by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – February 14, 2012
In the Torah section of Mishpatim, G-d introduces to the followers of His Torah many of the laws and regulations that are to guide our way of life. In one of these verses and the resultant directive we can especially see the emphasis that G-d places on the proper mindset that we are to maintain.
We are told (Sh’mot 21:18-19), “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 for his lost time shall he pay and he shall provide for healing.” From this rather innocuous verse, our Sages draw the conclusion that a doctor is permitted to heal the sick (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma 85a). In explanation, Rashi notes that one should not say that G-d made him ill and G-d should then cure him, but that one should, rather, pursue healing himself.
Despite the aforementioned directive to pursue medical assistance when ill, we find a startling observation on this matter by two of the great medieval Jewish exegetes and scholars, Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089 – 1164) and R. Bahye ben Asher Ibn Halawa (mid-thirteenth century – 1340), in which they note that one should only rely on a doctor for healing external wounds. However, if one suffers internal problems, he should only rely on G-d.
To understand this aforementioned comment, R. Moshe Sternbuch (R. Daniel Yaakov Travis, A Voice in the Darkness, pp. 146-147) explains during medieval times, doctors were not able to discern the human body’s insides. Therefore, since there was no reliable manner of diagnosing or curing internal illnesses, it was ruled to be prohibited to consult with physicians in these matters. One should not pay attention to the guesses and conjectures of doctors who have no expertise in the matter. One is left only with relying on and praying to G-d. However, with the advent of modern medicine that has brought a variety of means of detecting the insides of the human body, including chemical tests, X-rays, blood pressure measurements and other techniques, we should now consult a doctor for internal problems as we have always done with regard to external issues.
Moreover, R. Sternbuch points out (R. Daniel Yaakov Travis, A Voice in the Darkness, pp. 147-148), the repetition in the Hebrew expression of “he shall provide for healing” – “v’rapo yerape” – which literally means “healing he shall heal” indicates the urgency of this directive. Even if one consults a doctor and attempts a treatment unsuccessfully, he must continue to pursue further treatments. In fact, R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953), also known as the Chazon Ish, ruled that one is obligated to do all that one can to cure oneself, utilizing the best medical techniques and physicians possible, and, if one attempts one technique that is unsuccessful, he should try others, as long as he does not pursue anything that is illogical according to medical understanding. Just as the effective technique is divinely prescribed, so is the successful physician G-d sent.
Nevertheless, as is evident from the words of the Gaon of Vilna, R. Sternbuch concludes that the success or failure of any medical care is up to G-d. If G-d so desires, the medical treatment will succeed, and, if He so deems it, no treatment will help. And if He wants, the patient will be cured without treatment or despite it.
G-d prefers to hide His Hand and influence in this world as much as possible to preserve our freedom of choice and will. However, those who contemplate the matter properly know that His Hand is the one that acts and performs in this world all that is to be done and He is behind the success or failure of all actions. It is this realization that we express every day in our prayers: “Heal us, O L-rd, and we will be healed, save us and we will be saved, for You are our praise; and bring complete recovery for all our ailments, for You are G-d, King, the faithful and compassionate Healer. Blessed are You, O L-rd, Who heals the sick of His people Israel.”