By the Grace of G‑d
20 Tammuz, 5709
[July 17, 1949]
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of 3 Sivan. Since you don’t specify which of our publications you desire, I ask you to please contact our representative, Rabbi Abraham Paris, who has several of our books and pamphlets, as well as a complete catalogue.
Since it happened that you wrote me, I will avail myself of the opportunity to write to you.
I’m sure that you have seen it written in the teachings of Chassidism that “from every thing and event, a person should derive a lesson in man’s service of his Creator.”
In truth, this is obvious also from a most basic understanding of our belief in G‑d—it is only that chassidic teaching emphasizes it. Consider: we believe that (a) G‑d is the exclusive creator and governor of the created existence; (b) that G‑d epitomizes the ultimate in goodness and perfection and is devoid of any deficiency; (c) it is obvious that an act that is to no purpose implies a lack in intelligence, and thus cannot be attributed to G‑d; and (d) it is further obvious that the same applies to the circumstance of the act—its time, place, etc. What is implied by all of the above is that when a human being sees, hears or is made aware of something, there is a purpose here that is specific to him individually. Should he utilize his experience to elevate himself—that is, to bring himself nearer to the Master of the Universe, which is the only true elevation—he thereby fulfills the supernal intent in his witnessing of this event. However, should he not do so, not only does he fail to make use of what has been granted him, but he also creates a lack in the dynamics of creation, for he has caused a cosmic process to have been in vain.
If a person is to derive a lesson in life from each particular event he witnesses, how much more should he do so from his own vocation, in which he invests the better part of his talents, time and energy.
Regarding the pharmaceutical profession, there are many lessons it may impart to our mission in life. I’ll confine myself to two of them:
1) Upon entering a quality pharmacy and seeing the great and varied selection of medicines and drugs which provide relief and cure for all sorts of illness, including the most deadly of them—the informed observer is greatly impressed, and rightly so.
But the pharmacist must explain to him—and, most importantly, must explain to himself—that all this is but a preface and preparation. In order for a sick person to actually be cured, two crucial things must happen: (a) an expert must instruct which specific drug, and in what specific manner of administration, is appropriate for this specific illness; (b) this, too, is not sufficient in itself—the patient must actually take the medicine.
Applied to our everyday lives: Each and every individual is an emissary of the Almighty, who has been given his or her specific “portion in the world” to “cure” and rectify. He has also been given the “drugs” and means with which to achieve this. But all this is but a preamble and preparation, for he still needs an expert to instruct him which “drugs” he is to apply to correct his “portion” and his own self today, which tomorrow, etc. Otherwise, he is apt to jeopardize rather than cure, to destroy rather than build.
(There are those who would argue: “The entire community are holy,” myself included. I shall consult the Code of Jewish Law myself and thereby know what must be done, both regarding myself and regarding my mission in life. The result of such an approach can be understood by considering the case of a person who, having learned to read, acquires medical texts and medical instruments and begins practicing medicine . . .)
Then must come the primary thing—to go out and do the work of “healing” oneself and one’s world. One may be an accomplished scholar, and greatly esteem his “expert doctor,” and acquire the medicines in the exact manner that the doctor prescribes; but if he doesn’t actually take them, he has not yet begun the work of healing.
He might have many good excuses: the time isn’t right, it’s not the appropriate place, he doesn’t have the influence, etc. But all an excuse can do is determine the degree of his culpability—is he guilty, merely negligent or altogether absolved? The most impeccable excuse will not cure the illness he was meant to deal with. And since, undoubtedly, the divine intention is that he achieve a cure, his arguments are obviously flawed and prejudiced by self-interest.
2) Entering into the interior of the pharmacy, one notices a section marked: Warning! Deadly Poison! One may wonder, what is poison doing in a place designated for cures and balms? But the informed person understands that what in ordinary circumstances and in significant quantities is poison for a healthy person may in special circumstances and in small dosages be the only treatment that may save the life of one who is ill.
Applied to our everyday lives: The Torah is a “benevolent law,” and “all its pathways are pleasantness and peace.” Nevertheless, it commands: if you are invited to your fellow’s home and there is doubt as to the kashrut of what is being served, it is forbidden for you to partake of his meal, even if this causes him grievous insult. If your fellow violates the Shabbat, and there is hope that your protests will prevent this, you are obligated to do so. If a certain institution has gained control of Jewish children and is stripping them of their faith, it is your obligation to object and to announce that although this institution may be saving the temporal lives of these children, they are destroying the eternal life of their souls. It is your obligation to save the lives of these children by all possible means, including covert and illegal means.
The mind will object: I am a civilized person; furthermore, Torah law itself states that “civilized behavior comes before Torah.” How can I break the law of the land and go kidnap children? How can I go out into the streets to demonstrate against so-and-so’s violation of the Shabbat and insult him in public?
The answer is that, indeed, for healthy people and circumstances all this is deadly poison; but in the case of critical illness it is the only medicine that can save a life.
A far more subtle example, this one regarding man’s relationship with G‑d: There are those who find fault with chassidim that they study Chassidut and meditate at length before morning prayers and, as a result, pray after the prescribed time. Again, the answer is that for healthy people and circumstances this is indeed most damaging. But for those ill of soul, it is impossible otherwise. For without such preparation they would pray only with their lips and not with their hearts, and their prayers would be invalid (see Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 4:15; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 98; Tanya, part 5, pp. 307–309).
However, and this is most important: just as in the parable, one must take great care that such “poison” is not taken in too great a dosage, and that all must be in accordance with the instructions of an “qualified doctor.”
My letter has grown long; I conclude with my best wishes.
If there is anything in the above that you disagree with, I would appreciate your informing me so, and why.