In our age of science, cures for everything, from depression to heart disease, seem to be at our fingertips. But have our doctors, therapists and scientists replaced our rabbis, sages and tzaddikim for guidance?
The Avner Institute presents two new letters from the Mindel Archives, where the Rebbe praises our modern-day healers while reminding us that Torah is the best medicine, as well as our strength and rock, and that our role is to serve our Creator with joy and moral rectitude.
To Bring Therapeutic Relief
By the Grace of G-d
8 Teves, 5747
Greeting and Blessing
This is in reply to your letter in which you ask several questions.
Although I do not usually pasken shaalos [deliver rulings], which is the prerogative of Rabbonim — particularly Rabbinic organizations — however, inasmuch as the subject matter is quite simple and, especially in view of its direct relevance, I am answering your questions:
1) Does a therapist carry the status of a physician according to the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]?
The answer: Anyone who is trained (and formally attested) to bring therapeutic relief to a human being has the status of a physician in that area of his training and expertise. Furthermore, since medical science has become so specialized, the area of therapy, and also dietetics, have in recent years been researched and systematized, etc., much in the same way as an eye doctor and an ear doctor have become specialists in their particular field. This is especially true in regard to dietetics, in view of the importance attached to diet by the Rambam (Hilchos De’os) almost 800 years ago, which only recently has become increasingly recognized.
2) With regard to the problem of the complex nature of human behavior and the difficulties inherent in empirical investigation.
Surely, as you know, all empirical sciences, and certainly medical science, face this problem. But the Shulchan Aruch, well aware of this prob1em rules that one has to deal with existential reality of the available criteria as to what is medically useful and has been verified as such, etc.
3) Regarding the question of repression of anger and sadness, and the like.
You surely know the approach of Chassidus, especially Chabad, and how much emphasis is placed on the tikkun hamidos (development of character, self-control, etc.); also how to overcome sadness and the like.
As in many other areas, there are two aspects to consider:
a) physical health,
b) spiritual health.
Since both are, of course, interrelated, they can be harmonized. For example, the matter of sadness is a mental state that affects also physical well-being, and at the same time, there is the directive to “serve Hashem with joy.” The latter in itself testifies to the general ability of a human being to overcome sadness, for otherwise the Torah would not have given such a directive.
In conclusion, I would like to add the important point that precisely in our days it has become increasingly revealed and recognized in many areas of human life that the mitzvoth of the Torah that are obligatory in the everyday life in our time (as distinct from those mitzvoth that are related to the Beis Hamikdash) are of direct benefit to physical and mental health.
I trust that, in keeping with the teachings of Chanukah and the Chanukah Lights which are kindled in growing numbers and intensity from day to day, symbolizing ner mitzvo v’Torah ohr [light of mitzvoth and Torah], you are doing just that, especially increasing from time to time your kvias-ittim [set-aside time] in Torah in terms of both time and education.
May the light and inspiration of Chanukah illuminate and permeate all your days ahead throughout the year.
A Better and Nobler Society
By the Grace of G-d
Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5739 _
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive your regards through our mutual friend, together with the reprints of your scientific papers in The American Journal of Cardiology.
Inasmuch as everything is by Divine Providence, and your valuable research work has come to my attention, though entirely out of my field, I am impelled to make a general remark, being confident that you will not take it amiss.
It is human nature to be highly impressed by persons achieving distinction in various fields, particularly in medical science, and especially in cardiology, since physical health is everybody’s primary concern. Thus people tend to be influenced by the personal life and views of the people they admire or feel indebted to, far beyond the immediate area in which they excel. This imposes a moral obligation on the latter to use their influence for the benefit of the many, in terms of promoting the higher values in life for a better and nobler society.
All the more so in the case of Jews and the Jewish people. Being a tiny minority in a hostile world, Jews have always had to work for their very survival, and this task has become even more urgent after the Holocaust, which has decimated our people both physically and spiritually. Unfortunately, the attitude of the world towards us has not changed much, if at all, for the heirs and followers of the Nazis and their ilk are still rampant.
Hence the greater obligation and urgency for every Jew, particularly Jews of prominence, to do all one can for the preservation of our people through fostering Jewish identity and commitment, in an active form, in the everyday life; for, as our Sages emphasize, “the essential thing is the deed,” or, to put it in another way, the test of a theory is in its practical application — a principle which is not foreign to a scientist.
I therefore wish to express my confident hope that you are endeavoring to be a source of ever-growing inspiration to your fellow-Jews by example and precept, and may G-d bless you with hatzlacha [success] in this and in all your endeavors.
With esteem and blessing and best wishes for a kosher and inspiring Pesach,
These letters are released in honor of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Ben Zev – devoted Chassid of both the Previous and Current Lubavitcher Rebbeim, and patriarch of a large Lubavitcher family whose open home hosted many grateful guests.