by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – January 26, 2011

In the Torah section of Mishpatim, among the many laws and injunctions mentioned, we find (Sh’mot 21:19), “If men quarrel and one strikes his fellow with a stone or a fist, and he does not die but falls into bed.  If he gets up and goes about outside under his own power, the one who struck is absolved; only his lost time shall he pay and he shall provide for healing.”  Based on this verse, which obligates the assailant in medical expenses to the injured, our Sages point out (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 60a, Bava Kamma 85a) that G-d has given the authority to heal to doctors.  Had it been prohibited to seek medical help and only G-d was permitted to heal, the injured would not be compensated for something prohibited.

Rashi and Tosafot explain the reason for the aforementioned authorization as the negation of one’s thinking, as is found among some Gentile groups, that if G-d has caused one to be sick then it is presumptuous of us to act against His will.  Rather, while G-d has chosen to allow someone to be ill, He has left the healing to us.  His healing all maladies miraculously would leave no room for free will.  All would see clearly the Hand of G-d.  In his Torat Ha’Adam, Shaar Ha’Mechush 6, Nahmanides mentions another reason for the above authorization.  It is to prevent the doctor from thinking that he should not try to heal the patient for fear of causing even more damage.  Rather, to hide the Hand of G-d and preserve our free will, humanity must take upon itself to heal the ill.  G-d will quietly oversee our actions.  As long as we sincerely do that which is incumbent upon us, G-d will quietly assist us in succeeding.

We must, however, keep in mind that this is an allowance granted to those of us in the medical profession to exercise our duties to aid the human race.  We must not take it any further.  An anecdote is told of several Jews who came crying despondently to a particular great rabbi, asking him to pray for a very ill individual of whom doctors gave up hope and said that he was doomed to die.  To this request, the rabbi responded that the Torah tells us of G-d’s granting the authority to heal to the human race, not the authority to give up hope on life.  Doing all there is for us to do to heal an ill individual is in our domain.  Establishing whether someone will live or die is in G-d’s domain.  Long after our capabilities have become exhausted, G-d, if He so wishes, can turn around an otherwise very sad situation.  Many such instances have occurred to many individuals in the past and continue to occur and will continue to occur.

We must maintain perspective.  We have been granted the authority to heal – with His supervision.  Only G-d can truly determine the fate of any given individual.  It is for us to follow His will – obey His Torah and engage in sincere prayer – to lean that determination in our favor.

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