Posts tagged " illness "

How does isolation fit in a Biblical worldview?

April 7th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

I live in California. The governor just ordered a shelter in place because of the coronavirus. What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about what to do about sick people in society?

John M.

Dear John,

While this is not the right venue for us to answer your question comprehensively, we thought that you and others might find  this Biblical thought on illness interesting and perhaps useful

A great deal of the book of Leviticus speaks of illnesses that are often poorly translated into English as leprosy or some other contagion. The repair for these problems involves removing oneself from the camp and being isolated. Many of us can relate more to those verses today than we could just a few weeks ago.

These illnesses were not of a physical, but of a spiritual variety. In the days where the relationship between God and His people was on a heightened level, spiritual flaws drew quick physical responses.

The study of psychosomatic disorders which is when mental or spiritual distress presents as a physical phenomenon on the body is relatively recent but it helps us understand the close bond between our spiritual and our physical beings. The fascinating efficaciousness of placebos again reinforces how closely tied are our bodies and our souls. 

We no longer benefit from that same level of closeness and interaction between the physical and spiritual worlds. Yet, we are nonetheless very aware of holistic medicine which hints at how every part of the body impacts every other part. Today, we (correctly) would never suggest that individual A is ill because of personal sins or individual B is healthy because he is righteous. Yet we do understand that what and how we think does have an effect on our physical well-being.  Optimism and happiness undoubtedly contribute to physical health as well as to speedy recovery.  The Biblical worldview extension of that is that what and how we think and behave affects the health of the world around us as well.

Taking care of the ill and needy is a priority in a Biblical world. So is behaving in ways that protect and improve life for those among whom you live. It is unacceptable to be absorbed only in one’s own life. One of the effects of isolation as described in Leviticus was a renewed appreciation for being part of a community, with all the responsibilities and demands that go along with that privilege. We can hope that today’s virus is reminding us all how fortunate we are to live in a world where we are not alone.

Stay healthy,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?

December 21st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments


My Mom passed away suddenly in April.  She had been having intestinal issues for a couple of months & I finally figured out it was from a prescription she was taking.  I had the doctor change it, but less than a week later, she died.  

I blame myself for not discovering sooner the medicine was causing it, and have blamed myself ever since, believing I let her down & am heartbroken.  She was my biggest inspiration.  As you can imagine, I miss her terribly.

 My husband says it is not my fault, and it was her time to go, but I feel I would still have her if I had figured it out sooner.  Do you think we each have a certain time we are appointed to die?



Dear Becky,

We are truly sorry for your great loss.  What a lovely tribute you give to your mother when you write, “She was my biggest inspiration.”

Blaming yourself is a natural reaction, but we agree with your husband that it is not a correct or productive one. Your letter makes clear (we edited for space; you provided more details) that you and your husband devotedly took care of your mother. If you could see into the future or if you were omniscient, you would have known that her medication was causing a problem; but those powers are not given to us. Her death may be completely unrelated to her treatment, as well. There is no reason to feel bad for being a human being. You did the best you could with the realities you saw.

We do believe that God appoints a time for each of us, however we also believe that human actions can accelerate or delay that time. Otherwise, there would be no reason to punish a murderer or to provide medical care or to pray for someone who is ill. Yet, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that we are in charge.

Your loss is still fresh and your emotions are raw. Try not to divert yourself from the pain by focusing on self-flagellation.  You are still in the first year of mourning so rather than repeatedly reliving the medication issue in your mind, focus on all the good times you shared, all the gratitude you feel, and the wonderful example she set.

By sharing your mother’s story you are reminding us all to pay close attention to medicine interactions and of the need to monitor doctors. By sharing memories of her, you can encourage women to recognize their importance as mothers. The pain will never completely go away though it will lessen. The guilt should be abandoned right away.

Sending virtual hugs,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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