Thursday, October 23, 2008

"You're Not Sick. Go To School!"

(Picture by aussiegal)

I was never pampered growing up in a home with a father who was a doctor, who in turn was also the son of a doctor. I was often told that I didn't need to take any medicine because I would simply get over any discomfort or illness I felt.

Unless I had something extremely contagious or was throwing up in front of him, my father - like his father before him - would say, "You're not sick. Go to school!".

And go to school is just what I did.

Just as I rarely missed a day of school, today I almost never miss a day of work due to illness. I go to work unless I physically cannot stand up. I almost never go see a doctor and I rarely take medicine when I am sick because it has been so ingrained in me that I'll just get over it.

During Rosh Hashana this year, I came down with bronchitis. Unfazed, I went to work after yom tov with laryngitis and had to whisper to my co-workers to communicate. I continued fits of coughing throughout Aseres Yemei Teshuva and would spend more than an hour each night coughing on the couch downstairs before I fell asleep exhausted, sweaty, and with tears in my eyes. Nevertheless, I thanked Hashem for all the coughing and asked Him to consider it as a kapara; understanding that this sickness was for my ultimate best.

Throughout Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur I continued to experience fits of coughing and numerous people told me that I needed to go see a doctor so that I didn't catch pneumonia.

Finally, after yom tov was over, I called my father and he diagnosed me over the phone. He called in a prescription for me for some antibiotics and cough syrup, and by Sukkos I felt better.

Although my propensity not to take medicine is based solely on my upbringing, I have noticed that both the Degel Machaneh Ephraim and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov advised others not to rely on medicine and to stay away from doctors. Rabbi Chaim Kramer even wrote,

"You can tell a Breslover Chassid by his medicine cabinet. Unlike the rest of the world, his medicine cabinet is not full."

On the very first page of his sefer in Parshas Bereishis, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that if a person has real emuna he would never need to take medicines or use any other cures. He would be able to rely on arousing Hashem's compassion to heal him solely by means of davening and learning Torah.

Similarly, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught,

"It is best to rely only on Hashem. Someone who does not, has no option but to devise all kinds of complicated methods of trying to get what he needs. If he is sick, for example, he may have to look for all kinds of special drugs and medicines, and often the ones he needs are not available where he lives, while those which are available are useless for his condition. But the goodness of Hashem reaches everywhere. Hashem has the power to cure all wounds and illnesses. He is always available. If you are ill, you should rely only on prayers and supplications. They are always available, and they will certainly help. If you depend on doctors and medicines you will have to do a lot of searching because you will have to look for the right doctor with the right medicines. And it is usually impossible to find them, because doctors do more harm than good."

With these two teachings in mind, do you think that the approach I take towards sickness and healing is extreme and misguided, or does it somewhat conform with the approach of the Degel and Rebbe Nachman?


At October 23, 2008 at 5:35:00 AM EDT, Blogger chanie said...

Well, my mother let us have sick days, but she made us stay in bed and read all day. If you're not sick, that's torture. After once or twice, even when sick, no one wanted to stay home.

But I don't think this applies just to Breslovers. Our medicine cabinet is a bunch of vitamins, and a few homeopathic remedies, plus Tylenol. It's not a misguided point of view- modern-day medicines are bad for you in some way or other. And not taking medicine till you absolutely need it means that your body often heals itself. (Oh, and if I can't move, I stay home. If I have any energy at all, I'm, not sick.)

To answer the question: It isn't misguided, and in a way, it conforms to their approach. But by no means is it an approach unique to the Degel and Rebbe Nachman.

At October 23, 2008 at 6:21:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASJ! First of all, we were in the same boat on Rosh Hashana, as I also got sick then! And I was camping out in Meron then! Fortunatelly, the fresh air made me better and I got over it right after RH B'H.

About doctors/medicine: First of all, there's a great book on it by Avraham Greenbaum, The Wings Of The Sun, I suggest you read it.

My personal approach is this: B'H, I haven't seen a doctor in years, and hope not to for my whole life. With that, I'm very careful about my health (like it sais, ushmartem MEOD lnafshotechem). I never let junk food cross my mouth and I excersise reguralry. (there's really more to health than eating and excersise, I strongly suggest to study the 4th perek of hilchot deyot of the Rambam very carefully)

I think with your approach you're on the right track, only it would do you good to learn more about things that affect our health. I know, it's easier said than done, as many things are very confusing, but with sechel and emuna one can find the right approach.

At October 23, 2008 at 6:26:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chanie: Thank you for your feedback.

Moshe: I am aware of that book by Greenbaum and have a copy on my shelf at home. Additionaly, I run on the treadmil at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes on a very rapid speed as a way to guard my health.

