For the week ending 19 January 2008 / 12 Shevat 5768

Parshat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Pharaoh finally sends Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. With pillars of cloud and fire, G-d leads them toward Eretz Yisrael on a circuitous route, avoiding the Pelishtim (Philistines). Pharaoh regrets the loss of so many slaves and chases the Jews with his army. The Jews are very afraid as the Egyptians draw close, but G-d protects them. Moshe raises his staff and G-d splits the sea, enabling the Jews to cross safely. Pharaoh, his heart hardened by G-d, commands his army to pursue, whereupon the waters crash down upon the Egyptian army. Moshe and Miriam lead the men and women, respectively, in a song of thanks. After three days' travel only to find bitter waters at Marah, the people complain. Moshe miraculously produces potable water. In Marah they receive certain mitzvot. The people complain that they ate better food in Egypt. G-d sends quail for meat and provides manna, a miraculous bread that falls from the sky every day except Shabbat. On Friday a double portion descends to supply the Shabbat needs. No one is able to obtain more than his daily portion, but manna collected on Friday suffices for two days so the Jews can rest on Shabbat. Some manna is set aside as a memorial for future generations. When the Jews again complain about a lack of water, Moshe miraculously produces water from a rock. Then Amalek attacks. Joshua leads the Jews in battle while Moshe prays for their welfare.


Permission To Heal

“I, the L-rd, am your Healer.” (15:26)

Samuel Goldwyn once remarked, "A hospital is no place to be sick."

According to the Talmud, doctors don’t have a very bright prospect ahead of them; “…the best of doctors go to Gehinom…” (Kiddushin 82a)

Why should doctors expect a ‘warm welcome’ when they exit this world? Either because they don’t exert themselves sufficiently on behalf of their patients, or considering themselves undoubted experts, sometimes they make mistaken diagnoses or prescribe incorrect treatment and end up killing the patient.

There are many recorded cases (and doubtless many more unrecorded ones) of misdiagnosis. Doctors aren’t perfect, but many behave as though they were. As John Webster put it, “Physicians are like kings — they brook no contradiction." In other words — don’t argue with the doctor.

New studies show a high rate of misdiagnosis of the coma-like persistent vegetative state. Researchers say that the findings are grounds for “extreme caution” in decisions that might “limit the life chances” of patients.

The latest study conducted by Belgian researchers indicates that around a quarter of the patients in an acute vegetative state when first admitted to the hospital have a good chance of recovering a significant proportion of their faculties, and up to a half will regain some level of consciousness.

Another study shows that around 40% of the patients were wrongly diagnosed as in a vegetative state when they in fact registered the awareness levels of minimal consciousness, and comparing past studies on this issue shows that the level of misdiagnosis has not decreased in the last 15 years.

And even when the diagnosis may be correct, doctors still don’t have the last word. In Parshat Mishpatim, the Torah repeats the phrase, v’rapoh, yerapeh, “And he will certainly heal…” (Shmot 21:19). This repetition teaches us the doctors are allowed to heal people. Why would I think in the first place that healing is forbidden? Because the Torah also says, “I, the L-rd, am your Healer.” Maybe only the L-rd is “your Healer;” maybe healing is from G-d, and no mortal has the right to interfere in this process? Thus the Torah has to tell us “he will surely heal…”

The lesson here seems needlessly convoluted. Why does the Torah set up a presumption that only G-d can heal, “I, the L-rd,, am your Healer;” and then counter this presumption with another verse, “he will surely heal…” The answer is that another lesson is being taught here as well.

Doctors may have the right to heal, but they have no right to despair.

The word “incurable” has no place in the doctor’s lexicon. A doctor may say, “We have no cure for this at the present time,” or “This case is beyond my expertise,” or “There’s nothing more we can do,” but the word “incurable” should never escape a doctor’s mouth.

For “I, the L-rd, am your Healer.”
  • Sources, Meiri, Medical News Net, North Country Gazette

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