Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 29
27 Iyar 5758.
May 23, 1998.
Harriet, Ron & Atara Sheinson
in honor of the forthcoming marriage of
Baruch to Ora,
daughter of Shlomo & Shoshana Shinnar
The Sabrin family
Behar - Bechukosai
Do We Need Doctors?
In summarizing the blessings which appear in Parashat
Bechukotai, Ramban (13th century; a physician by trade) writes as
"When Bnei Yisrael are at peace [with G-d], their lives will
not proceed according to the laws of nature at all, whether
as relates to their bodies or their Land, whether to the
individual or to the nation as a whole. Rather, Hashem will
bless their bread and their water and will remove all
illness from them such that they will not need doctors or
medicine. Thus it is written (Shmot 15:26), 'I am Hashem
who heals you.' . . . One who consults prophets does not
consult doctors, for how can there be room for doctors in G-
d's house when He has promised (Shmot 23:25) to bless your
bread and water and remove illness from amongst you!"
Another prominent physician, Rambam/Maimonides (12th century)
appears to disagree. The mishnah (Pesachim 4:9) describes that
King Chizkiyahu hid away "The Book of Cures." In his commentary
on this mishnah, Rambam writes:
It was explained to me that King Shlomo wrote this book, and
when a person was sick, he would follow the instructions in
this book and be cured. When Chizkiyahu saw that people no
longer relied on G-d, he hid this book away.
Do Rambam and Ramban disagree regarding the propriety of
consulting doctors? R' Eliyahu Dessler z"l (20th century)
explains that they do not. Ideally, a person would recognize
that everything that happens is from Hashem. When a person
became ill, he ideally would consult a prophet to determine the
spiritual root of his illness. Having done this, he would know
what Hashem wants from him and how to cure himself.
Now listen, and I will tell you why this is wrong - how
could they attribute such foolishness to Chizkiyahu?
Following their confused logic, if a person is hungry and he
eats bread, is that a failure to rely on G-d? Fools! Just
like I acknowledge and thank G-d when He gives me food, so I
thank Him when He provides me with medicine. [As for
Chizkiyahu's hiding the Book of Cures, Rambam explains that
it contained cures which were inherently sinful.]
If a person were on a spiritual level where he should consult a
prophet and he instead consults a doctor, this would indeed be a
sin. Even Rambam/Maimonides would agree to this, for Rambam
writes that medicine is as necessary as food, yet we know that
Moshe Rabbenu attained a level where he could go 40 days without
However, we live in a world where Hashem hides Himself. In
such a world, one must certainly pray to G-d for his health, but
he must also cure himself through natural means.
(Michtav Eliyahu III p.170)
R' Chaim Elazar Shapira z"l (the "Munkatcher Rebbe"; died 1937)
writes: The gemara derives from a verse in the Torah that:
"Doctors have reshut/permission to cure." It follows that if
they have permission to heal, then we have permission to be
However, any time Chazal refer to something as a "reshut," that
thing is optional. Therefore, there have been tzaddikim
throughout history who have refused to consult with doctors.
Moreover, whenever one performs an action which Chazal
classified as optional, it can be counted as a mitzvah or as a
sin, depending on the doer's intentions. Thus, if one sees his
physician as G-d's messenger, one performs a mitzvah. If one
places his trust in doctors and ignores G-d, one sins.
(Divrei Torah IV No. 94)
R' David ben Shmuel Halevi z"l (the "Taz"; 17th century)
writes: The Shulchan Aruch states that the Torah gave doctors
reshut/permission to cure, and it is a mitzvah to do so. Which
is it, reshut or mitzvah?
He answers: The Torah gave doctors permission to cure, because
the Torah knew that a time would come when we would not be worthy
of prophets. Now that that time has come, it is a mitzvah to
(Turei Zahav, Yoreh Deah 136:1)
R' Yitzchak Kanpanton a"h
born 1360 - died 1463
R' Yitzchak ben Yaakov Kanpanton, the Gaon/Sage of Castile,
headed a yeshiva which produced many great scholars, including R'
Yitzchak de Leon, R' Shmuel of Valencia, and R' Yitzchak Abohab
II. (The last of these was the teacher of the Torah commentator,
R' Yitzchak Abarbanel, and the historian, R' Avraham Zacut, and
of R' Yaakov Bei Rav, whose student, R' Yosef Karo, wrote the
Shulchan Aruch.) After the departure of R' Yitzchak ben Sheshet
("Rivash") from Spain and the death of R' Chisdai Crescas II (in
1415), R' Yitzchak Kanpanton remained the outstanding authority
of the Spanish rabbinate.
It is said that R' Yitzchak's method of teaching was as
follows: He would assign a Talmudic problem to his students and
then send them out of the room. When they returned, he would
tell them, "So-and-so [i.e., one of the students] resolved it
this way and so-and-so [i.e., another student] resolved it this
Other than his being an important link in the chain of Torah
transmission, as just outlined, the only significant fact known
about R' Yitzchak Kanpanton is that he authored a work called
Darkei Ha'gemara. This work is a manual for studying Talmud. A
small sample of R' Yitzchak's instructions are listed in the box
on page 3 of this issue. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim,
p.113; The Artscroll Early Acharonim, p.35; Darkei Ha'gemara)
by R' Yitzchak Kanpanton z"l
- Pay attention to every word and phrase and ask yourself why
that word was used and not a similar word.
- Bear in mind that every question and every answer mentioned
in the Talmud [even if later rejected by the Talmud itself]
has logic to it. No participant in the Talmud's discussion
was a simpleton, and every question represents a position on
the issue being discussed.
- Always ask yourself what Rashi's comments add to the
discussion and how one might have interpreted the Talmud's
words intuitively if not for Rashi's comments. (Presumably,
those comments are intended to tell the reader that the
intuitive interpretation of the Talmud is wrong.)
- It is not enough to read something once, for each time you
read it, you will see new meaning in it.
- As important as hard work and review are to success in one's
Torah studies, praying to Hashem for that success also is
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
may be retrieved from
to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.
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