Recently, Yeshiva World News reported that one of the Rebbes of Satmar has been reporting an increase in cancer in his community rachmana litzlan. While no one can vouch for the accuracy of what was actually said, it seems that after some examination they (it is unclear who else was involved) concluded that it might possibly be due to a breach of tznius in their community – highlighting that it may be the wearing of excessive make-up. To this end, a new Vaad was created accompanied with a solicitation for funds.
It is this author’s opinion that such declarations are often counter-productive for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shortchanges the beauties of Torah Judaism, whose great commentators have offered fascinating insights into illness. Secondly, it is terribly insulting to a very fragile group of people that are looking toward Rabbinic leaders for solace and instead receive a brutal slap in the face. Thirdly, it may be a manifestation of a “blame something or some-one” mentality which diverts resources and attention from addressing other problems.
Recently this author was asked by a person who had experienced a tragic loss in his family to explore what Torah Judaism has to say on the matter. In this essay, an attempt will be made to address grave illness from the perspective of classical Torah sources, rather than “omniscient assumptions” of contemporary figures and personalities. It is hoped that the words of the Maharal and others cited below will serve to inspire others and imbue them with a hope and positive attitude to the future rather than despair.
The Gemorah in Chagigah (12b) states that the world stands on twelve pillars. These pillars are the Shvatim of Klal Yisroel, who represent the essence of Klal Yisroel. These Shvatim have an unparalleled connection to HaKadosh Boruch. This is why Dovid HaMelech describes them as Shivtei Kah (Tehillim 115:16). Klal Yisroel has a unique ability to connect to HaKadosh Boruch Hu, like no other nation can.
Generally speaking, we can further these connections to Hashem with greater and deeper Torah study, with Avodah or Tefillah, and with acts of Gmilas Chasadim. Each of these work in different ways.
Delving deeper in Torah study demonstrates our desire to be closer to Him, and His word.
To understand how the Avodah method works, it might be worthwhile to examine a parallel with parents. Imagine one who was very close to my parents who have passed away. This person will cherish every experience and encounter that he or she may have had with them, since childhood to adulthood. Such a person will cherish how their mother cried the first day of school, the love and devotion at every stage of life, including taking their grandchildren on trips and shopping with them. Tefillah should be looked at in the same way. Each tefillah,
each bracha recited offers a different and unique opportunity to bond
with HaKadosh Boruch Hu.
And finally, there is the third method of being like HaKadosh Boruch Hu. The Gemorah tells us, Mah hu rachum v’chanun af atta rachum v’chanun.. Just as He is merciful and kind so to must you be merciful and kind. Hashem is the ultimate source of goodness and Chessed and we should strive to be like Him and do Chessed too. The good feeling that we get when we do Chessed is because that Divine section within all of us described as that “Chailek Elokah mimaal” is charged and highlighted whenever we do acts of Chessed.
People that are given stress or challenges can generally be divided into three groups:
The first type consists of those who Hashem finds incredibly special. Hashem brings about the Tzaar precisely because He wants the added closeness. This group is why the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel and others such as Chana, did not have children at first. Hashem wanted their closeness to Him through their Tefillah. The Gemorah in Yevamos (64a), “HaKadosh Boruch Hu Misaveh leTfilasan shel Tzaddikim, Hashem yearns for the Tefilos of the righteous.”
A second group are those that Hashem wants to give more Schar, more merit, by bringing them closer to Him. This group is also included in those described in Mishlei (3:12) in the posuk, “For those to whom He loves, He afflicts..” In Yishayahu (57:15) the Posuk says, “Ani eshkon es dakah, I shall dwell in those who are broken-hearted..”
These people may be average or beinoni, but for some reason Hashem singled these people out to get ever closer to Him.
A third group are those people that Hashem wishes to give them an atonement on some action that they may have done. One such case is Avimelech. Another case l’havdil, is Miriam who spoke, on a subtle level, negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.
Whichever group one is in, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam – Nesiv HaYesurin chapter 1) explains that when Hashem brings these afflictions, just as a father comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us. We should therefore, welcome the even closer entry of Hashem into our lives.
The Maharal explains that the Yissurin somehow prepares the person for greater Dveikus Bashem. It removes the “Chomrius” physical nature of the person, in the words of the Maharal, and fully spiritualizes the person. As proof he cites that an Eved, a slave, is called Chomrius
and when he loses a tooth, the master must set him free. Certainly,
writes the Maharal when someone’s entirety is afflicted with Yesurim,
that person’s entire essence becomes spiritual. The Maharal further
explains (chapter 3) that the person becomes Kadosh, holy.
The Gemorah in Brachos (54a) writes that we are obligated to make a bracha on “bad news” just like we make a bracha on “good news.” Chazal tell us (Brachos 5b) that we should accept all Yissurim, affliction or pain, B’Ahava – with love. Yissurin B’Ahavah is an important level to achieve. The Maharal (chapter 3) brings a proof from Iyov that if one reaches this level, the schar that a person gets is multiplied manifold.
This may be a high madreigah to reach, and let’s not be down on ourself if , occasionally, we don’t reach it. Whenever we do reach it, we get that high level of schar. The Gemorah in Brachos (60b) says that a person should always say, “Kol Ma D’avid Rachmana l’tav avid – whatever Hashem (the Merciful One) does, He does for the good.” Elsewhere, (Nesiv Ahavas Hashem p.43) the Maharal explains that this attitude even has the effect of changing what might be perceived as negative things around to fully perceivable positive things. Understandably, this is a very worthwhile attitude to adopt.
The Midrash tells us (Bereishis Rabbah 32:3) that we have reservoirs of strength that allow us to withstand the difficult Yissurim that are sent our way. What we must do is tap that those reservoirs within us.
One of the Psukim that we recite in Havdalah, is actually a fulfillment of a Mitzvah whenever we recite it. “Hinei Kel Yeshuasi, evtach velo efchad” It means, “Before me is Hashem of my salvation – I shall have faith in Him and not be afraid.. Another Pasuk that helps us focus is, “Hinei Lo yanum velo Yishan – shomer Yisroel – Behold He neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.” This pasuk helps us focus on the fact that Hashem is with us in this
journey of ours..
A TEFILAH WHEN GETTING TREATMENT
The Mishna Brurah (230:6) commenting on the Shulchan Aruch (230:4) says that for any illness whenever one takes a cure should say, May it be Your Will before You, Hashem my G-d that this matter will be for me a Refuah, for You are the free Healer..
יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שיהא עסק זה לי לרפואה כי רופא חנם אתה
The Mishna Brurah explains that one should realize that the healing only comes from hashem and not from the medicine itself. After the application one should say, “Boruch Rofei Cholim. – Blessed is He that heals the sick.”
Sometimes people that are suffering from debilitating illness get depressed because they are unable to perform the Mitzvos that they used to do. They do, however, have an extra Mitzvah that others do not. It is a Torah Mitzvah (Shmos 21:19) to do whatever you can to get better. This means also to be eating the right foods even when you don’t feel like it, and to exercise even when you may not want to. Realizing that this is a Mitzvah can imbue one with a simcha that only Mitzvos are capable of doing.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org