"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
The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means "laws," from Exodus 21:1-24:18, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 34:8-22.
This week's Torah portion takes the story in last week's reading, which included the revelation of God at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, one step further. In this reading, we are given a comprehensive list of laws necessary for a healthy, God-centered, God-fearing, just, and equitable society. It's not enough to love God in an abstract way; we have to take that love and turn it into faithful living.
One of the laws discussed in this particular reading is about what happens if 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. The Jewish sages also point out that it is from this verse that we learn that a person is permitted to seek out medical attention. We are allowed to go to doctors for healing.
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 on hope. 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 - and then let God do His job.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President