Monday, December 28, 2009

The Vilna Gaon on Doctors and The Chafetz Chaim on Health

I wanted to share with you (without comment) two fascinating stories, one from the GR"A(The Vilna Gaon), and the other from the Chafetz Chaim, each giving us a glimpse of their uniqueness and greatness. The first story I saw in the Kuntres,(booklet) "Verapo Yirapeh", quoted by the tzadik, Rav Zundel Salanter,ZT"L and confirmed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlit"a.

Once the GR"A went to visit his sick brother, Reb David, and found two prominent physicians present, one from Amsterdam, and one from S. Petersburg. Asked the GR"A,"What do you need doctors for, is not Ha-Shem the Healer of the sick?" Countered the physician from Amsterdam, "Was is without reason that Ha-Shem created doctors and medicinal therapies?" To which the GR"A responded, "And was it without reason that
Ha-Shem created pigs? (Of course, for he created them) for the uncircumcised and the impure. So too, doctors were created for gentiles but not for Jews. For we have
Ha-Shem who heals the sick and creates medicines and medicinal therapies." Now concerning this anecdote, Rav Chaim Kanievsky makes two qualifications: one, the GRA's statement only applied to select individuals on a very high level. Two, the GRA's statement that "just as pigs were created for gentiles, so too the path of medicine was created for gentiles" refers to a time when Jews are on the same level as they were at the giving of the Torah. But today, it is certainly appropriate to utilize medicine as we are no longer on such a high level.

The second story comes from the book, "Chaim Briyim k'halacha", which quotes from one of the Chafetz Chaim's students in the Radin Yeshiva, Rav Pesachya Menkin, ZT"L, originally told over in the magazine, Sha'are Tzion. "The love that the Chafetz Chaim had for those who learned Torah was the love of a father for his children. He wasn't satisfied merely to gather Torah students together in one place, and it wasn't enough for him to worry about their spiritual needs, but he also concerned himself with their material needs with extra love. I remember that when I learned in Radin in the summer of 5663 (1903), our great teacher of blessed memory, came to the ezras nashim (the women's section of the yeshiva), as was his holy custom, each Monday and Thursday to teach us mussar before ma'ariv prayers. Were we ever astonished, when we heard the non-conventional "mussar" emanating from his holy lips: 'Don't overdo learning Torah. A person needs to protect his body so that it doesn't weaken nor get sick. Therefore one needs to rest, to regenerate and to pursue keeping one's mind clear. One should take a walk towards evening, or sit in ones room and rest, and if at all possible, even wash oneself in the river to strengthen one's body. For excessive rigor in learning comes from the advice of the evil inclination who encourages one to overdo learning, weakening one's body over time, and actually preventing one from learning Torah,causing one to lose any reward that he may have accrued. And from my own body I can see, recalling the days of my youth, when I learned beyond what my body was capable of handling, and as a result, I weakened my eyes to the point where my doctors commanded me not to learn any sefer in depth for two years! So isn't it obvious from this, that "over" diligence comes from the advice of the evil inclination? And furthermore, if someone actually becomes sick, Heaven forbid, and by neglecting one's health as a result of over-diligence in learning, his life is shortened, what can he possibly say in his defense before the heavenly court?' And so on continued the Holy Chafetz Chaim for 20 more minutes. Our master zealously guarded the health of the Yeshiva boys, making sure that they wouldn't learn when it was time to sleep, and on more than one occasion, he would arrive in the beis hamedrash late at night and in his inimitable sweet manner, insist that it was a mitzva for the yeshiva boys to stop learning and go to sleep, at times even climbing onto a stool himself, and extinguishing the lights in the beis hamedrash.

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