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Even HaEzel: Illness on Shabbat

The Tenth of Kislev is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1954), author of Even HaEzel, rosh yeshiva of Slutsk and Eitz Chaim-Yerushalayim. He was a disciple of the Netziv, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, and the Chafetz Chaim. He was the father-in-law of Rav Aharon Kotler, and uncle of Rav Shach. His wife was descended from Rav Meir Eisenstadt, author of Ponim Meiros. Both Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein married daughters of Reb Shraga Frank, one of the wealthiest men in Kovno, and in whose attic Rav Yisrael Salanter began teaching mussar to Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel (the Rebbi of my grandfather, a nephew of Rav Isser Zalman’s, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok HaLevi Ruderman zt”l) and Rav Yitzchak Blazer. (The famous and often mistold story of Rav Yisrael Salanter and his concern for the maid who carried water from the well to the house happened in the Frank home. I heard this, and the accurate version of the story, from my grandmother, Rebbitzen Ruderman z”l, one of the Frank granddaughters.)

The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 2:3) rules: It is forbidden to hesitate before transgressing the Shabbat on behalf of a person who is dangerously ill, as reflected in the interpretation in the phrase in Leviticus 18:5, “which a person should perform to live through them,” as “to live through them,” and not to die through them.

This teaches that the judgments of the Torah do not bring vengeance to the world, but rather bring mercy, kindness, and peace to the world. Concerning those non-believers who say that administering such treatment constitutes a violation of Shabbat and is forbidden, one may apply the verse (Ezekiel 20:25): “As punishment, I gave them harmful laws and judgments through which they cannot live.”

In order to fully understand the Rambam, we must look to the verse (Exodus 21:19): “And he shall pay for healing,” from where the Talmud (Bava Kamma 85) derives, “that God allows a healer to heal.”

One should not say that the Holy One, Blessed is He, strikes someone and the physician heals, for we would infer that illness is a punishment for sin. If it were so, we would not be allowed to heal on Shabbat, and the Shabbat prohibitions that would prevent healing would be considered part of the punishment of the person for his sins.

Therefore, the Rambam says that it is impossible to say that the Torah laws” bring vengeance to the world,” even as a punishment for sins. This is why he spoke of vengeance, meaning punishment.
(Even HaEzel, Volume 8)

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