Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Doctor's Obligation

A certain doctor was having a rather difficult time. People would come to his house at all hours and expect him to be available to treat them. Very often this interfered with his personal life and he wondered if he could possibly refuse to treat a patient unless it was a real emergency. There were no others doctors in his neighborhood but he was tired of being everyone’s “korban.”

It is rather well known that when the Satmar Rav, zt”l, was a resident in Yerushalayim many people came to him for advice. This doctor too approached the Satmar Rav for help. The hapless physician asked, “Perhaps I can refuse, since the language of the gemara is that a doctor has permission to treat. If so, I have no obligation to treat unless it’s a case of pikuach nefesh.”

The Satmar Rav disagreed. “A doctor is obligated to heal any sick Jew that approaches him. This obligation is included in the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah…”

When a certain talmid chacham heard about this exchange he was very amused. The next day he went to Zichron Moshe to daven and while there he recounted the “Rebbishe chiddush” he had heard from the Satmar Rav. When he was finished he began to chuckle.

Although even from his tone it was clear that he felt this psak was shoddy scholarship at the very least, one of the many erudite scholars present put an end to his fun. “Please don’t laugh at the one who knows better than you. Instead, just listen to the words of the Rambam’s commentary on the mishnah.”[1]

This scholar then proceeded to read the golden words of the Rambam: “A doctor is obligated from the Torah to treat sick Jews. This is included in the verse, והשיבו לו—‘And he shall restore it to him’—which teaches that when we see another Jew is ill, we must help him with our bodies, money, or knowledge.”[2]


Anonymous said...

Sanhedrin 73A

Micha Golshevsky said...

Excellent point!
But that is discussing where there is a danger to life and limb. The doctor was discussing when there is no element of danger (as is clear in the piece) see Rashi there.
You could have asked a stronger question from Bava Kama 81b. There we find that if someone sees another blundering around in orchards or fields that he is obligated to set him on his way because hashavas aveidah also applies to aveidas haguf.
But there is also no proof to a doctor since Rashi explains there that the verse "you shall return it to him," means his money and his body as well.
No proof from here that a doctor must always be available to help another with any minor ailment.
I do believe that you have hit on the Rambam's source (especially in conjunction with Bava Kama,) however, and I thank you for calling this to my attention.
I think the reason why the lamdan in the story thought the Rav's chidush was outlandish was because he had never seen an inkling of this in halachic sources. If some friend of his had proposed this chidush, I could understand if he strongly disagreed. Of course, disagreeing with someone's chidush does not permit publicly mocking him, even if he erred and especially if the person in question is a Rav or Rebbe.
But this is not the only such story. There were many who thought they knew better than the Satmar Rav in lomdus...but only until they looked into the matter. That doesn't mean his way is the only way; but it was definitely a valid path.