Sunday, July 29, 2007

That it may be well with you. . . .

We are now in the midst of reading the last charge of Moshe Rabbeinu to the Jewish people. Part of it is a repetition of the Ten Commandments with some more-or-less significant differences. I will focus on the fifth, and throw out a challenge to the medical profession.
Honor your father and your mother as Hashem your God commanded you, that your life may be lengthened and that it may be well with you, on the land that Hashem your God is giving you [if your parents tell you not to go to Israel, go anyway]. The original version, given 40 years earlier, does not include the phrase "and that it may be well with you." What happened? Everybody (except two individuals) over the age of 20 was condemned to die in the midbar (wilderness) after the sin of the meraglim, the spies that Moshe Rabbeinu sent and who came back with a demoralizing report. While there were many awesome miracles in the midbar, (see my earlier post), cancellation of the natural aging process was not one of them. Perhaps it did not take place in Egypt since the men were worked to death by the Egyptians. Now, 40 years later and on the verge of beginning to live a normal life, people were visibly getting old. We all know what that means: losing mobility, losing muscle mass and becoming physically weak, losing the ability to feed oneself, dress oneself, toilet oneself, losing, losing, losing. . . . Indeed, these are precisely the duties that one is halakhically obligated to do for one's parents when they become old (Yoreh Dei'ah Ch. 240). Intelligent people must have been asking what good long life is if you are not well. And now it's gotten much worse. Our life spans bli ayin hara are longer than ever, but quality has not kept up. We still become dependent, and economic and social realities are such that our children cannot care for us even if they want to. We end up warehoused in old folks' homes and cared for by strangers (and if we live long enough to contract Alzheimer's disease, our own children might as well be strangers). Simple arikhut yamim turned into a curse. Here's where the medical community comes in. They conquered pneumonia (once called the old man's friend) and all sorts of infectious diseases that used to carry us off before we turned into total physical and mental wrecks. Now they have to find a way to replace cartilage and synovial fluid so our joints continue to function and we can maintain the active life that keeps our cardiovascular systems and our brains healthy. Find a way to maintain the size and strength of our muscles so that we can continue performing the activities of daily living that we take for granted. In short, let it be well with us so that long life may once again be a blessing.

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