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Posted on January 26, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

And He said, “If you hearken to the voice of HASHEM, your G-d, and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I am HASHEM, your Doctor.” (Shemos 15:26)

In these cautionary words HASHEM and the Torah are being presented as healing practitioners, as a supernal Doctor and His sublime medicine. Is this meant to supplant the need for medical intervention? Of course not! We have Torah permission to seek out medical help. So how is HASHEM and the Torah like our doctor?

The Maharal spells out a very important principle. When, let us call it “punishment”, is it sent to the world, it is not a form of Divine retribution. It should be seen as rehabilitative and educational. When a doctor warns a type 2 diabetic that if they continue to consume sugary products it just might lead to terrible consequences like loss of limbs. The Doctor doesn’t want this in the worst way. He wants the best for his patient and so he cautions him sternly. These are not threats or promises. There is a cause and there is a “natural” consequence. So, the Rambam tells us that a negative prophecy need not come true. Yona warned the residents of Ninve’ and they did Teshuva and forestalled the Navi Yona’s destructive forecast.

In the introduction to Shaar Bechina, the Chovos HaLevavos outlines three reasons why people might naturally tend to miss out on recognizing the incredible kindliness of HASHEM. One has to do with our hyperfocus on and misinterpretation of the mishaps, setbacks, and problems we encounter in life. The entire chapter is based on the premise of two verses. “HASHEM is good to all…” (Tehillim 145)

The other verse is from Koheles (3:14) “And G-d has so made that man should fear before Him”. The Chovos HaLevavos understands these words to mean that the reason why HASHEM made everything in the world is that we should learn to fear HASHEM, and live with an awareness of His presence and awesomeness. We are here to learn to see HASHEM. That is exactly why every-thing and every-body is here in the world.

The Chovos HaLevavos employs an analogy of an eye hospital to help us understand much of the unfortunate aspects of the human condition: “In this regard, they are like blinded people who were admitted into an institution specially built for them and furnished with everything needed for their comfort. Every single thing was in its right place and arranged for their advantage in the way that might best serve the specific purpose of improving their condition. Useful healing potions had also been provided and a skilled physician appointed to heal them by the application of these potions so that their sight may be restored. They however neglected to toil in the healing of their eyes and did not heed the directions of the physicians who sought to cure them. They wandered about aimlessly in the institution, miserable because of their blindness. Often as they were walking, they would stumble over objects that had been placed there for their benefit, and fall down on their faces. Some were bruised, others suffered broken limbs. Their pains and injuries increased and multiplied. Then they burst forth in complaints against the owner and the builder of the home, condemned his work, charged him with falling short in the fulfillment of his duty and condemned him as a bad manager. They persuaded themselves that his aim and purpose had not been to do them good and show them kindness, but to cause them pain and injury. This attitude of mind caused them at last to deny his goodness and kindliness…”

A wise man was asked this question: “How do we know if it’s a decree from HASHEM or a self-inflicted wound?” He said that the Ramban gives comfort (pardon me if I do not know the source) and says that most of the time it’s a case of, “Iveles Adam Tisalef Darcho v’al HASHEM yizaf libo” – “The foolishness of a man perverts his way: and his heart rages against HASHEM.” (Mishlei 19:3) Now, how is that a comfort? We should know that HASHEM is not hunting us down. Our fate remains more in our hands than we would like to believe. It may be uncomfortable for many of us because it means change is required. It might seem easier imagining that we are victims of heavenly retribution, but having to nullify heavenly decrees that are likely untrue is even harder! There are so many micro improvements we can all make, not just for our good. It’s Dr.’s orders!