"Vaccines and Doctor Mistakes"


Letter from the Kaliver Rebbe of Brooklyn (may he be healthy and live long years)

16 Tammuz 5778 (July 19, 2019 c.e.)

Dear Jewish Brethren,

It is common that, Rachmana letzlan (G-d save us), when a loved one falls ill or dies, people will seek out a scapegoat, someone to point the fingers of blame at. They will blame the procedure, the medications or vaccines the doctor provided. Or anything else they can think of to factor in. They live their entire life with deep feelings of guilt and culpability of themselves and others, and forget that it was ordained in Heaven.

A story is told about the great Torah scholar and author, "Chazon Ish". A family consulted with him about a sick family member. They had the patient evaluated by two leading doctors. One said it was a brain tumor and an emergency brain surgery was required immediately or else the patient would die. The second doctor diagnosed it as a stroke. The patient was very fragile, he said, and performing surgery would surely kill the patient. The Chazon Ish told them to go for a third opinion. The third doctor concurred with the first and ordered immediate surgery. The family reported back to the Chazon Ish who thought long and hard before advising them to go for the surgery. The family rushed the patient into surgery. When the opened him up they discovered that the problem was indeed a stroke, and unfortunately, the patient died on the operating table.

The family asked the Chazon Ish "Since you thought long and hard before you agreed to the surgery you must have had strong doubts about your decision. If so, why did you indeed order the surgery?" The Chazon Ish replied, "What I knew or thought had absolutely no relevance to whether the patient would live or die. If Hashem decreed that he live, he will live. If Hashem decreed that he die, he will die and we can do nothing to prolong his life. Our sole mission is to try to help the patient with decisions that seem correct according to the Torah. The Torah decreed that we follow majority opinion. If in spite of this the patient dies, we have to know that is was decreed in Heaven".

This teaching from the Chazon Ish is very important and fundamental to all of life. A person is charged with the task of praying to Hashem, and to do whatever he needs to do according to the will of the Creator as explained in Torah, including a religious obligation to follow the advice of doctors who say that something must be done to save a person's life, even though their advice might actually turn out to be a deadly mistake, or cause one to commit an unnecessary sin such as violating the Sabbath for no reason. We do not do this because the doctors say so per se, but rather because the Creator commanded us to listen to doctors.

My holy ancestor the Belzer Rebbe, the "Sar Shalom" zy'a, was once ill on Yom Kippur, and the doctors said he needed to eat. Right after Kol Nidrei, he hurriedly requested food and said "Behold, I am ready to perform the commandments of my Creator to do as our Sages taught", and he ate the food with tremendous joy.

The holy Rebbe Yitzchok of Skver zt"l said, "A doctor is like a blind horse, which goes wherever he is guided". This accords with the teaching of our Sages (Avodah Zara 55a): "When a person receives suffering, the pain is made to swear to not leave the person's body until a particular day, and it will not leave until that day, that hour, no matter the efforts of any particular person, or a particular medicine".

Sometimes an illness will leave by the very same drug that appears to have brought the illness, because it is all decreed from Heaven. I heard from my mother, a"h, who remembered from her childhood an incident with her grandmother, the Linsker Rebbetzin, a"h, who was the wife of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Rokeach of Linsk, zt"l, the grandson of the Sar Shalom of Belz zy"a. The doctor prescribed a particular medication that had a small chance of causing paralysis, R"L. She took the medicine as the doctor ordered, and a few days later she was stricken with paralysis. They did not blame the doctor, they believed that this was predetermined from Heaven, and they continued the regimen of the medication as the doctor prescribed. After some time passed, right after taking this medicine, she suddenly was cured of her paralysis and she came out of her sick-bed totally healed.

If someone worries about far-fetched apprehensions that most people do not worry about, the old wise saying, "too much effort demonstrates a lack of faith," applies to such people. Another saying goes, "one should be careful not to be too careful". When it comes to such phobias and fears, the "Ramchal" in his Mesillas Yesharim (ch. 9) writes that it is foolish to be too frightened or too cautious in places where harm is uncommon.

The "Chida" writes (Responsa Chaim Sha'al ch. 25) that the Torah requires we bury Jews immediately after death is confirmed, even if it is possible that in one case out of thousands the person was mistakenly declared dead. The reason is because the Torah does not want us to worry about or take into account very infrequent occurrences, very tiny percentages of chance. If it turns out that we have buried someone who still had a chance to live, this was decreed from Heaven, and there is no sin to follow the Torah law. This is what has been said, "The doctor's mistake is the will of the Creator" (Ramban: Toras Ha'Adam ch. 6. & Pela Yoetz ch. Refuah).

This could be the explanation of the holy Rashi's comments at the beginning of the Torah reading of Chukas, which speaks of purification after the impurity of contact with a dead body: "This is the statute of the Torah - means this is a decree from before Me, and you have no permission to even think to question it". This hints to a timeless lesson, because too often when a person dies, the family seeks ways to blame themselves and say that they are somehow responsible for causing the death, or if they only did something the person would still be alive. To this, Hashem says "it is a decree from before me, and you have no permission to even think to question it". After someone dies, we have no permission to think such thoughts, but rather we must remember that everything comes from Hashem.

[signed by Rabbi Moshe Taub, the Kaliver Rebbe]

Translated by Rabbi Yitzchak Kolakowski - Edited by Rabbi Avrohom Shalom Farber


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