As a caveat, I should mention that I don't take such an "extreme" view of health and medicine when it comes to my family. For them, if they need medicine or need to go to a doctor, I don't question it.

At October 23, 2008 at 7:04:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASJ: Why not run outside on fresh air? Also, if it's the type of treadmill where you hold on to a bar, it puts your body in an unnatural position. Why do all that and pay money for it when you can simply jog (or brisk walk) outside?

At October 23, 2008 at 7:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Moshe: I don't hold on to the bar when I run. Plus, having a treadmil allows me to run regardless of whether it is raining or snowing.

At October 23, 2008 at 7:12:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have something contagious, doesn't that have a possible impact on family members and associates? How does that affect your own method of treatment?

At October 23, 2008 at 8:09:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: That is an excellent point. On one occasion, I had a very contagious stapf infection and sought immediate medical treatment and then stayed away from others as directed by the doctor until I recovered.

In the case of common colds, however, my view is that there is really no possible countermeasure from stopping it spreading...aside from the well known ones like hand washing, etc.

At October 23, 2008 at 8:29:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best way to avoid spreading a cold is not to go to work or shul when you have one! My view is that you are being careless of the health of others if you go to work with an infectious illness. Wait until you have been fever-free for 24 hours.
PS I am a doctor.

At October 23, 2008 at 8:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger Leora said...

ushmartem MEOD lnafshotechem
I like this approach, too. I'll have to look out for Avraham Greenbaums's book.

I got a cold last Sunday (unusual for me). My father gave me an herbal remedy with astralagus root. It helped a lot. I also have this concoction that I make that helps keep the doctor away: peel and slice one garlic clove, one piece of fresh ginger root. Pour hot water over it. Sprinkle with hot pepper sauce. If you want it sweeter, add some honey. Garlic, ginger and hot pepper are all good immune system boosters. And they feel good when your throat scratches.

Prayer is good for part of keeping one healthy. But I think we can do more than that (and I think God intends us to do more). Without needing to call a doctor at a sniffle.

At October 23, 2008 at 9:01:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm glad you weren't standing next to me in shul during the HH days. My advice to people who come to shul hacking and spitting: GO HOME!!

At October 23, 2008 at 9:07:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: If a person goes home then a person loses on 2 counts. First, he physically feels horrible, and then he feels horrible once again if he goes home with the guilty feeling that his avoda was lacking.

At October 23, 2008 at 9:23:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about the other people there at shul and work, not about you...

At October 23, 2008 at 9:31:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Jonathan: I understand, but at the end of the day is there a halacha I can point to to exempt myself from not going to minyan on the occasions when I am only coughing but otherwise feel fine?

At October 23, 2008 at 9:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a good question and I don't know the answer. Maybe another reader can help us here.

However as PT evidences, those who are coughing a lot are upsetting to others, who worry that they and their loved ones will become ill because of this sick person. People cannot generally tell if a person with a cough is infectious or not. I think it's just courtesy to avoid distressing others.

At October 23, 2008 at 10:47:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Realistically, the quality of your davening on YK must have suffer as a result of your cold? And how about the davening of those around you in shul?

Part of ushmartem et nafshoteichem means looking out for the health of others in addition to yourself.

At October 23, 2008 at 10:50:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Every few years I get up to the Bima and make a PSA to the effect of, if you or your kids are sick, please stay home, because otherwise we get an epidemic of upper respiratory infections, or conjuctivitis, or whatever running through the community, and in particular, since we have plenty of old and infirm people in the shul, this can lead to life-threatening sakana (danger) for these people.

And after I do this, the Rebbe gets up and gives me a big hug in front of the kehilla.

Jonathan is right: it's not about you, it's about the good of the kehilla, or your coworkers, and sometimes that's more important than your personal spiritual satisfaction.

And as long as I'm up on my soapbox, please take your eyes out of your safer (book) every so often and make sure you know where your kids are and what they are doing during davening.

At October 23, 2008 at 11:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Rebbe Nachman died of tuberculosis at the age of 38.

Although I agree that emuna with cure most, Hashem put doctors in this world to help heal man.

You should know that it isnt the doctor healing you, but Hashem healing you through a doctor instead of an open miracle.

The problem results when you think only a doctor can save you, or when the doctor thinks that hes the one doing the saving.

At October 23, 2008 at 12:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Well said, LBC

At October 23, 2008 at 1:12:00 PM EDT, Blogger Menashe said...

First of all, the holy Rebbe Nachman was and remains infinitely greater than me in all inyanim. Therefore, I would like some help in understanding this statement of his:

If you are ill, you should rely only on prayers and supplications.

