There's been a terrible tragedy in the community I live in. A week ago during a party a 6 year old girl slipped under the surface of the swimming pool she was in and laid at the bottom for several minutes (no one really knows) until she was discovered. She was hauled out of the water, had CPR done and was immediately taken by ambulance to the local emergency room. From there she was transported to the nearest Pediatric ICU, the one in my town. She is still there, intubated and ventilated with no improvement over time. Investigations have shown that her brain and brainstem are completely gone. No change is expected. Tragedy.
The parents are in a difficult spot. Their position on the Jewish definition of death is absence of heart beat. Therefore as far as they are concerned their daughter is alive. What's more, they see themselves as being machmir in having decided that if this little girl's heart should stop beating they want all resuscitative efforts to be made to restart it. The hospital staff, approaching this from a secular ethics perspective have decided that she's dead and that taking her off the ventilator would be acceptable. All they need is the parents' permission which, naturally, they're not getting.
So I went one evening to visit the family and offer them a refuah sheleimah even though my heart wasn't into it. I mean, yes there is God in Heaven and He can perform whatever miracles He wants unhindered but we don't walk around on a daily basis assuming that those will happen simply because we need one or prayed really hard for it. The patient has unfixable brain damage. According to the brainstem position in halacha she's already dead. I wished them a refuah sheleimah and hoped we'd see nissim v'nifla'ot but in my head I knew those weren't likely to happen.
It's the reaction to this tragedy that has me shaking my head though. The parents belong to a sect of Judaism that loves to do kiruv. In fact, other than other chasidim and stricter members of the Yeshivish community they even see other frum Jews as targets. Kiruv is their life, what they were trained to do since they were kids and what they see as the highest activity in their day. They constantly run campaigns to get women involved in Shabbos candle lighting and going to the mikveh. Important thigns.
It still bothered me to see lots of piles of pamphlets piled around the waiting room where people had gathered to comfort the family. The pamphlets detailed various mitzvos like lighting Shabbos candles and mikveh. Two women related to the family made it clear that they expected people to take on various mitzvos with the kavannah that it should help convince God to bring the girl a speedy recovery. In other words, this was another mitzvos campaign.
I tried to be understanding. In their mind the mishnah in Avos, the one right at the beginning about being servants of God without expecting a reward, probably doesn't apply here. Or perhaps there's a statement or two in that book they're always talking about, the one the first Rebbe of their movement wrote which they consider more important that any other Jewish book except (maybe) the Chumash. Fine, I get it. We do mitzvos and with the kavannah that the girl gets a refu'ah from Heaven. Any parent desperate for their child to recovery would grab at something like this. Who can blame them when the alternative is heartbreak for the rest of their lives?
What bugged me though was listening to the parents talk about this mitzvah campaign. For them it isn't a maybe. It's not that they're saying that they'll give it their beset shot and what happens, happens. They fully expect that if enough people go to the mikveh or put on tefillin because of their efforts God will upend the natural laws of the world He established and ensures run with inviolability and heal this girl's dead brain. And the girl? She gets to lie in an ICU bed with a tube in her throat until that happens. She gets to stop being a person and instead gets to be a symbol, an accessory to the latest mitzvah campaign and an opportunity to hand out pamphlets and push the group's agenda. Should I be bothered that this will happen to her?