Dear Rabbi,

I have a friend who does not like to go to the doctor. He says Gd is the only source of healing, and doctors and medicine do not play a real role in a person’s health. While I agree that Gd is the source of healing, I think my friend might just be a little stubborn. When this friend is sick, he is miserable and he still refuses to go to the doctor. How can I encourage him to go to a doctor when he needs to?

Helping the Sick

Dear Helping the Sick,

The truth is that you and your friend both raise valid points. We need to first sift out the valuables from within the rubble, so we can then proceed to graft together a proper Torah perspective on health and medicine.

Your friend is absolutely correct when he says that Gd is the only source of healing, but based on your letter, I would have to agree with your assessment that he is being unreasonably obstinate in his refusal to seek professional medical attention.

When it comes to caring for our health, we have two conflicting obligations which we must learn to balance against one another. We must firmly believe that Hashem is the sole source of all our success, advancement, and general wellbeing, yet at the same time we must invest genuine effort to care of ourselves, as though our wellbeing is in our hands. Satisfying both obligations can often prove challenging, and requires some practice.

Thus, for example, when it comes to earning a livelihood and searching for a suitable spouse, a Jew is obligated to pursue beneficial methods of obtaining his objective while never forgetting that the final outcome will be determined only from above. Similarly, in the area of physical health, a Jew is required to make a genuine effort to care for his wellbeing with the conviction that his final fate is in the hands of Hashem alone (Hovot Halevavot Sha’ar Habitahon, ch.4). If one decides to be especially “pious” and put his fate entirely in Hashem’s hands without making his own appropriate efforts, his “piety” is actually negligence, as he  is disregarding his obligation to care for his health.

Additionally, our sages teach us (see Ketubot 30a) that there are ailments which people bring upon themselves by neglecting their health, and for which they have only themselves to blame. Furthermore, the Talmud (Bava Kama 85b) writes explicitly that the Torah authorizes doctors to treat patients. There is thus no question that Hashem permits us to make use of medical care, and that we are even required to do so.

And so while your friend is correct that our physical wellbeing is determined solely by Gd, he is incorrect in his claim that it is pointless to seek medical attention.

You can try reasoning with him in an attempt to convince him to change his policy, but you might also want to consider the possibility that he is using religious talk to cover over some fear or inhibition that he may have. If you could somehow pinpoint the real reason why he does not want to see a doctor, then you might be able to help him address the root of the problem and overcome these fears, which would only be to his benefit.

May Gd grant you the wisdom and ability to help this friend as well as many others, and deem you worthy of His help in all your endeavors.

With warm wishes and Torah blessings,

Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz