Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah–Mishpatim

I know a Chasidic story about a woman who was very ill. Her doctors came out of the hospital room to consult with the woman’s husband. “We have done everything we can do, but your wife is not going to make it. We are sorry.” The husband responded, “I know the power of physician to heal. I know that this is your job and your calling. But nowhere has a physician been given the right or the ability to determine that a human being is incurable. That is for God to decide.”

In my chaplaincy capacity, when someone says that they are terminally ill, my immediate response is, “I don’t know what I don’t know. You will die when you die. In the meantime, let’s live and celebrate what we have, for it is only horrible to sit and wait to die.”

While we speak, in this instance, about matters of healing, this principle transcends everything we experience in life. We have to understand that there exist pieces of our lives over which we have control and others beyond our grasp. We walk through choices as to how we live, and we choose to be either a fatalist or an activist.

A fatalist waits for things to happen to him. An activist accepts the empowerment to impact the process of living; he wants to have some say over what happens. There are “big picture situations” beyond our control, but even as to those circumstances, we are never without the ability to make some difference. Still, though, we face sometimes daunting obstacles on the path of remembering our power. How often do other people hold us back? People fail to thrive, believing that God ordained their challenges (physical, fiscal or spiritual). Many simply accept the voice of authority making up rules dictating who “has” and who “has not.” How many of us get stuck believing that the current answers are the best and most appropriate answers?

We watch too many people experience this painful sense of reality. Scripture, however, teaches us that we always have a choice between the blessing and the curse; between choosing to live or waiting for death. This week’s portion reminds us that we cannot sit passively and wait for resolution. In the face of illness or injury, we have an affirmative obligation to bring healing (Ex. 21:19). At no place outside of criminal justice do we have the authority to determine that someone is fated to suffer (even at their own bad choices). I know people who have outlasted their doctor’s life sentence. I know people who have fallen, only to rise and find greater success than they could have imagined. We break through stereotypes and change the course of the human engagement on a regular basis. Research and engagement take us to a more intense appreciation of our humanity each day. This activism, mandated by Torah, is the source of every breakthrough that adds value to life.

Such is our commitment to social justice. Every day, we read from our prayer books prayers of healing, justice, and restoration. The prayers never exist in the first person singular, and almost never in a narrow first person plural that involves only a segment of the population. Our Messianic prayers involve peace (wholeness) for the world. Any time that we make decisions that inure to the benefit of some at the expense of the other, we become the force that keeps this Messianic dream from bearing fruit. We see people starving, people who are homeless, families in poverty, rampant discrimination, and u’v’charta b’chayim – we must choose life.

In this day and age, we witness a greater divide between the “haves” and “have-nots”; between the majority and minority populations; between the “powerful” and the “other.” We see political rhetoric sham as spiritual discourse where power brokers try to justify through God, their fortunes and other people’s miseries.

Faith demands our commitment to each other’s growth. Affirmatively, we must step out, even from our comfort zones, to help enrich each other’s lives. Torah only empowers us to heal; not to diminish. Last week, as we received the Ten Commandments, the people said, “All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!” We must reaffirm this vow … and do the work of healing the world. Shabbat shalom.