Parshas Bamidbar (5773)
Did you ever wonder why Jewish hospitals are so often named after Mount Sinai? Take, for example, the hospital in which I was born, the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, or the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto where I now live.
I mean, it’s one thing to name a hospital after Maimonides – as in the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY or the Maimonides Hospital Geriatric Centre in Cote Saint-Luc, QC, and there are many more – since, after all, Maimonides was a famous Jewish doctor who was the personal court physician to Sultan Saladin and the royal family in Egypt. Maimonides, who lived in the 12th century, was way ahead of his time, as he described in his writings many conditions including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia, and emphasized moderation and a healthy lifestyle.
But why name a hospital after a mountain in the Middle East?
I did some serious research online (Google and Wikipedia) into the history of these and other hospitals named Mount Sinai, but couldn’t find much. Who knows, maybe the “Mount Sinai” hospital appellation comes from the idea that, according to Jewish tradition, the Jewish nation was “born” at Mount Sinai 3325 years ago, when we received G-d’s Torah which offers a “cure” for all the spiritual maladies and illnesses that plague us.
There is another very different connection between Mount Sinai and the hospitals that are named after it – and which relates to the upcoming holiday of Shavuos (the “Festival of Weeks” upon which we commemorate the Receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai) – that I would like to share with you.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Mount Sinai takes its name from Sin, a moon goddess worshipped by Sumerians, Akkadians, and ancient Arabs.
According to Rabbinic tradition, however, the name Sinai derives from a very different source. As the Talmud teaches us in Shabbos 89a:: Rav Chisda and Rabbah the son of Rav Huna both said: Why is it called "Sinai"? Because it is the mountain from which “hatred” (Hebrew: sinah) came down to the nations of the world [against the Jews whom they envied for having received the Torah].
What the Sages are teaching us here is an amazing thing - that the source of much of the anti-semitism and Jew-hatred in the world throughout history can be traced back to that one fateful day when we stood together as one nation at Mount Sinai and received G-d’s Torah, incurring the wrath and hatred of all the other nations who had previously rejected the Torah and were now jealous of us for having accepted it.
Of course we can ask why we should celebrate the receiving of G-d’s Torah if it comes with such a huge price of being hated for it throughout history. Thanks but no thanks!!
The truth is that, in an ironic sort of way, the sinah and hatred that the nations have felt toward us Jews throughout the centuries and millennia is a “blessing in disguise”, for it served as a bulwark and a safeguard against our assimilation into the non-Jewish world surrounding us.
It is well known that in 1812, when Napoleon's army invaded Russia, many Jewish leaders, attracted by Napoleon's promises of equality and freedom, and particularly his stated intention to grant the Jews all the rights and freedoms they had yearned for, prayed for the victory of the French. However, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi, could foresee the consequences of this freedom. He saw that if the French won, the economic position of the Jews might improve, but their spiritual condition would suffer. If, on the other hand, the Russians won, the Jews would suffer economically - in fact, they would be persecuted, but the Jewish spirit would flourish. The Rebbe therefore supported the czar, doing everything in his power to bring about Napoleon's defeat, for he feared that if Napoleon were victorious, the consequent emancipation of the Jews would lead to mass assimilation.
We have seen in the last 100 years in the US and Canada how a huge majority of the Jewish people has intermarried and assimilated and disappeared into the non-Jewish world around us – primarily because there were very few barriers to that assimilation in the form of anti-semitism and hatred, and those who made that move were fully embraced and welcomed into that world.
I believe that “Mount Sinai” is an appropriate name for a Jewish hospital because just as Mount Sinai was the spiritual source of the sinah and hatred that the nations feel toward the Jewish people, so, too, were many of these so-named hospitals originally started as a result of anti-semitism and Jew-hatred from the nations.
Just to cite one example of this, I quote for you from the Mount Sinai Hospital website (www.mountsinai.on.ca): In August of 1913, four immigrant women from Toronto’s Jewish community started knocking on neighborhood doors to raise money for a hospital. The Jewish immigrant population in Toronto was burgeoning; most of the new immigrants didn’t speak English and were afraid of large institutions. And, sadly, not a hospital in the city would give Jewish doctors a place to practice.
And there are many other Jewish hospitals that started in a similar fashion.
So let’s remember the next time that we are faced with irrational sinah and hatred from the nations around us – such as that of the eminent physicist Professor Stephen Hawking who joined the academic boycott against Israel this past week – that there is a silver lining to the cloud of anti-semitism, and that, in many ways, it serves to remind us that we have something very special – the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai over 3300 years ago – that makes the nations so jealous of us.
By Rabbi David Zauderer