With His Permission

If men quarrel and one strikes another with a stone or his fist, and he does not die but falls into bed; if he gets up and goes about outside under his own power, the one who struck is absolved, yet he must pay for his lost time and he should provide for his medical expenses. (Shemot 21: 18–19)

The parashah delineates the responsibility of one who causes damage to the person or the property of another. The Torah’s justice system weighs all factors precisely and metes out perfect justice in all circumstances. Whether someone directly injured another or indirectly caused harm, all factors are considered and a fair compensation is paid.

In the case of a quarrel where one becomes bedridden at the hands of another, the perpetrator is required to pay for lost earnings and for all medical expenses. The phrase the Torah uses is the redundant expression “v’rapo yerapei.” Rashi comments: “From here we learn that the doctor has permission to heal.”

Rashi intimates that one must wonder how a doctor can cure a patient if Hashem inflicted the illness. Even though, in reality, Hashem is the exclusive cause of the healing, it is the doctor that administers the medicines provided to counteract the Hashem-sent afflictions. True, this is the intent of the verse, but why did the Torah express this idea with the redundant “v’rapo yerapei”?

Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai, explains with a parable (Ben Yehoyada, Berachot 60). Two Talmudic scholars were walking through the marketplace when they met a leper who was complaining about his ailments. They gave him an ointment to cure his ills. A peddler of vegetables who witnessed the scene challenged them, saying, “How can two men who sit before a Gemara all day know about the secrets of healing? Second, if Hashem made the patient sick, what right do they have to go against His will and heal him?”

They responded, “All wisdom comes from the Torah, including the secrets of healing.” Then they asked him, “How do you sell bitter vegetables?”

“I sweeten them before I market them to the public,” he replied.

“But isn’t it Hashem’s will that they be bitter as He created them?” they asked. “Just like Hashem makes bitter vegetables for man to sweeten and eat, so, too, He makes a person sick and wants others to heal.”

The Ben Ish Chai asks, “How come they did not simply reply ‘The Torah uses the redundant phrase “v’rapo yerapei” and grants man permission to heal?’”

He answers that the peddler would have justifiably replied that the verse is only speaking of a case where an earthly being inflicted injury. In that case, since man did the damage, man can cure. However, if Hashem made one sick, what right does one have to cure? This, says the Ben Ish Chai, is the reason for the double language. Whether the illness or injury was inflicted by man or if Hashem afflicted without human intervention, the doctor has the right to heal. V’rapo — Hashem Himself, Yerapei — through a human physician.

Refuah sheleimah and Shabbat shalom.