Many of the great Jewish thinkers were also physicians. “My son the doctor” is a famous phrase in Jewish folk-talk.
Maybe it all began with this week’s parashah, with its command to the doctor, v’rappo yerappeh – “He shall surely heal” (Ex. 21:19)… or even earlier, when the Torah put into the Divine mouth the words, Ani HaShem rof’echa – “I am the Lord your healer” (Ex. 15:26).
There is, however, a condition attached to going to the doctor. A patient must not only approach the doctor but also the Almighty.
The Books of Chronicles criticise King Asa (II Chron. 16:12) when he put his trust in the physicians “but sought not the Lord”.
There were two elements of wrongdoing here – Asa did not pray to God, and the doctors forgot that their skill at healing came from God and they were His agents.
When doctors think they can manage without God, that’s when the sages (at end of Kiddushin) declare, “The best of physicians is destined for Gehinnom”.
The doctor must pray to God to guide his or her hands and to remind him or her that the patient is not a mere collection of plumbing and spare parts but a human being created in the Divine image.
There is a terrible danger of dehumanisation in the hands of the doctors.
We should all read a wonderful piece of writing by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, “The Insecurity of Freedom”. He says, “In dealing with a particular man I do not come upon a generality but upon an individuality, upon uniqueness, upon a person. I see a face, not only a body; a special situation, not a typical case. The disease is common, the patient is unique.”
He also points out that “It is part of the cure to trust in Him who cures”.
The success or otherwise of the doctor’s ministrations in the last resort is up to God, not the doctor.
In the double phrase v’rappo yerappeh maybe one verb is for the doctor and one is for God.