Let us consider for a moment how valuable one hour of learning is. If a person was given the opportunity to save another Jew’s life, he would remember the event and regularly celebrate the unique opportunity that Hashem sent him to spare a fellow Jew from certain death. Indeed, this is a very special mitzva, as our Sages said, ‘One who saves a life is as if he saved the whole world’. If a person had the unique opportunity to save many lives, he would surely etch that day on his heart forever. On the converse side, if he had such an opportunity and lacked the alacrity to save them, he would surely never forgive himself for their deaths.
Now let us see what our Sages say on this, ‘Learning Torah is greater than saving lives’. If a person is learning and has the chance to save someone’s life he must do so immediately, and even for a small mitzva he must do so if no one else can do it, for Hashem gave us the Torah to be lived by. However, if someone else can do the mitzva, he should continue learning and not waste his precious learning time. Even when it comes to saving lives, if one person was sufficient to save several lives and another person sat and learned instead, the one who stayed to learn earned endlessly more merit than the one who saved the lives of his fellow Jews.