Ethics

For the week ending 16 March 2013 / 4 Nisan 5773

Telling the Patient It Will Pass

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: A neighbor of mine recently told me that her doctor diagnosed her as having a particular illness. Because of my own medical background she asked me if I thought the illness would pass. The truth is that I had no real idea whether she would get over it but I wanted to make her feel good. What is the right thing to do in such a case?

Answer: A similar question was put to Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, rav of the Ramat Elchanan community in Bnei Brak. His response was that it is proper in such a case to deviate from the truth and to assure her that, from a medical point of view, the illness will pass. If the halacha permits a eulogizer to exaggerate somewhat in his hesped in order to honor the deceased, it is certainly proper to exaggerate in order to spare a living person from anxiety.

Rabbi Zilberstein added an anecdote about a follower of a Chassidic leader whose son was mortally ill. When the rebbe promised him that his son would live, the other Chassidim wondered how he could thus go out on a limb. His reply was that all he could fear if he was proven wrong was that his followers would lose faith in him and abandon him.

"All of that doesnt matter," concluded this tzaddik, "if I can bring a little comfort to a sick Jew and his family."

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