Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Iyar 5766 - May 24, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Faith in Medicine

A Roundtable Discussion with Four Doctors on Various Vital Issues of Emunah and Medicine

Part II

On a recent evening, four observant doctors gathered with us after they finished their work, for a roundtable discussion in the offices of Arachim. All of them are connected to the Teshuvoh movement. Some of them returned to their roots and some of them work in outreach. Each one felt at home in the offices of Arachim. Their work is in the field of medicine, but their essence is men of faith. "From my flesh I see G-d," and from the flesh of any man. They see faith, experience it, and breathe it.

We sought the opportunity to gain insight into emunah from their experiences and their fascinating personal stories. We sought to delve into the depths of questions surrounding faith and medicine as well: Can one influence the results of an ultrasound by spiritual means? What is the source of exaggerated arrogance often found amongst doctors? Why should we go to a doctor, given that sin is the cause of death? How well does the chareidi community follow doctors' orders? What is the meaning of the Zohar that states that matzoh is the "bread of healing?"

Rabbi Yisroel Friedman presented the questions. Chaim Arbeli took notes.

Part Two: Faith and Arrogance Among Doctors

Is there such a thing as a doctor who does not believe?

Dr. Shoraki: Certainly. I was a doctor who did not believe.

But you became a believer! Was this as a result of your profession?

Dr. Shoraki: No. But after we did teshuvoh, I was privileged to reveal emunah in connection to my profession.

We lived in France where we had everything. I had a clinic near my home and I was the assistant manager of my department in the hospital. One day, as the finishing touch to our process of doing teshuvoh, we decided to make aliyah to Eretz Yisroel. We told our acquaintances and they advised us to see a psychiatrist . . . but instead we went to the Jewish Agency.

A while later someone from the Jewish Agency called us and claimed that we were not serious because we had not sold the house or the clinic and we had no work in Israel. This was Friday morning; I was in the kitchen with a cordless telephone in my hand.

I asked the man who had called to hold on for a minute. I went out to the living room, and stood near the bookshelves and said: "HaKodosh Boruch Hu! I am making aliyah! If I have to sell something that is Your task. I am here in France and here it is very difficult to sell a health clinic. Ribono shel Olom, I cannot do this part but I can go to Israel and that I will do. Ribono shel Olom, let us make a deal. You sell the clinic and I will go to Eretz Yisroel."

I took the phone and informed the man on the other end, "I sold it!"

He was astounded: "What?"

I explained that I "sold" the clinic . . . and on that Friday I met a man who told me his brother-in-law wanted to buy a clinic.

After Shabbos I sold the clinic!

Why do I tell this? Because this is the point of difference between a doctor who believes and one who does not: one thinks only about himself and the other knows that he is really only a "technician." A man of emunah is privileged to wear the "glasses" that HaKodosh Boruch Hu has placed on him that enable him to see.

When I wanted to sell the clinic I was able to use the right glasses to view the situation. When you have these glasses you understand what it means: "Who opens the eyes of the blind," and what a privilege it is to suddenly distinguish during the course of your work a clear medical diagnosis. This is the great difference between a secular doctor and a religious doctor.

However, there is another point: I am much more free in my interaction with the patient. A secular doctor is afraid, and because of the fear he cannot see anything. He not only does not see, he is afraid to see! He prefers sometimes not to see, because if he sees, he will have to take responsibility for things he does not want to be responsible for.

We have come to a situation in medicine that is so severe that HaKodosh Boruch Hu interferes with the patient's recovery more than the doctor does. The extreme medical cases are prevalent more than ever before, and this situation testifies about HaKodosh Boruch Hu's direct involvement in the matter.

Dr. Kapach: I think that the doctors here will agree with me that there is a difference between the reason someone seeks a doctor today and twenty years ago. Once they complained about measurable problems, today people come with a general feeling of weakness or the like, which is impossible to demonstrate empirically.

Is the world sicker in spirit because it has destroyed the spirit?

If someone does not rectify his spirit in the correct manner, he tries to rectify it with the wrong medicines. I heard a statistic that in the U.S.A. the number of those hospitalized for mental illnesses approaches 50 percent of the hospitalizations. This says something.

If everything is so clear, why don't all the doctors discover emunah?

Dr. Shoraki: I think I have an answer but the answer is very difficult. The worst arrogance in the world exists by doctors, and this is very natural. It is normal. An unbelieving doctor thinks to himself: "I saved the life of the patient."

When the patient dies, it was not the doctor that did it; HaKodosh Boruch Hu did it. But when the patient recovers the doctor takes the credit. I worked hard all night! I operated on him, and I saved him!

Once, I treated a sick talmid chochom with a treatment I had developed. After he recovered he made a festive meal of gratitude and invited me. An important rosh yeshiva spoke at that meal and hardly mentioned me at all. I felt hurt. He spoke the whole time about how HaKodosh Boruch Hu treated, etc. I thought: "Wait a minute, I'm here! And he doesn't say a word about me . . . "

Afterwards I understood that the rosh yeshiva lives in another world, he simply feels that HaKodosh Boruch Hu treated the patient. He has no doubt about it.

Dr. Hart: A believing doctor has wide-angle glasses, but a regular doctor has no other additional tool of measurement. A believing doctor sees things in proportion; he sees where he fits into the whole picture.

Let us be honest. Do you see HaKodosh Boruch Hu in the surgeon's scalpel, in the examination?

Dr. Hart: Only He is there, and no other!

Chazal say that it is the sin that kills. Why is it that when a sick person comes to you, you do not advise him to check, for example, whether he made the brochoh "Asher Yotzar" with the proper intention or not — or other mitzvah performance?

Dr. Hart: Right. But the Torah gave permission to the doctor to heal and I am obligated to do my part. The gemora says that someone who is not careful about eating the meal that one should normally eat after bloodletting causes harm to his livelihood (Shabbos 129a). In Heaven it is said, if he does not have concern for himself, shall I be concerned about him?

It seems to me this principle could be widened to the entire subject of medicine. If a person disregards the importance of health matters, how will they look at him in Heaven? HaKodosh Boruch Hu says, "You will not listen to anyone's advice, so then why do you come to Me with complaints?"

However, it is clear that what I do as a doctor has no connection to what actually happens. We see in reality how a medicine helps one patient but not another. For example, one mother forgot to check the results of a throat culture on her son. Two weeks later she remembered to check and it showed a positive result for a bacterial infection. But in fact, upon examination, the bacteria had disappeared. If she had come two weeks earlier I would have given the child a "kilogram" of antibiotics.

Then where does the doctors' arrogance come from?

Dr. Hart: There is no yiras Shomayim. "If there is no fear of G-d in this place they will kill me." Sometimes, in the field of medical research—with those wearing a white coat—there is great fraud. For example, there are situations in which they will attempt to provide incorrect figures in research about a medicine that will correlate to what the pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay for!

However, in our reality there is something called the obligation of hishtadlus. In essence we are talking about a curse, but this is what we are obligated to do and the rest is done by HaKodosh Boruch Hu. HaKodosh Boruch Hu brought me to this profession, and this is what I must do.

I see my colleagues in the secular society; they are under terrific pressure. No one ever comes to me with complaints: "What did you do?"

Treating patients in Bnei Brak is on a different scale altogether. They do not have complaints against you. The doctor is at fault? The father is at fault because he did not learn enough, or the mother is at fault.

Dr. Straw: Do you know what it takes for a person to recognize "it was not me?" Do you know what that is? Do you have any idea what it means to open a clogged artery that was 95 percent closed with an angioplasty? You are treating the patient and after five minutes the artery is open, the blood is flowing, the patient is laying on the bed in full consciousness and looking at you with amazement. The technician outside follows the procedure and also responds with much amazement. Do you have any idea what it takes to think at that moment: "It was not me that did this?" It takes a lot of strength and a lot of working on yourself, a lot of siyata deShmaya, so that your eyes should open up and you should see the truth.

Dr. Kapach: Concerning arrogance, there is no chance it will change as long as there is no authority Above. If the tests for acceptance as a doctor would include ethical considerations of the Mesillas Yeshorim there would be a difference.

But how is it so? Is arrogance not a contradiction to the simple emunah in things they see with their own eyes?

Dr. Shoraki: They are blind.

Dr. Hart: The yetzer hora does not allow you to see. He knows that if you, the department director, will be chozer beteshuvoh the world will turn over and the yetzer hora will be out of a job. He does not allow him to see!

Dr. Kapach: I do not think that blindness is the right description, if you try to understand their way of thinking. They will claim that you gathered together four observant doctors, got them to speak about the stories you are interested in hearing; you definitely have an agenda. Gather together four atheists, ask them other questions and you will receive different results. Medicine recognizes that there are unexplained cases, and that is all.

A doctor can be a believer, or he could not. It is his free will, which Heaven gave him. In the course of his work he becomes accustomed to the reality he sees and does not ask questions beyond it. Maybe he has some questions, sometimes, and he will answer them himself. He knows the answers, he understands the conclusions, and he does not want to come to these conclusions. So he stops at the stage of the first question, so he will not have to come to the eighth question and the necessary conclusions. This is bribery.

Is there a situation that you can point to as a doctor and say in this place there cannot be anything else besides HaKodosh Boruch Hu? "From my flesh I see G-d" — in the plainest sense?

Dr. Kapach: Yes. In fact this could be in two ways. Either one could witness sick people as in the stories related here—and I have seen patients of this sort. Or, the other way is to contemplate man's body in general, the organs of self- balance, or the retina, and the like.

I was once asked to substitute for a doctor to teach nursing classes the subject of geriatrics. I was in the beginning of my path in teshuvoh—by means of Arachim—and I did not look "black" and threatening. I began with a question that I wrote on the blackboard: Why does a man die at the age of 100?

I was looking for a scientific answer. One nurse answered because he became old. Why does he become old? Because his system wore out. I changed the question on the blackboard: Why does a man die from being worn out at 100, and not 160 or 300, like turtles or elephants? The answer came that there are processes, reactions, oxidization of membranes and all kinds of terms.

In the final version, the question was: Why does the oxidization of membranes occur at the age of 100 and not 160? It took about ten minutes and in the end the answer was: That is the way it is.

I told them: In the course of your studies you will encounter many topics of medicine that begin with the question, "Why?" In the continuation you will learn "what and how," but no one will ever answer the question, "Why?" Only the topic heading remains: "Why?"—A misleading heading.

Dr. Straw presents a number of examples that demonstrate the power of the yetzer hora to blind our eyes: They made a study concerning a type of fainting spells that originate from irritation in the nervous system, and were trying to investigate how it would be possible to decrease the fainting spells. The study was investigating whether implanting a pacemaker in the heart decreases the frequency of fainting.

If you look at the study in a superficial fashion you will find that the pacemaker decreased the frequency of fainting. However, when you look more deeply at the study you will see that of those who received a pacemaker, sometimes it was turned on and sometimes it was turned off, and the patient did not know when it was turned off. The decrease in fainting was specifically in the group whose pacemakers were turned off!

Another example: An 85-year-old patient has been lying in the department of internal medicine for three weeks. They have given him infusions through a needle in his arm 150 times, and he no longer has any visible veins in which to place the needle. Everyone tried and were not successful— the nurses, the interns, the assistant department head.

A nurse stopped me in the corridor and asks me to try. I came into his room, sat down and thought: "Ribono shel Olom! Look at this poor man's arms. I have nothing to add. Everyone tried and could not find, and I am no better than they. So what can I do? I have to give him the infusion."

And then suddenly you see a vein that appears in front of your eyes! The needle penetrates in a second.

A week later the same thing happened. I try to put a needle in but I am not successful. I try and no success. And then I remember: "Did I pray for success?" I stop and say: "HaKodosh Boruch Hu! Where is the vein?" And the vein appears! I am not just telling stories. This happens every day.

It is a tremendous privilege, a pleasure, to be able to have the glasses that enable us to see the Creator. We have to have merits for this. Someone who does not see the world through these glasses does not want to see. These are simple daily matters in medicine.

There was a patient in Tel HaShomer hospital who suffered from unbearable back pains, and she received every kind of pain killer. She was due for an operation on a Sunday afternoon. Thursday night, a rov phoned me and asked me to visit her so that the medical staff would show more interest in her situation. I visited her on Friday morning and I heard her groaning in pain. I thought that if I am already here, maybe I could try to do something to help her in a practical way, besides showing an interest. "Let's try," I thought, "there is nothing to lose."

In Canada, I used to work with a hypnosis methodology and I thought I would try that. According to the C.T. she was incapable of standing. After twenty minutes of hypnosis a change was readily noticeable. I asked her if she wanted to sit and she immediately sat up. I asked her if she agreed to stand and she immediately stood! I asked her if she wants to walk and she took steps! I visited her on Sunday, and she was standing on the foot with an injured ankle, crying: "Dr. Straw, what did you do to me? How can I stand?"

The truth is, I also did not know what I did . . . I asked her to report to the doctors when they came to check up on her that she felt better. I left there and went to the Yeshivat Netivot Olam, where I met the rov who had sent me to visit her. He said that he had no time to speak with me, though, because he was organizing a special prayer for that woman who would be undergoing the operation today. I asked him to call the hospital before the prayer to check about the result of the doctors' examination.

The woman was released from the hospital the next day. She has given birth a number of times since then and the pains have never returned. And so I ask: "Is there a Creator? Who cured this woman? Did I? Did I take the disk and return it to its place? Did I change the anatomy of her spinal column? I did not give her any medicine! HaKodosh Boruch Hu did everything!"

HaKodosh Boruch Hu did everything"-this, in essence, is what we have come to hear!

In conclusion: The Zohar writes that matzoh is the "bread of healing," and the holy works write that this is meant literally. Have you thought of an explanation for this?

Dr. Kapach: The holy works speak of matzoh as opposite of arrogance. Chometz, which is puffed up, symbolizes haughtiness whereas matzoh, which is not puffed up, symbolizes humility. Maybe matzoh, then, could be the cure for the doctors' arrogance.

Dr. Hart: Matzoh is an object of holiness and constitutes a source of spiritual sustenance. When a Jew fulfills mitzvos, he enables holiness to penetrate his body. On Succos we enter the mitzvah, and on Pesach, imagine that the mitzvah is entering you! It passes through us like a catalyst and destroys all the viruses and bacteria.

Dr. Shoraki: At the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim there were no sick people in the Jewish people. This is the power of matzoh: it generates healing! I want to note, though, that there is an interesting phenomenon in all the chagim. When the chagim arrive, I know that there are very ill people who will suddenly have a complete recovery! This is not because of a psychological effect—the ill people themselves do not even know about the connection. I see the patients before the festival and I know that their ailment will heal, more than they know, because of the chag!

Dr. Straw: Matzoh symbolizes the courage of the Jewish people who left Egypt in haste to an unsown land, to the desert conditions. In Yetzias Mitzrayim we absorbed the knowledge that we rely completely on HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Who guides us in our every step, and this certainly includes that we rely on HaKodosh Boruch Hu in health matters!

"A Personal Chord"

When we turned to the director of Arachim, Rav Yosef Vallis, and presented him with our idea of a doctors' roundtable discussion, we were answered with the following words: "It would be no problem."

In our eyes it seemed like a difficult task because doctors tend to be extremely busy and pressured for time. Would it be easy to gather them together for a lengthy discussion that could last deep into the night hours? Furthermore, we needed doctors who were well versed in issues of emunah, not just any doctor who was observant!

Rav Vallis: "Anyone who is involved in outreach or connected to the teshuvoh movement has special glasses. He sees Klal Yisroel through those glasses, and he feels a responsibility to lend a hand. An outstretched hand, a hand that draws people closer . . . if he himself is a baal teshuvoh who comes from the darker side of spiritual life, the desire to enlighten others beats in his chest; he wants to assist them to see the light of a life of spirituality.

"The same applies to someone who is not a baal teshuvoh but works in this field. Someone who works in outreach is not just `working' in outreach. Rather, he turns into the essence of one who draws others closer, the cheftza of a mekarev. This is so even when he is in his clinic or an operating room; it is expressed in all his paths in life. He feels a responsibility to create a kiddush Hashem in all his ways. It is expressed in his way of thinking, in his perspective, in all his dealings. These are the people from whose `flesh they see G-d.'

"You have requested doctors who can tell you how they see emunah. All I have to do is bring you doctors connected to the teshuvoh movement. All of them see emunah! If you asked to speak to a group of baalei teshuvoh engineers as well, or scientists, or the like, whatever panels you would choose would be suffused with emunah. The engineer would speak about the emunah he sees in the field of engineering, and any other scientists would speak about emunah in their field."

On the night of the roundtable discussion, we were happy to hear the following from Rav Vallis: "I can testify that the group of doctors gathered here tonight, some of whom are products of the teshuvoh movement and some of them are active in it, are the most select. They see nothing else besides emunah, in truth and in simplicity.

"In a short while we shall begin the discussion. I will let you speak, and you will see that I was right. You will not hear from them anything besides emunah, `there is none besides Him,' and `from my flesh I see G-d.'"

And he was totally right!

"From my flesh I see G-d!"

Dr. Shlomo Kapach: Why? That's the way it is!

Let us imagine that a patient who was found to have high blood sugar comes to me, and he asks: "Why?"

As a doctor who believes in G-d, I should answer: "That's the way it is."

However, if I answer in such a way he will stop seeing me. So I tell him that it is because he does not have enough insulin. "And why don't I have enough insulin?"

"Because the pancreas is weak."

"Why is the pancreas weak?"

"Because there are beta cells that were damaged."

"Why were they damaged?"

"Because the immune system attacked them."

"Why did the immune system not attack the beta cells of my neighbor?"

"Because you have a genetic background that causes your immune system to identify your beta cells as foreign cells and attack them."

"And why do I have such an inclination?"

"Because that is your genetic makeup."

"Why is my genetic makeup like that?"

"Because those are the chromosomes you have."

"And why are my chromosomes like this and my neighbor's chromosomes are not?"

"Because that's the way it is!"

In the end we arrived at: "That is the way it is." However, if you inject a few Latin words the patient does not understand along the way in the conversation, he will usually stop in the middle of the questions and say: "Yes, I understand."

We relate to "nature" as opposed to the "supernatural," however nature is also not understood. You may ask: Why? Why? Why? In the end, the answer is: "Because that is the way it is!"

The Religious Public and the World of Medicine

During the discussion we asked the doctors if they encounter people who are observant of Torah and mitzvos and do not follow the doctor's medical instructions.

Dr. Kapach: I have generally heard, from other doctors, about people who do not want to take a vaccination. From my point of view, I would ask a posek about this matter, because there is a chance of danger in this decision. The one who does not take the vaccination derives a benefit from the fact that everyone else does take it, and he is automatically not exposed to the contagion. Then, he gives credit to himself for his success. However, if everyone were like him, woe to us! This is a question for a posek, though.

Dr. Hart: There is a certain type that perhaps disregards the doctor's instructions, but the source of this attitude is not necessarily religion. There are some who are vegetarian, organic, and the like. I do not think that the reason is because they think they are on such a high level of spirituality that they do not need a doctor. I think that in general the public follows doctors' orders very well.

Dr. Shoraki asks to relate to an interesting point that is connected to the practice of medicine with Jews and non- Jews: I think that the mazal of the Jewish people causes that their healing is not the same as the healing of the nations of the world. It is impossible to include a Jew in the medical statistics that are derived from the experience of the nations of the world.

Before I returned in teshuvoh I participated in a shiur given by Dr. Moshe Rothschild in France, and he defined the difference between the Jew and the non-Jew is this way: Treating a non-Jewish patient is a matter of kiddush Hashem, whereas treating a Jew is a mitzvah.

Dr. Hart: HaRav Chaim Kanievsky showed me a Midrash Talpios in which it is written that there is a difference in the number of teeth of a non-Jew and a Jew.

Dr. Kapach: Without relating to the matter of the teeth, there are no physiological differences between a Jew and a non-Jew. The difference is rooted in spiritual subjects, as Dr. Shoraki mentioned.

The world can be divided into the minerals, plants, animals, and those that speak. After these levels comes the level of a "Yehudi."

Are we speaking of a physiological difference? Not really, the definition relates to the spiritual difference between the Jew and the non-Jew. With straight thinking one can demonstrate the difference, but it cannot be seen in a microscope.


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