Isn't this limiting Hashem to the realm of nisim and niflaos? Aren't we supposed to make a keli for his brochos as well as work within teva and only if that doesn't work, ask for nisim? Whether Hashem's yeshos come via medicine and tefilla or tefilos alone, does it really make a difference?

At October 23, 2008 at 3:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Toronto where we had SARS. It was in part spread because people went to work and to worship when they were sick. If you have a cough and are spreading germs you need to stay at home. If you have a cough and a fever you need to see an MD. There are signs in public places here (hospitals, office buildings) to this effect, not to mention that you are sent home from work when you are in this condition. Many people died, including Jews, because sick people did not stay home.

At October 23, 2008 at 6:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger chanie said...

SARS was quite different than a common cold. Common colds never hurt anyone. SARS was known as an epidemic.

At October 23, 2008 at 7:17:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone taking up menashe's question? Isn't it same as ASJ's, really - what ought one to do re. illness? Still confused... :-)

At October 23, 2008 at 7:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken this topic is one of the more heavily debated between Rambam and Ramban, where Rambam (Peirush HaMishnayot Masechet Nedarim) believes medical work to be a mitzva, whereas Ramban (Parshat Mishpatim D"H "V'rapo Yerapeh") understands it in a much less positive light.
I've also heard of a teshuva of the Rosh that discusses the appropriateness of consulting and relying on medical science.

At October 23, 2008 at 9:22:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Talmid said...

Reb Nachman said: If you are ill, you should rely only on prayers and supplications.
Someone commented: Isn't this limiting Hashem to the realm of nisim and niflaos?

Reb Nachman was not against cures that were proved to work.He himself did use a doctor at times. As Rabbi Chaim Kramer explains (I think in Crossing the Narrow Bridge) In those days one doctor would tell you to do one thing and the next would tell you to do exactly the opposite. What Reb Nachman means is to rely only on Hashem even though it seems like the doctor is doing the healing. Similarly, a store keeper opens his store every day even though every dollar come only from Hashem.

At October 23, 2008 at 9:41:00 PM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

There once was a man who prayed day after day for 35 years to win the lottery. Everyday he said "Hashem, let me win the lottery, I will do so much good with it, giving tzeddakah, helping the needy and the torah scholars. Just please let me win the lottery" Finally after these 35 years the angels complained to Hashem. They said "Hashem please just let this man win the lottery, he prays everyday and his prayers are sincere." Hashem replied. I would love to let this man win the MEGAlotto but there is just one problem. He has never bought a lottery ticket."

Hashem is going to always take care of us even if we dont understand his methods. Still he gave man a brain, a soul, a heart, and the ability to make decisions. If we dont put forth the 10% he asks for, how can we expect him to do the other 90%?

Going to doctors is important but only when necessary. Not for a cold. But for something life threatening, Hashem demands it!

Hashem could cure you instantly but it seems based on my limited knowledge that he wants you to make the first step knowing that He put you at that step to go to the doctor and that you should have faith that he will heal you, and think about what caused you to be in this position.

At October 23, 2008 at 11:34:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

many of our theories are deriving from those already posed by the rishonim. It would be worthwhile to see them inside as well.

At October 24, 2008 at 3:28:00 PM EDT, Blogger Menashe said...

Oftentimes the Rebbeim would ask questions that are asked by every single rishon. Why? To show how Torah is echad. They would show the unity of all the answers and explain the answers from a ruchniusdik point of view.

Not to say that there isn't benefit from learning the Rishonim ourselves. But we have the benefit of being the dor immediately prior to golus when a "taste of Moshiach's Torah" has already been revealed in Toras hachassidus.

At October 25, 2008 at 4:25:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all those quoting the RAMBAN, you should read ALL of his writings, not just his pirush on chumash. This is what he writes in Toras Habayis (his halacha sefer):

ומסתברא דהא דאמרינן נתנה תורה רשות לרופא לרפאות, לומר שאינו אסור משום חשש השגגה, א"נ שלא יאמרו הקב"ה מוחץ והוא מרפא, שאין דרכן של בני אדם ברפואות אלא שנהגו, כענין שכתוב (ד"ה ב' ט"ז) גם בחליו לא דרש את ה' כי אם ברופאים. אבל האי רשות רשות דמצוה הוא דמצוה לרפאות ובכלל פקו"נ הוא כדתנן מאכילין אותו ע"פ בקיאים....

At October 26, 2008 at 12:29:00 AM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...


So what you are saying is that you should not quote RAMBAN or any Rabbi unless you have read, and understood all of their writtings?

You do that? Thats pretty Impressive.


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