The recent discussions concerning Medicare in British Columbia and the negotiations involving physician salaries in Ontario do not in any way diminish the holy work performed by doctors in saving lives and restoring health. While Obamacare is under attack in the United States, and the question of a single user system is debated south of the border, it is important not to forget a statement made by Maimonides regarding the sacred calling of the medical profession.
The Rambam considers medical intervention as a positive commandment related to the concept of returning a lost object as enunciated in our Torah reading this week. In the words of the Rambam, himself a physician by profession, a lost object, namely oneâ€™s health, must be returned or restored to its rightful owner, the individual himself or herself.
The Rambamâ€™s remarks are found in his commentary on the fourth chapter of the Talmudic tractate of Nedarim in relation to the following case scenario. An individual has taken a pledge not to benefit from another person because of some conflict. The second individual happens to be a doctor. Even though normally we hold the first person to his vow, his medical needs override his ill thought of statement. His health comes first despite his protests to the contrary.
Apropos of this, the rabbis comment that patients may benefit from the interventions of certain physicians as opposed to others. Indeed, the target of this patientâ€™s vow may be the only doctor who can help him. Parenthetically, the Torah in this weekâ€™s reading warns against the excesses of needless vows. Some vows may be unnecessary. Others may be dangerous as in the case described above.
The laws in this parsha in addition to those describing the return of lost objects and needless vows form a conglomerate of rules and regulations dealing with various manifestations of human behavior, that have to be monitored. While politicians and NGOs can argue over the role of government in healthcare, the Torah mandates that first and foremost it is the community and its members that must take care of those who are suffering.