Shabbat Parshat Bechukotai - 5760
Illness and Crisis - On
a Massive and Individual Scale
the dire warning to the entire People of Israel, given by Moshe, that if
they stray from observance of the Torah, calamities of all kinds would
befall them, deals with "Onesh," "Punishment," delivered on a massive scale, so massive
that complete blurring of the boundary
between the righteous and the wicked disappears, as the Holocaust
of the last century illustrated.
appropriate response to that type of situation, or the only way to head
off that type of large-scale punishment, would be "Teshuvah,"
Repentance," by the entire People, as was done by the Jews of Shushan
and Persia in the time of Purim, that we recently re-visited.
are far smaller degrees of punishment and suffering, delivered to
individuals and individual families, that may be delivered for different
reasons, known only to the Ribbono shel Olam, the Master of the universe,
and that may require different types of responses.
It is to this second category of suffering that a small booklet, by
Rabbi Tsvi G. Schur, called "Illness and Crisis - Coping the Jewish
Way," published by the NCSY Division of the OU, is addressed.
is a "pastoral counselor," which he defines as a clergyman who
"brings into his profession first and foremost human understanding
and caring, coupled with theology, and for the Jewish pastor, true Torah
philosophy." The word
"pastor," Rabbi Schur notes, is the "Latinized form of the
Hebrew word for shepherd." His
book condenses much insight into only 92 pages which, though short, is far
more than can be written here, so this essay, essentially a summary of his
work, can at best provide only a taste of Rabbi Schur's work.
distinguishes, with perhaps some analogy to the Haggadah's four sons, four
types of patient. They are
the religious individual, the individual who proudly identifies with
religion but is not observant, the agnostic "who is really not sure
what life or belief is about," and the atheist of two varieties: the "self-proclaimed atheist" and the
"hysterical atheist," one "who has gone through suffering,
denying G-d out of anger and bitterness;" the typical Holocaust
sincerely religious individual wants the opportunity to continue living.
Death, to him, means receiving his reward, but this individual
wants to 'work' more, through heeding G-d's commandments, before he
receives his final payment. His
entire life is entwined with deep love, respect and service of his
Creator. When death calls, it
is accepted more easily. The
Chofetz Chaim is said to have taught, 'It has been observed that when we
come into the world, we cry and the rest of the world laughs for joy. We must so live that when we leave the world, we can laugh
while the rest of the world weeps.' "
the second category, the non-observant Jew who nevertheless identifies
with Judaism, Rabbi Schur writes, "When I, the chaplain, enter his
room in a moment of crisis, he asks for prayer.
He may even cry, displaying a moment of fear, regret or, perhaps,
guilt. Though he may be
non-observant, the flickering flame of his belief is still burning."
the third category, the agnostic, Rabbi Schur recalls a case,
"Entering the room of a certain patient who was suffering from a
terminal disease, I sensed his feeling of uncertainty regarding my visit.
The patient told me that he had no need for a chaplain.
I explained that, as
hospital chaplain, I visited all Jewish patients just to wish them
well. In further talk, he
asked me what my Jewish philosophy was - Orthodox, Conservative, or
Reform. I replied that I was
Jewish. Detecting a smile, I
told the patient that my visits are not intended to evoke a feeling of
discomfort because of differences in religious philosophies."
Eventually, "He discussed his uncertainties concerning G-d
with me, but felt with certainty that there was some master plan for man
and the world. When he asked,
'Why is there suffering?' I answered by recalling a moving story related
by Chaim Potok in his novel, 'My Name is Asher Lev.'
A young artist was reflecting about his introduction to
concerned the artist as a six-year-old, walking with his father in the
city, and coming upon a dead bird. The
child asks, "Everything alive would one day be still as that
'Why?' I asked"
the way the Ribbono shel Olam (G-d) made the world, Asher"
life would be precious, Asher. Something
that is yours forever is never precious."
a lot of Schur's text, but he returns to the patient, "When he was
semi-comatose, I entered his room and told him that it was the rabbi
coming to visit. I asked him
if he would like to say a prayer with me.
He nodded yes and together we recited the 'Shema Yisroel' (the
affirmation of the belief in G-d). Here
was a patient who a few months before had been confused and full of
questions. He died with a
sense of fulfillment and peace."
One of the
types of atheist as mentioned above is what Schur calls the
"hysterical atheist," who has gone through suffering, and denies
G-d out of anger and bitterness. Regarding
this type, Schur concludes,
'In the long run, our true comfort comes from our Creator
very dangerous to ourselves
when we attempt to bring G-d to our level of understanding
consider every atheist a heretic, perhaps even to the extreme that he
should be ignored, we must realize that he is a human being, and our
obligation must be to deal with and care for him in his time of need
Some have observed that the most sorrowful moment for
an atheist is when he wants to plead for something or give thanks but does
not know how or to whom."
In a later
paragraph, Rabbi Schur writes, "Tragically, we live in a society
today that deals with machines, computers, rather than people.
We are forgetting to communicate, we are forgetting to reach out,
we are forgetting to care, we are breaching the foundation of our Torah
teachings - v'ahavta l'reacha kamocha - that one should love his friend as
he does himself. We are
becoming sadly, unintentionally perhaps, self-centered, concerned only
about ourselves, and we are forgetting that we are all in this world
together as brothers and sisters, as children of a Supreme Being."
includes the following tribute: "Let
us appreciate all those who have dedicated their lives to the world of
medicine, realizing that it is because of them, G-d's gift to us, that the
majority of illnesses are cured and life is sustained."
concludes, quoting Dr. Viktor Frankl (no relation) " 'He who has a why
to live for, can bear almost any how.'
I pray that all of us who have suffered through illness and crisis
can find that 'why' and realize that the Jewish way of coping is the
acceptance that in every facet of living, G-d TAKES, but G-d GIVES,
BLESSED BE HIS NAME FOREVER AND EVER."
I'll conclude with two remarks. First, in this type of situation, where the above essay consists of selected fragments from the work of another, it is clearly true that I've minimized his message. I hope that I have not distorted it beyond recognition. Second, I would like to point out that Parshat Bechukotai concludes the Book of priests, that could also be called the Book of Holiness with the Congregation and the Reader echoing each other with the call, "Chazak, Chazak V'nitchazek," "Be strong! Be strong! Let us together be strong!"
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU