Parshat Vezot HaBracha / Simchat Torah
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When calling up the Chatan Torah to receive the final aliyah of the Torah, the gabbai reads an introduction which praises the Torah in various ways. Here is some of that introduction:
“Who has given us life to… rejoice in the rejoicing of the Torah which gladdens the heart, brightens the eyes, grants us life and wealth, honor and beauty… that lengthens the days and adds strength to those who love it, guard it… toil in it and preserve it with love and fear.”
Apropos to the fact that the Torah gives strength and long life, this article will focus on the healing powers of the Torah.
A Cure for Headache and all Aches
The Talmud (Eiruvin 54a) says, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says… One who feels pain in his head should engage in Torah study, as it says (Proverbs 1:9), ‘For they shall be a graceful wreath for your head.’ One who feels pain in his throat should engage in Torah study, as it says (ibid), ‘And a necklace about your neck.’ One who feels pain in his stomach should engage in Torah study, as it is says, ‘It shall be health to your navel (Proverbs 3:8).’ One who feels pain in his bones should engage in Torah study, as it says, ‘And marrow to your bones (ibid).’ One who feels pain in his entire body should engage in Torah study, as it says, “And health to all their flesh (Proverbs 4:22).’”
The Maharsha explains that, in fact, the Torah heals all illnesses. The Talmud chooses these as examples because one who has these ailments does not usually accept visitors, as the Talmud says (Nedarim 41a), one should not visit a person with intestinal pain (as it can embarrass the sick person) or a person with a headache (as it is difficult for them to converse). Therefore, those who suffer from these ailments are deprived of the healing benefits of such visits. (See Bava Metziah 30b that visiting the sick can somewhat lessen their illness.) However, Torah study can help cure these ailments.
How does it Work?
The commentaries offer various explanations as to how Torah study heals illnesses:
Close to Hashem
The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham O.C. 239:7) explains that the Torah does not heal directly. Rather, it causes a person to cleave to Hashem since G-d’s presence is most acutely felt within the confines (four cubits) of Halacha (see Brachot 8a). When a person is connected to G-d, he is automatically more protected from suffering.
- Torah Atones Just As Suffering Atones
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger explains (Responsa Ha’ElefLecha Shlomo O.C. 358) that suffering is often visited upon a person to atone for his sins. The Talmud (Menachot 110a) says that Torah study also atones for sins. As such, by studying Torah one can achieve the same atonement that is accomplished through suffering, and thus one no longer needs to suffer.
- Every Mitzvah Corresponds to a Different Limb
According to our sages each positive mitzvah corresponds to a different limb of one’s body, and each negative command corresponds to a different blood vessel. As such, when one has an illness, one simply needs to study the aspect of the Torah that discusses the mitzvah which corresponds to the affected limb and begin to observe that mitzvah in a more exemplary manner, and he will be healed (Iyun Ya’akov). (See also Nefesh Hachayim 4:29)
The Ben Ish Chai interprets this Talmudic teaching (in the Ben Yehoyada) as referring to spiritual maladies. Specifically,
“One who has a headache” refers to one who is arrogant (and “holds his head high”). Torah study will assist him in achieving humility, as we learn in Pirkei Avot (6:1) “And it cloaks him with humility and fear of Heaven.”
- Lashon Hara
“One who has pain in his throat” alludes to one who engages in slanderous talk (lashonhara) which begins in the throat. He should heal this by studying Torah which will teach him to mend his treacherous speech, as it says (Proverbs 15:4) “The Tree of Life (Torah) is a healing for the tongue.”
- Forbidden Foods
One who sinned and consumed forbidden foods (this is referred to as “one who has an ache in his stomach”) should repent and heal this blemish by studying Torah. The Torah is compared to various foods, as it says (Proverbs 9:5), “Come, partake of My bread and drink of the wine I have mingled.” As such, it can heal the blemishes caused by consuming forbidden foods.
