Friday, February 15, 2008

Question & Answer With Michoel - Attempting To Overcome Illness

(Painting by Raphael Eisenberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

There are occasions when a person is sick and feels so weak that he cannot stand-up to put on tallis and tefillin or even have the mental fortitude to learn Torah while laying in bed. In Likutey Moharan I, 268, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that ilness is caused by the neshoma's distress that the person has some how failed to focus on his ultimate tachlis (purpose) in life.

Knowing the intentions of one's heart, Hashem can tell whether or not the bed-ridden person is still longing to do mitzvos and learn Torah despite his illness. Hashem may even see this sick person try to garner up enough strength to make an attempt to serve Him despite his dizziness or nausea.

Is it possible that it is precisely these attempts and the longing a person feels which helps him to recover rather than any medicine that was prescribed to him?

Michoel answers:

I think it is clear that spiritual longing is the best medicine and definitely helps bring about a refuah. We see that even by completely non-religious Jews and non-Jews, a happy attitude and goals can help a person get through even serious illnesses like cancer. So certainly when a Yid has a deep longing for Hakadosh Baruch Hu and His mitzvos, it can strengthen a person very much.

The tricky part is that one gets sick, perhaps because of his lack of spiritual focus. But then, the sickness can cause his focus to further deteriorate. Sometimes one needs to just call out “Hashem! Pull me out of this pit! I want to want You but due to my aveiros I have sunken and become sick and now my ratzon is weakened. Help me please to be m’orer my ratzon!”

Hashem is the Yodea Ta’alumos who knows our ratzon, and our ratzon for ratzon, and our ratzon for ratzon for ratzon until the zillionth degree. And he knows what we are capable of. In the zchus of our calling out to Him and wanting to do his will even when we are sick, and exhausted, He should bentch of all with good health and long live, together with all the Yidden. And He should help us to maintain our spiritual levels so that we don’t revert of our spiritual and physical illnesses so that we can all serve Him b’leivav shalem.


At February 15, 2008 at 4:44:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Halacha states that when you're sick you are patur from wearing tefilin ; so what's the problem ?

At February 15, 2008 at 8:21:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Anonymous: The problem is when it does not bother a person tremendously that he may be unable to put on tefillin because of his illness.

At February 15, 2008 at 8:27:00 AM EST, Blogger Chaim B. said...

>>>Is it possible that it is precisely these attempts and the longing a person feels which helps him to recover rather than any medicine that was prescribed to him?

Simple test for your theory: try to recover from an illness without antibiotics and see if it works. Or, if you prefer, go into a doctors office and see how many people who have no desire to serve Hashem recover just by popping pills without changing their spritual ways.

The Ramban's opinion is that medicine is a b'dieved and in reality all illness should be cured by tshuvah, an approach the Rambam disagrees with. R' Dessler writes that there is no machlokes and it depends on one's madreiga. For 99.99% of us, I think the Rambam's approach more aptly reflects where we are holding - illness is a result of teva ha'olam and is cured by whatever teva ha'olam dictates.

At February 15, 2008 at 8:51:00 AM EST, Blogger Chaim B. said...

Just looked up the piece in Likutei Moharan and think you left out an important point. If all illness is psychosomatic (i.e. a function of the neshoma's longing), who needs medicine at all? Why not just rely on spiritual longing?
R' Nachman explains that the neshoma's departure is because it judges the guf incapable of overcoming its ta'yvos. Illness forces a change of diet, of sleep habits, etc. Medical treatment (even staying home in bed with a cold and taking antibiotics) forces a change in routine. It is this change in the guf b'poel, not just a change in attitude by the neshoma or seichel, which illness is designed to elicit. If the guf can change its behavior, the neshoma will return to keep working at producing other changes for the tachlis of fulfilling ratzon Hashem.
I think the key to this torah is the stress on the change in the behavior of the guf, not the spiritual longing of the neshoma.

At February 15, 2008 at 8:57:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for looking that up, Chaim!

At February 17, 2008 at 9:05:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

i believe, on a related note, the Baal Shem Tov, in Tzava'ath HaRivash, says that sometimes people think they are on the right track when they aren't and so when they fall sick, they even pray to HaShem reminding Him of their 'good' deeds and this actually worsens the situation because they are reminding HaShem of their transgressions.

At February 17, 2008 at 4:09:00 PM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

It has been said there are no atheists in foxholes. Ditto hospital beds.
One too sick to shave gets assisted here in canada, one unable to prepare for prayers would have a hundred volunteers at his side, it is the inability to ask for help that stands in way.
Talmudic students live for this type of opportunity as does a rebbe of any age.

At February 18, 2008 at 10:27:00 PM EST, Blogger Devorah said...

A person may become sick for other reasons... such as "yerida l'tzorch aliya" - a descent for the purpose of ascent. The illness is the descent.


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