Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MAIMONIDES on ABODA ZARA (11:12): Can we use the Tora to heal our bodies?

                       ויהיו חיים לנפשך
 משלי ג' כ"ב

In Halakha 11:10 Maimonides writes about the enchanter or  hober,a person who uses magic spells or chants as a way of healing, etc. We explained that spells were extensively used by idol-worshippers, who attributed magic powers to non-sensical words.  In 11:11 Maimonides explains that there is an exception to the prohibition of using spells: when a person was bitten by a snake or a scorpion it is permitted to say or recite for him a non-sensical chant.  Maimonides clarifies: this chant does not have any medicinal powers, but it can help a person, who is in a state of shock to come-down and relax, delaying therefore the effects of the poison (see here) .
In Halakha 11:12 Maimonides makes clear that not every chant is approved to be used for relaxation. He writes that if the person assisting the patient bitten by a snake uses a verse from the Tora as a calming chant, that person is committing a great sin. Why? Because he is using a verse from the Tora as if it was effective for curing the body and the words of Tora cannot be used for medical purposes.

In the Mishna (Sanhedrin Chapter 10) Rabbi Aqiba brings as an illustration of this serious prohibition, someone who uses the verse from Exodus 15:26  "If you listen to HaShem your God... I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."

For Maimonides, using a pasuq from the Tora for material purposes, even for something as noble as curing a person, is considered a very serious sin and a desecration of the Tora, since the Tora is the remedy and cure for one's soul, as Shelomo haMelekh said: "and they [the words of Tora] will be life for your soul", i.e., not of your body.  
When we have a health problem, we should seek the assistance of a physician and in addition pray to haShem to cure us, and to guide the minds and hands of those who are healing us.  For Maimonides, using the Tora as a medicine for our body would be demeaning to its true essence.