Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday 13 April 2008

The Medical Model of Orthodoxy Part 2: The Patient's Responsibility

In part 1, I explored the concept of division of responsibility amongst those in positions of authority and instruction within a Torah observant community. In this post, I will focus of the responsibilities of the "patient" in the Medical Model, that is: how is a person supposed to conduct themselves vis a vis Torah observance and rabbinic guidance.

In the medical system, the ideal patient is one that takes proper care of himself. Specifically, this means he eats a balanced diet low in fat and salt but high in fibre and anti-oxidants. He drinks limited amounts of alcohol and never to excess. He avoids smoking and use of harmfull illicit substances. He exercises on a regular basis, again within reasonable limits. In short, he does whatever has been medically shown to improve the body's function and longevity and avoids those activities and substances that do the opposite.

(By the way, if any of you know this person, I'll be happy to take him on a patient)

The Torah model of life posits that a person is composed of three basic parts: the body, the mind and the soul. We are tasked with the responsibility of taking care of our souls so that we can return them in as good a shape at the end of our lives as we received them at the beginning. In order to do that, Jews are therefore obligated to maximize these three facets:

1) For the body, a healthy lifestyle as described at the beginning of the post. While it's tempting to believe the old saying that there are no calories on Shabbos or at the seder, recent scientific evidence has conclusively shown this to not be the case. Nor is the attitude that God protects the simple acceptable either. One cannot physically do what one wants with a sense of confidence that the Holy One Blessed Be He will protect him from disaster. God protects the simple, not the stupid. If taking care of our physical bodies is a mitzvah, then the failure to do so means one is violating the precept and can hardly expect Divine protection.
2) For the mind, intellectual stimulation. Medical research strongly suggests that the brain, in its own way, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. There are now specialists who hold that reading is protective against the development of Alzheimer's dementia and recommend crosswords, Sudoku and the reading of intelligent material to stimulate and maintain the cerebral cortex. How convenient is it for us that such activities are required essentials of daily Jewish practice! A lifelong plan of Torah study, accompanied by multifacted interests in other disciplines that help enhance that study, is not only spiritually helpful but of mental benefit as well.
3) For the soul, a conscious effect to remember that God is all-knowing and all-present, that His infinte grace grants us life and energy but that in return we have an an obligation to do the best with the opportunities he has given us. Not for nothing do our sages say "whether one does a little or a lot, one should do it for the sake of Heaven". We are all individuals with different capabilities, ideals and goals, each of us an indispensible part of the tapestry that is Am Yisrael. Not everyone can sit and learn all day. Not everyone can work for a living. Not everyone can be a doctor, or a brick layer. Each of us must do our best through the observance of Torah and mitzvos to maximize our contribution to the klal. For everyone, regardless of their innate capabilities, that means learning as much as possible of what God expects from us through his Torah and performing that which we learn.

It is this final part that brings in the subject of the relationship between the Rav and the individual. In Pirkei Avos, we are told "Make yourself a Rav" which many interpret to mean finding one and developing an ongoing relationship with him. There are those, however, who interpret the statement as "Make yourself into a Rav" and Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch notes in his commentary on Avos that Judaism is the only religion/nationality where the goal of the teachers is to make themselves superfluous.

But for the student to learn, three elements must be in place. First, the student must be willing to learn. Second, the teacher must be willing to teach, and third, the teacher must be capable of teaching that particular student according to his or her needs.

Thus in the medical setting, the patient ideally presents to the doctor for either primary (before he gets ill) care or secondary (after he gets ill to prevent further problems) care. In both cases, the roles are clear. The patient is seeking out instruction on how to live the healthiest lifestyle possible. The doctor's job is to educate and instruct the patient. The patient, in addition to learning from the doctor and following out his instructions, must also take enough of an interest to further his knowledge of health.

So similarly the Jewish relationship. The Rav's job is to teach God's Torah to his students so they can glimpse a sense of His will for Creation. The student must not only absorb what he can from the Rav but also seek out Torah knowledge of his own to augment his learning. "The work is not for you to complete but you are not free to desist from it." Torah, being our life and the length of our days must remain a lifelong pursuit, both as an individual and from community perspective.

Thus the parts played by the teacher and the student are clear. Both must seek to maximize their own ability to observe Torah in a proper fashion which increases their spiritual health.

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