Parshas Beshalach (5776)
In this week’s Torah portion we read how after the Jews leave Egypt, G-d makes the following promise to them. "If you hearken diligently to the voice of G-d, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed on Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am G-d, your Healer" (Exodus 15:26).
This verse is troubling. After all, if G-d is promising us that by fulfilling His commandments no illness will befall us, why does He refer to Himself as our “Healer”? If we are never to get sick, there's no need for us to be healed!
Rash”i, the preeminent Bible commentator, answers that G-d’s promise of healing to the Jewish people is like the doctor who says to a person, “Do not eat this thing lest it bring you into the grip of such-and-such an illness.” According to this explanation, “Healer” does not necessarily imply the existence of an illness. G-d can be referred to as Healer even if He tells us how to avoid illness.
The Chasam Sofer elaborates on this theme. He writes that were generally two types of doctors. One type of doctor didn't have any particular relationship with his patients. Rather, they would come to him to be treated for their illnesses, and he would be compensated accordingly.
The other type of doctor was known as the "family doctor". He was generally paid a fixed salary by the families that he serviced, and, in a sense, was part of the family. Since this doctor's salary was not contingent upon the amount of illness the family experienced, it was worth his while to ensure, to the best of his ability, that the family stay perfectly healthy. So he would give his patients all types of health tips and pointers – what would be referred to today as “preventative medicine” - in order that they remain well and not be in need of his services.
G-d, who is referred to in our prayers as the "Healer of the Sick", can be compared to the family doctor. He loves us so much and is so concerned with our daily lives (whether we realize it or not!), that He will do anything He can to keep us physically and spiritually healthy. So G-d gives us an “Instruction Book for Life” - for that's exactly what the Torah is - and tells us - no, He begs us – “Please take this preventative medicine and it will make your lives happier and healthier, with less sadness, doubt, social ills and lack of meaning and fulfillment - for I am the L-ord, your family doctor".
[In the eighth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei (lit. “The Eighteen”, in reference to the original number of constituent blessings; otherwise known as the Amidah, or “Standing Prayer”) we ask G-d: “Heal us, G-d – and we will be healed …” The question is why the great Rabbis who instituted the formal prayers saw the need to add the words “and we will be healed” to the request for good health. It is patently obvious that if G-d heals us then we will be healed! It is for this reason that some commentators suggest an alternate reading of the prayer: Heal us, G-d, from preexisting conditions and ailments; and keep us healthy – immunize and protect us from future illness. Indeed, the Talmud in Shabbos 32b teaches: “A healthy person should always pray that he does not get sick, because once illness strikes he must have great merit to regain his health.”]
I think there is a powerful message in this verse for all of us to think about. Many, if not most Jews will turn to G-d and religion for guidance, support and even healing only when they experience a major crisis in their lives. Whether it’s a relative who is sick or has passed away and our whole world has fallen apart, or if the plane is going down and all hope seems lost – that’s when we most often call on the “Big Doctor in the Sky” to come down and help us out.
But even though we apparently realize that G-d has the power to heal us if He wants to – otherwise, why else would we even turn to Him at all in moments of crisis and despair - we almost never think of turning to Him for help before things hit the fan – for advice and instructions from His Torah on how to live happy and healthy lives and prevent the bad stuff from happening in the first place!
Of course this is not to say that Jews who observe the commandments are guaranteed never to get sick, or have a drug problem, etc., only that living a Torah lifestyle is the best prescription for maintaining a well-balanced, stable, healthy and meaningful family and personal life.
See, for example, Rabbi Lawrence Keleman’s book Permission to Receive: Four Rational Approaches to the Torah’s Divine Origin in the chapter titled “The Ethical Issue”, where he illustrates and documents that many of the social ills and problems that have plagued society in ancient times all the way till today – such as crime, drug and alcohol addiction, high divorce rates, etc.- have largely been avoided by those who follow the Torah’s prescription for healthy living.
See also Professor Jeff Levin’s 2013 research paper Religious Observance and Well-Being among Israeli Jewish Adults: Findings from the Israel Social Survey, where he shows that greater Jewish religious observance is significantly associated with higher scores on indicators of self-rated health, functional health, and life satisfaction.
This is what the Torah is teaching us in the above verse. G-d is like the old family doctor who actually loves and cares about his patients enough to keep them healthy and happy – not just someone you look to for help when you’re dying of cancer, or when your marriage falls apart and you’re all alone, or when your drug addiction is destroying your life and you can’t cope.
And the guidance and instructions for a happy and healthy and meaningful life were published by “Doctor G-d” for all us to purchase and read in what has now become the best-selling book of all time after Harry Potter – the Bible.
Take two tablets daily (-;