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Wednesday
Jun052019

AN ALTERNATIVE REMEDY FOR SHAVUOS

If the Torah is going to chime in about medicine, it must follow the cutting edge of medical progress to remain relevant to the “evolving” human body. * How can a rabbi, who happens to be a doctor, be sure that his medical Torah teachings are in line with eternal G-dly wisdom?

By Rabbi Boruch Merkur

Growing up, I heard of parents, religious fundamentalists (not Jewish), who were charged with manslaughter for neglecting to treat their child with modern medicine. They opted instead for homeopathic remedies to cure the infant’s fever and ear infection. When their prayers to heal their child were not answered, the parents followed alternative medical advice and wrapped their baby in cabbage leaves. I suppose the prayers were ongoing, but not surprisingly, the baby died and the parents were convicted.

L’havdil, the Talmud offers its own remedies to cure fever (Shabbos 66b):

Take newly minted coins to a salt repository and match their weight in salt. Then bind the salt with a thread made of hair to the neckline of the patient’s garment.

If this remedy is ineffective, sit at a crossroads and look for a large ant carrying something. Take the ant and place it in a copper tube. Close the tube with lead and seal it with sixty seals. Shake it, lift, and then say to it: … My burden and your burden are upon you.

Rambam, codifier of Jewish law and renowned physician, writes: “It is of the ways of G-d to have a whole and healthy body” (Hilchos Deios 4:1). Curiously, Rambam’s regimen for health, in his magnum opus of “halachos halachos” (strictly Torah law), differs vastly from the Talmud. Apparently, it is his own independent medical advice. But is it Torah? If it is Torah, why try to improve on the perfection of the Talmud and prescribe an alternative approach to medicine? And if medicine is Torah, how can it possibly change through time? Torah is eternal!

Citing several authorities (beginning with Rama, Even HaEzer 156:4), the Rebbe writes:

It is said of many segulos, and even of medical advice proffered by the (Oral) Torah, that they are presently different than in those times (in the Talmudic era, etc.), since nature has changed. (Likkutei Sichos Vol. 23, pg. 34)

If the Torah is going to chime in about medicine, it must follow the cutting edge of medical progress to remain relevant to the “evolving” human body. But how is that consistent with a Torah that is perfect, eternal, and unchanging?

***

Torah is constant and unchanging, but to see that you must understand what Torah is. Torah is spirituality, G-d’s will and wisdom: “In essence, Torah speaks of the supernal realms but secondarily alludes to the lower realms” (Asara Maamaros Maamer Chikur Din cheilek 3, perek 22). 

When our Sages provide a spiritual cure, the teaching may take the form of medical advice, a cure for the physical body (effective for the human body at least at the time the teaching was stated). But in certain Biblical Mitzvos, spiritual healing is apparent. For example, the Rebbe writes about the Mitzva to offer a korban, a sacrifice, in the Holy Temple:

In times when the Beis HaMikdash stood … by offering a (physical) sacrifice, a Jew was atoned –  “and he shall repent and be healed,” a cure for his sin. However, when the nature and underlying condition has changed – “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land” and “our Beis HaMikdash was destroyed” – in this state, the particular cure, offering a sacrifice, is ineffective. (In fact, it is forbidden to offer a sacrifice.) However, the cure and atonement is achieved through offering a spiritual sacrifice – t’filla, t’shuva, etc. (prayer and repentance, etc.) (Ibid 39)

Torah is thus eternal and its teachings are in essence spiritual.

***

Of course, the most important aspect of Torah is action – “ha’maaseh hu ha’ikar.” Practical Torah rulings, however, stem from their spiritual source. So how can a rabbi, who happens to be a doctor, be sure that his medical Torah teachings are in line with eternal G-dly wisdom, wisdom that (at least) provides spiritual healing?

The Tumim writes about the authorship of the Beis Yosef and Rama:

All they wrote was conceived from the hand of G-d … The spirit of G-d arose within them so that their wording is in line with halacha, without any personal influence of the author. G-d’s desire [for their Torah] brought them success.

And in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:

All works authored up to and including the Maharsha were with ruach ha’kodesh. Since it came about through ruach ha’kodesh, it itself is Torah. But only the revelation of their teachings was with ruach ha’kodesh. Once it is revealed, however, it becomes Torah. In truth, Torah in its essence is higher than ruach ha’kodesh. As Torah it is subject to interpretation in the dimensions of Pardes (p’shat, remez, drush, sod – literal, allusion, homily, esoteric).

The Rebbe cites his father’s teaching in Likkutei Levi Yitzchok Igros (pg. 266) that “all that is said … in all the s’farim authored by righteous sages who learned Torah lishma (for G-d’s sake) … all of them literally articulated the word of G-d verbatim.

Reflecting on this idea – knowing that the words of Torah are the actual words of G-d – is an incredible preparation for happily and genuinely receiving the Torah on Shavuos. In so doing, the Rebbe assures as that

we can perceive and feel in [even] the study of niglah of Torah (the revealed, legalistic dimension of Torah) … that it is the wisdom and will of the Alm-ghty.* (Ibid 40)

*Footnote 82: It is worthy to delve further into whether it possible to perceive that Torah is “Nafshi” [as in the acronym “Anochi,” the first word of the Ten Commandments, “Ana Nafshi K’savis Y’havis – I have given over and written My Soul (into the Torah).”]

May we all connect to G-d on Shavuos at all levels – His wisdom, His will, and if we delve deep enough, the level of “Nafshi,” G-d’s very soul. ■

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