Wh go to a doctor when the Torah reads “For I, the Lord, am your healer”

February 4, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Time to ask the rabbi…

GOING TO THE DOCTOR

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. I know there are many Jewish doctors, but does it not show a lack of faith in going to a doctor when the Torah says, “For I, the Lord, am your healer” (Ex. 15:26)?

A. The doctor is regarded in Judaism as the agent of the Almighty in bringing healing.

In Biblical times the kohanim supervised medical treatment and various remedies are referred to. There were proven or expert healers, and whilst their methods were unsophisticated to modern eyes, no-one tried to ban them on the basis that healing had to be left to God.

The Talmud is full of medical references and it gives considerable anatomical and physiological information. There were physicians, surgeons, dentist and dietitians and even a rudimentary form of psychiatry.

As time went on many of the greatest names in Jewish history, like Maimonides, were leading figures in Jewish learning and at the same time eminent physicians. No-one accused them of usurping a Divine prerogative.

Indeed the halachah specifically says, “The Torah has granted the doctor the privilege of healing, as it is said, ‘And he shall cause him to be thoroughly healed’ (Ex. 21:19).

“Therefore the sick person should not rely upon a miracle but is duty bound to act according to the custom of the world and to call in a doctor to heal him, and many of the world’s pious people were already cured by physicians.

“He who avoids calling in the doctor is guilty of two evils. In the first instance he has transgressed the rule forbidding one who is in danger to rely upon a miracle; the other evil is that he manifests presumption and pride in depending on his righteousness to cause him to be healed in a miraculous manner.

“One should call in a competent doctor and with all his heart he should hope for the help of Heaven and plead for the mercy of the Faithful Healer, blessed be He, and his heart should trust in God only” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 192:3).

GOD IN THE MASCULINE

Q. Why do we call God a “He”?

A. The Torah speaks of God as “Him” and the prophets call Him the Father of mankind, but this is just a linguistic usage.

He shows both masculine and feminine attributes of love – He is like a father who has compassion on His children (Psalm 103:13) and like a mother who comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13). The Kabbalah speaks in detail of the male and female “aspects” of God.

Some argue that the Biblical use of the masculine in referring to God has caused discrimination against women, but it does not solve the problem of women’s status to feminise the terms we use for God.

RETIREMENT

Q. Is it a sin to give up work since the Torah says, “Six days shall you work”?

A. What is the status of the words, “Six days shall you work”?

Is this a positive mitzvah in the sense that if you don’t work you deserve to be punished?

If this were the case, then not only would a retiree have a problem, but so would anyone who is out of work. How just would it be for the Torah to penalise a person who is looking for a job but can’t find one?

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler says in his “Michtav Me’Eliyahu” (using the approach of Moshe Chayyim Luzzatto’s “M’sillat Yesharim”), “Look at the lists of the commandments. Nowhere will you find an actual mitzvah of ‘Six days shall you work’”.

It is not that the Torah has no appreciation of the value of work. But work is not one of the 248 positive mitzvot.

The Torah authorises work but with a limitation, as if it said, “When you work, limit it to six days and leave room for Shabbat”.

One might add that whilst work is important, it is not an end in itself. Work is a means – not an end.

It enables people to support themselves and their family and to enhance the quality of civilisation and society… and is the way of enabling yourself to learn Torah.

 

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest-profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years.

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