The Rambam (Maimonides) was the royal physician to the Sultan of Egypt. The Sultan once commented to the famed rabbi, “How do I even know you’re a good doctor? I’ve never had the opportunity to test your proficiency. Look at me, I’m fit and healthy. In all the years you’ve worked for me, I’ve never been ill!”
The Rambam replied, “Your Royal Highness, do you not realize? The finest doctor is the one whose patient never even gets sick to begin with. The proof for my words may be found in the Torah. When G-d took the Children of Israel out of Egypt, He declared, ‘All the malady that I placed upon Egypt, I shall not place upon you, for I am Hashem your healer.’ Now, if they had no malady, why did they need Him to heal them?”
תָנֵי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל ״וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא״ — מִכָּאן שֶׁנִּיתְּנָה רְשׁוּת לָרוֹפֵא לְרַפּאוֹת
הַנִּכְנָס לְבֵית הַכִּסֵּא, אוֹמֵר: ״הִתְכַּבְּדוּ מְכוּבָּדִים קְדוֹשִׁים מְשָׁרְתֵי עֶלְיוֹן, תְּנוּ כָּבוֹד לֵאלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַרְפּוּ מִמֶּנִּי עַד שֶׁאֶכָּנֵס וְאֶעֱשֶׂה רְצוֹנִי וְאָבֹא אֲלֵיכֶם״. אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: לָא לֵימָא אִינָשׁ הָכִי, דִּלְמָא שָׁבְקִי לֵיהּ וְאָזְלִי. אֶלָּא לֵימָא: ״שִׁמְרוּנִי שִׁמְרוּנִי, עִזְרוּנִי עִזְרוּנִי, סִמְכוּנִי סִמְכוּנִי, הַמְתִּינוּ לִי הַמְתִּינוּ לִי עַד שֶׁאֶכָּנֵס וְאֵצֵא, שֶׁכֵּן דַּרְכָּן שֶׁל בְּנֵי אָדָם״. כִּי נָפֵיק, אוֹמֵר: ״בָּרוּךְ. אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחׇכְמָה, וּבָרָא בּוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלָלִים חֲלָלִים, גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִּסֵּא כְּבוֹדֶךָ שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם אוֹ אִם יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם אִי אֶפְשָׁר לַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ״. מַאי חָתֵים? אָמַר רַב: ״רוֹפֵא חוֹלִים״. אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל: קָא שַׁוִּינְהוּ אַבָּא לְכוּלֵּי עָלְמָא קְצִירֵי. אֶלָּא: ״רוֹפֵא כׇל בָּשָׂר״. רַב שֵׁשֶׁת אָמַר: ״מַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת״. אָמַר רַב פָּפָּא: הִלְכָּךְ נֵמְרִינְהוּ לְתַרְוַיְיהוּ. ״רוֹפֵא כׇל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת״.
It was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael that from the verse, “And shall cause him to be thoroughly healed”, we derive that permission is granted to a doctor to heal.
Upon exiting the lavatory, one says: Blessed…Who formed (asher yatzar) man in wisdom, and created in him many orifices and cavities. It is revealed and known before the throne of Your glory that were one of them to be ruptured or blocked, it would be impossible to survive and stand before You.
How should one conclude this blessing? Rav said: One should conclude: Blessed…Healer of the sick. Shmuel said: Father has rendered everyone sick. Rather, one should say: Healer of all flesh. Rav Sheshet said: One should conclude: Who performs wonders. Rav Pappa said: Therefore, let us say them both: Healer of all flesh, Who performs wonders.
If two people are involved in a physical altercation, and one is injured, the Torah obligates the attacker to compensate the injured party for various monetary losses, including medical expenses. Implicit in the Torah’s provision for medical expenses, says the yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael, is the acknowledgment that doctors have a license and duty to heal. Had the Torah not stated the provision, we might have assumed that medical intervention should be proscribed. After all, if Heaven decreed illness upon an individual, why would we entertain the audacity to attempt to fix G-d’s plan? In fact, there are other religions that are reticent to engage in certain medical procedures for this very reason. Therefore, the Torah states clearly that medical intervention is the appropriate response to illness. Just like we do not suggest that we should avoid working and simply hope that G-d will provide, we must similarly make the effort to heal illnesses and only then will G-d step in and do His part.
What is the process of healing? As Maimonides taught the sultan, the greatest cure is prevention. We have a duty to take care of the health of our bodies, and do our best to avoid getting sick. But in order to successfully prevent any bodily malfunction, first we must understand how the body works. That requires our recognition of the complex biology of the human anatomy.
Unless you’re a doctor, most of us don’t really give our anatomy much thought. But in our tradition, we are called upon to acknowledge the complex and intricate system of our anatomy and physiology multiple times a day. And like all facets of Judaism, this duty permeates even the most mundane of our daily functions. We remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have a body that works each time we relieve ourselves.
Following a visit to the lavatory, we thank Hashem, the ‘Healer of all flesh, Who performs wonders.’ You might not have been ill and requiring of healing. But prevention is better than cure. And recognition of one’s healthy bodily function precedes prevention. The bracha of Asher Yatzar that we make following the use of the facilities gives thanks to Hashem for facilitating the use of all of our facilities.
The blessing is quite explicit, but at the same time, an honest reflection of the reality of the human condition. We are so blessed to have the ability to open and close every orifice and cavity at will. We can turn the taps on when we need to and close them when we need to. If even the smallest valve was blocked, it would cause us untold pain, with consequences potentially far worse, G-d forbid. The workings of the tiniest internal pipe and flow of bodily fluids and waste material is miraculous. The ability to function each day in a state of good health is an incredible blessing. As strange as it might be to make a blessing following the use of the lavatory, that is precisely the moment when we should be most keenly aware of the wonders of nature that the Creator designed and watches over.
If you’re going to choose one bracha to commit to, Asher Yatzar is probably the most important blessing of the day. Our properly functioning anatomy and physiology should never be taken for granted. May you constantly thank the Creator for the wonders of your body and may your body forever continue to function perfectly!