Now, that’s a complicated question. But I can answer part of it immediately. In most cases it’s their own fault.
I once spoke about this. It’s a Rambam in Hilchos Deos (4:20). The Rambam says there that if you’ll do the things that he tells you, the precautions for good health that he tells you, then, now listen to his words: “אני ערב לו שלא בא לידי חולי כל ימיו – I stand guarantee that he won’t get sick all his life.” Which means that in most places it’s a person’s own fault. And even though he doesn’t always recognize that he is the author of his misfortune, we cannot go away from this truism.
There are many ways a person makes himself sick. If a person allows himself to become excited, it’s a lack of bitachon and he’s getting punished for it.
If he becomes in ka’as, so anger causes very many illnesses. He’s a choteh and a fool. כי כעס בחיק כסילים ינוח – Anger rests in the bosom of a fool (Koheles 7:9). It’s his own fault and therefore he’s being punished for it.
If a person talks too much – and that’s most people – so he suffers the results. Like it says in Pirkei Avos, לא מצאתי לגוף טוב משתיקה – The best thing for your health is to keep your mouth closed (Avos 1:17). Most illnesses come from talking. Now I don’t have time to explain that but it’s a fact. And so if you’re always shooting off your mouth, then eating healthy and doing other things won’t help you.
And therefore, the hypothesis of this question is largely not true. In most cases the people themselves are to blame. Even if there are a minority of cases where the illness seems to come not because of their fault, the truth is most of the sick people are not doing what they’re supposed to do to get well.
And I’ll give you an example. Rav Yisrael Salanter zichrono levrachah at one time wasn’t well, and he went to a clinic in Keningsburg. And here is a testimonial that the physician in charge said about Rav Yisroel. He said, “Thousands of people come here to this clinic but there’s not one of them who fulfills all of the directions like this old man here.” He pointed to Rav Yisroel.
Rav Yisroel was the most pious in fulfilling the physician’s prescriptions because to him if the physician said “This is what you must do to get well,” it became a mitzvah from the Torah: ושמרתם את נפשותיכם. And he kept it in such a way that he was unequaled.
Others don’t do that. They don’t actually obey. It’s rare that somebody is so punctilious. And therefore to a big extent they’re not trying be’emes to get well.
However, there comes a time when a man’s days are up or sometimes it’s foreordained that a person has to be ill, chalilah. There are certain times and certain instances that a man’s role in history is to be an invalid. That’s his role. Nothing will help. And so certainly there are exceptions but let us not be misled by that. We should know that the great majority are cases in which he does have an opportunity to better himself if he would do what’s right.
And among the things he has to do is to pray with all his heart. If a man says “Call up the shamash and let him make a mishabeirach for me in the synagogue,” he’s not doing everything that he should do. First of all, the shamash is just rattling it off. He doesn’t even think what he’s saying. And it’s worthless anyhow. A mishabeirach doesn’t mean a thing – unless you give charity. If you give money, that’s something else. So a sick man should make sure to give tzedakah; צדקה תציל ממוות – Giving charity can save a person from death (Mishlei 10:2). Yes. You have to give charity. But to ask a shamash? Where are your own prayers?! Besides, in many places the shamash himself is not a frum Jew and you’re asking him to pray for you? That’s ridiculous.
That man is not doing what he has to do. He says, “What do you mean?! I sent a telegraph to the kosel hama’aravi that somebody should pray for me there.” Or, “I called up the shamash of my synagogue to pray for me.”
No, he didn’t do a thing yet! Did he do teshuvah? What about נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה — Search out your ways and investigate them (Eichah 3:40). Everybody has to think “Why is illness coming on me?” It’s one of the first things he must do! אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו – If a man sees trouble coming upon himself, יפשפש במעשיו – let him examine his deeds (Brachos 5a).
How many people who are sick start examining their deeds? To think even one minute about their past deeds? Practically nobody. So they’re not doing anything. All they expect is that the doctor should come and force them to get well. And therefore in most cases people are absolutely not attempting to get well.
You have to pray. You have to give tzedakah. You have to do teshuvah. And you have to keep the doctor’s prescriptions exactly and punctiliously.
TAPE # 135 (September 2, 1976)