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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5758) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz

Volume XII, Number 29
27 Iyar 5758.
May 23, 1998.

Sponsored by:

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 follows:

“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.

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.]

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.

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 food.

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 cured.

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 consult doctors.

(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 way.”

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)

Excerpts from
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 essential.

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 Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.