Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Should we be davening for R' Elyashiv to live?

At first glance the question sounds ridiculous, of course we should. However, the fact is that it is not so clear cut.

The Gemara in כתובות ק"ד tells us that when Rebbe (R' Yehuda Hanasi) was dying, his שפחה initially davened (along with everyone else including his talmidim) that Rebbe should live. However, when she saw the pain that he was in, she davened that Rebbe should die. When she saw that the talmidim were still davening that Rebbe should live and therefore the מלאן המות couldn't take him, she caused a distraction (she dropped something which broke and caused a loud noise) which allowed Rebbe to die.

We see explicitly from this Gemara that there are times that it is proper to daven for a person to die. R' Moshe (אגרות משה חושן משפט חלק ב, סימן ע"ג) quotes this Gemara להלכה. He writes:

ונקט זה הגמ' לאשמועינן שאיכא לפעמים שצריך להתפלל על האדם כשמצטער ואין מועיל מיני רפואות לרפאותו, והתפלות שיתרפא לא נתקבלו ,שצריך להתפלל עליו שימות ,כי אמתיה דרבי היתה חכמה בדיני התורה והיו למדים ממנה רבנן לפעמים

R' Moshe quotes a Ran in Nedarim (40a) that makes the same point from the story with Rebbe:

כתב דה"ק פעמים שצריך לבקש רחמים על החולה שימות כגון שמצטער החולה בחליו הרבה וא"א לו שיחיה, כדאמרינן בפרק הנושא דכיון דחזאי אמתיה דרבי דקא מצטער אמרה יה"ר שיכופו העליונים את התחתונים כלומר דלימות רבי
הרי דהר"ן מביא לדינא הא דהתפללה אמתיה דרבי לבסוף כשראתה צעריה דרבי טובא ותפלות דרבנן לא מתקבלות לרפאותו לגמרי ואף לא להקל יסוריו אלא שיחיה כמו שהוא ביסוריו

Based on this, the question becomes is R' Elyashiv in the situation of Rebbe or not?


Moshe said...

I would venture that nowadays there is a big difference. We have painkillers. We have hospice programs and specialists in palliative care. [Note: The fact that many ill patients do not use these services is besides the point - the services are there for the taking and should be used.]

The pain that R' Yehuda HaNassi went through is not something that should occur nowadays. I would say that Rav Elyashiv will never reach such a state - although it is exceedingly unlikely that he will be discharged from the hospital in a state that remotely resembles his original health status.

bluke said...


R' Moshe wrote his teshuva in 1978 when there already was modern medicine, pain killers etc. and still considered this Gemara relevant. I don't think medicine has advanced that far since 1978 to make the situation today radically different then 1978.

Moshe said...

There may have been people at the time of R' Moshe who suffered from terrible pain that painkillers are not too helpful alleviating. For example, pain caused by cancer is excruciating, and even with modern painkillers we have difficulty treating the pain.

R' Elyashiv does not have pain, as far as I can understand from the news reports. He is exceedingly elderly (and most probably very fragile), and has cardiorenal syndrome, and most probably has an infection to go along with it (which caused respiratory failure as well). He was intubated, thereby necessitating sedation (due to the very uncomfortable sensation of having a tube stuck in his throat), and when they tried to remove the ET tube the doctors were unsuccessful. It was reported that this morning R' Elyashiv underwent a "procedure" to allow the removal of the tube - most probably tracheotomy.

It seems that in this situation R' Benny Lau is not quite an expert in the medical aspect of what is going on, so he compared two cases of apples and oranges.

Moshe said...

Here are some links with information:

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually the medical situations has changed tremendously since the 1970's. Palliative care as a field of speciality only really started coming into its own in the late 1980's and it is only now starting to include conditions other than terminal cancer under its purview.
It would be a miracle if Rav Eliashiv were to recover in any meaningful way for any meaningful amount of time. Are we to pray for such an unlikely things?

SF2K01 said...

Cross reference of the same caliber: