or ski.
However there are certain actions which only a very few people can do with the skill which would remove it from the sakana level where it would be assur. This is the type of thing which is "massur lalev" depends on the honesty and perfection of the individual. Thus for Dovid it was something which he had great confidence rooted in the most honest and realistic sources that he could perform. If so in his own framework of justice he had an obligation to do it.