“If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.” — Exodus 21:18–19
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi in Great Britain, once wrote, “to be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair…Judaism is the religion, and Israel the home, of hope.” This is one of six devotions focusing on this attribute of faith that has sustained the Jewish people for millennia. To learn more about the Patriarch Abraham and a life lived with hope, download our free Bible study.
Shortly after the people of Israel received God’s revelation and the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they then received a comprehensive list of laws necessary for a healthy, God-centered, God-fearing, just, and equitable society. It is not enough to love God in an abstract way; we have to take that love and turn it into faithful living.
Our verses today address a specific situation in which one person injures another. As we might expect, the Bible dictates, “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist . . . the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.” The rabbis explain that the guilty party must completely compensate the injured person, including paying for all his medical expenses.
In Hebrew, the last two words of the verse are rapoh yirapeh, which literally mean, “heal and be healed.” The Seer of Lublin, a renowned rabbi in the 18th century, commented on this phrase, saying that a doctor is permitted to heal, but he is not permitted to despair of a person being healed. Even if according to all his learning and experience, he believes that a certain patient does not stand a chance, the physician is not allowed to give up.
Only God has the final say about whether or not a person will be healed. A doctor’s job is to facilitate healing no matter what the statistics might say. In addition, he is allowed to give a patient hope, but he is not allowed to take away hope. A doctor should never tell a patient that there is no hope.
The rabbis take this idea one step further and explain that the same principle holds true in all aspects of our well-being – physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can be hopeful, and when we are, we should never give up. We should never say that a person has no chance of repenting. We should never determine that we have no chance of improving our own behavior. We should never decide that any situation is hopeless.
In a God-centered world, anything is always possible. Our job is to heal and be healed; it’s to hope and give hope.
Next time you or a friend experiences a bleak situation, remember the only things that you are permitted to do are to give hope, give help, and facilitate healing – then let God do His job.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President