I will never forget the conversation in the hallway. It came at one of the most traumatic moments of my life. Only a few minutes after speaking with my father, z”l, he went into cardiac arrest after going through a risky test and left this world. It was about a half hour after his passing that my parents’ longtime cardiologist arrived to speak with us in the hallway of a prominent New York City hospital. This doctor was one of the most recognized in his field and among the best of New York City’s physicians. Our family’s history with this doctor spanned more than 20 years. He was first my father’s cardiologist, then when my mother became ill, he became her physician as well. My mother, a”h, had a very warm relationship with him and would always remind him that her health was truly in Hashem’s hands and that he was only a messenger. I don’t know what it was but my mother felt that he wasn’t getting the message. She hoped he would become a little bit more humble and decided to buy the good doctor a gift as a token of appreciation for all of his dedication to her care. What could she buy a doctor who seemed to be pretty content with all that he had? She decided to buy him a beautiful frame of the Rambam’s (Maimonides) prayer for the physician. In this ancient prayer, the Rambam beseeched Hashem to give a physician the insight and blessing to be a true messenger of His to help heal the sick. My mother craved for this wonderful, brilliant and caring physician to realize that there was a Higher Power Who was the true Healer. Here we were, five years after my mother’s untimely passing, and my father had just passed. My brother and I were naturally in shock and were trying to internalize what had just happened. It was a new reality; our parents were now only a memory. Suddenly, the cardiologist approached us in the hallway. He came to the hospital as soon as he heard of our father’s death. He expressed his sorrow, and told us how much he admired and respected our parents. He made sure to tell us how proud our parents were of us and that they always told him with great pride about our accomplishments. It was what he said next to me that served as the greatest comfort, though I doubt he realized it at the moment. He told us that as a doctor, over the many years that he had been practicing, he learned that he was limited. “No matter what we try to do,” he said, “I have come to believe that there is a Higher Power Who is really in control.” We looked at him and couldn’t help but say, “Our mother would have been proud of you!”
The Rambam served as a physician for the Sultan of Egypt. The Sultan once said to the Rambam that since he was in relatively good health for most of his life, he wasn’t sure if the Rambam was really that great of a doctor, since he had not had the need to cure an illness of the Sultan. The Rambam responded by alluding to the pasuk in our parsha that describes Hashem as the ultimate healer, “Ani Hashem rofecha.” The Rambam then told the Sultan that the success of a physician can be seen in the ability to stave off illness more so than treating illness. His proof was the fact that Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael that He would prevent them from the sickness that had been placed on the Egyptians. Successful physicians heed off sickness by educating and advising patients how to deal with the challenges of their bodies, considering a number of different variables. When we daven for our own health in our Shemoneh Esrei, let us keep our physicians in mind, beseeching Hashem to bless them with the ability to serve as messengers to help in the healing of His creations. May we heed the counsel of our physicians and be blessed by Hashem with good health.
By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, LCSW
Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].