Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God. — Ecclesiastes 5:7
I recently visited a widow who said to me, “Rabbi, I can’t believe I’m still alive. I was very sick just a few months ago. My sister had cancer and died last year. My husband had cancer and died a few years earlier. When they told me I had cancer, I figured I would die, too.”
I told my kids, “Abba (Daddy) misses me and I will go be with him soon. But my children cried and asked me not to give up, so I didn’t. I had a successful operation and I’m still here. After the successful surgery my kids joked, ‘I guess Abba decided he doesn’t need you that badly right now after all!’ You see Rabbi, anything is possible!”
This holy widow reminded me of King Hezekiah who was told by the prophet Isaiah: “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover” (Isaiah 38:1).
If told by God’s own prophet that our time was up, most of us would accept the message and give up the fight for life. And that’s exactly how many people behave when a doctor says as such. According to the Talmud, that’s not how Hezekiah responded.
The Jewish sages teach that instead Hezekiah said to Isaiah: Usually when a person visits an invalid, he wishes him mercy from Heaven, or a physician might prescribe a special diet for the sick. Even when it is clear that the sick person is dying, no one tells him that his time is ending so as not to upset him. But you, Isaiah, have told me that I will die and not live. I will ignore you, Isaiah, and not heed your advice. I accept only what my ancestor David said that “even if a sword rests on a man’s neck he should not desist from prayer,” and what my ancestor Solomon said; “many words are meaningless . . . fear God.”
Immediately, as the Bible tells us in the next verse in Isaiah, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer. He prayed and wept and poured his heart out. The Scriptures record what happened next. God returned to Isaiah and commanded him to tell Hezekiah: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life” (Isaiah 38:5). Upon hearing the message, Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “Didn’t I tell you? In spite of many words, fear God!”
This powerful story illustrates the necessity to never give up. God is greater than any medical report, any circumstance, or any problem. It doesn’t matter what “they” say. What matters most is what we say to God and that we fear only God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President