- Improper Relationships
One who sinned in matters of improper relationships (or mingling) of men and women should atone for this by increasing in Torah study. The Talmud alludes to this sin when it says “one who has an ache in his bones.” A “bone” refers to one’s wife as the verse (Gen. 2:23) says that Adam (the first man) referred to Chava (his wife) and said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Studying Torah can repair such sins since the Torah is compared to a wife (of the Jewish people) and enables one to spiritually procreate.
- Sins that Affect the Soul
“One who has an ache in his entire body” refers to one who has not repaired his soul properly. The soul is referred to as a “body” since the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5a) says that our souls are stored in the Heavenly treasury called “guf” – body. One can go about repairing one’s soul by studying Torah which has the power to repair all spiritual deficiencies.
Know What to Learn
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichov explains (Kedushat Levi, Likutim, 141) that there are certain sections of the Torah that are a segulah (spiritually propitious) to heal headaches, other sections to heal throat aches, and the same is true for all the limbs of one’s body. (See above that each mitzvah corresponds to a certain limb.) There is also a section of the Torah that has the power to heal any and all of the maladies that one may have. Most people do not know which section is appropriate to study for their particular illness. This is why one should go to a tzadik (a righteous sage) who can instruct one as to what he should study.
Using Torah for Healing
The commentaries question the above teaching in light of the fact that elsewhere in the Talmud Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says (Shavu’ot 15b) that one may not utilize the Torah for healing purposes.
Here are several of the answers offered by the commentaries:
- Although the Torah is a remedy for all ailments, one should not specifically learn with the intent that he be healed. Rather he should study Torah for the sake of Heaven, and the Torah will “do its work” and heal him (Maharsha).
- The Talmud here is referring to a person who is just starting to get sick. He can then study Torah which will prevent the illness from becoming serious (ibid).
- The Talmud in Shavu’ot which forbids using Torah for healing is referring to one who chants verses and expects them to “magically” cure him. This is not appropriate as he is “using the Torah” for his own personal benefit. On the other hand, the Talmud in Eiruvin permits Torah study to heal illnesses as it is referring to one who studies the Torah earnestly with the intent to observe it. This earnest kind of study and observance is actually eradicating the spiritual root of his illness and, as such, is entirely appropriate (Iyun Ya’akov). [I.e., One who studies Torah in this manner is connecting himself to Hashem in a deeper way through the Torah. The healing is simply a byproduct of this deeper spiritual connection to G-d.]
- The Shevet Musar (chapter 22) says that the Talmud doesn’t mean that if one has a headache and he studies Torah that he will be healed as we see that this is not always effective. Rather, the Talmud means that one who has a headache should study Torah despite his pain. The same applies to one who has other illnesses; he should strengthen himself and study Torah despite his pain. If one does this, G-d will surely repay him in kind and heal him of his malady.
- According to the Iyun Yakov, when the Talmud says that one who feels pain in his head “should engage in Torah study ( יַעֲסוֹק בְּתוֹרָה),” it doesn’t mean he should actually study Torah as this may not be possible because of his pain and illness. Rather, it means that he should involve himself in Torah matters. For example, the Talmud (Eiruvin 28b) says that when Rabbi Zeira was too weak to study, he would instead place himself outside the study hall so that he could stand up in honor of the rabbis as they entered and exited.
Don’t Mistake a Headache for a Foot Ache
Sometimes a person has an illness in his head, but it manifests itself as a pain in his foot. A competent doctor will recognize this and will treat the source of the illness in the head which will cause the pain in the foot to disappear whereas less competent doctors might waste time and energy treating the symptom instead of the root cause.
Spiritually too, a person may have a weakness in a certain mitzvah which can affect him in various ways. For example, one may be deficient in Torah study which is considered a headache. This may cause him to lose some of his parnassah (income) which is referred to as a “foot ache” as a person’s livelihood enables him to “stand up” in this world. Instead of focusing on his business affairs and trying to fix them, the person should fix the source of the problem by rededicating himself to Torah study. Once this problem is corrected, his parnassah will automatically be blessed (Likutei Divrei Yisrael, Pinchas, quoted in Kaftor VaFerach in the Metivta Shas on Eiruvin, ibid).
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach, a Chag Same’ach and a Good Year!