l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov
“And will surely heal (lit. heal will heal)” (21; 19)
The Talmud in Bava Kamma (85a) learns from here that it is permitted for a doctor to heal a patient. Without this verse I would have thought that since it is G-d who brings illness upon a person, how could a doctor heal them, when it is trying to do something against G-d’s will. Therefore the verse gives us permission to heal.
The idea of G-d bringing the illness is based on the Talmud in Chullin (7b) that says ‘a person does not stub their toe on earth unless it was first decreed so in Heaven.’ Therefore we might have thought that the doctor’s work is contradicting Divine decree.
But the truth is that this is not a valid concern at all. It is similar to a person who is so poor that they are starving. We know that wealth or poverty are also decreed by G-d, as it says in the end of Kiddushin (82b), just as wealth is decreed, so too poverty is a decree from Heaven. Nevertheless someone who helps a poor person and provides them with their needs has clearly performed a Mitzvah, and one of the greatest Mitzvot. There is an explicit verse about this “Give your bread to the hungry” (Isaiah 58; 7). The Sages tell us that if someone asks for food because they are starving we don’t have to check whether they are really poor or not. Furthermore, this is included in the concept of returning lost objects, as the Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a) explains: “Return, you will return the object” (Devarim 22; 1-2). The repetition of the language comes to include returning his body (i.e. his life). If a person sees someone in danger they are obligated to save him. Included within this instruction is feeding or healing someone. If someone has the ability to help another in this regard they are obligated to do so.
You should know that the Talmud we cited above says that he doctor should not say to himself ‘since G-d brings the disease, how can I cure?’ According to this the patient could also say to himself that it is forbidden for him to take any measures to heal himself, because maybe that would be against the Divine intent. If that were true the Talmud should have said ‘From here we learn that it is permitted for a patient to heal himself’, just as it says about the doctor.
Perhaps we can say that regarding the sick person himself this doubt of the permissibility of healing would not apply. Since we know that all the mitzvot of the Torah are pushed aside when there is an threat to life, because the mitzvot were given for the sake of life. The Talmud (Yoma 85) learns this from the verse (Vayikra 18; 8) “You should safeguard My statutes and My laws that a person should do them to live by them.” The Rabbis learn from here ‘to live by them, and not to die by them’. Therefore any action that will heal the person themselves would be permitted even without any other verse to include it.
However regarding the doctor, I might have thought that it was included in the concept that we may not tell someone to sin for someone else’s benefit. (Shabbat 4a). Therefore the torah needs to give specific permission to the doctor to heal. The reason that he needs the permission is actually to give him the obligation to heal (as we explained above).
Look at Ramban on Parshat Bechukotai on the verse (26; 11) “I will place my mishkan in your midst” that he says that it is better for someone who fears G-d not to go to doctors but rather to pray to G-d. There is a hint to this in Divrei Hayamim (2; 16; 12) regarding King Assa. It says about him that in his illness he did not seek G-d, but only the doctors. It seems that the verse criticises him for this.
We can find another support for his advice to avoid doctors from the Talmud in Brachot (64a): Rav Yosef never invited even a blood-letter into his house. It seems that the explanation is that he never sought this cure but rather relied solely on G-d. However Rashi explains there because he was so humble, that when he needed to let blood he always went to the doctor rather than having the doctor come to him. According to this interpretation it is not connected to what the Ramban was saying. Perhaps the Ramban would explain differently than Rashi, but if so he should have brought it as a support for himself.
Based on what we have written above regarding the permission for a doctor to heal from the analogy of giving bread to a poor person, even though poverty is also from G-d, and moreover it is a mitzvah to support him. We can derive the same idea from the perspective of the patient, that just as a poor person may not sit back and accept his poverty without trying to find food (using the excuse that it is all from G-d), so too an ill person must seek cures for his illness.
(to be continued)