Techias HaMeisim, Chapter One
The Gemara in Maseches Berachos states as follows:
“And it was in those days, that Chizkiyahu HaMelech was sick and dying, and Yishayahu ben Amotz the Prophet came to him and said, ‘So says Hashem, prepare a will and testament for your house, for you will die, and you will not live.’”
What is the meaning of the double wording, “You will die, and you will not live”? You will die in this world, and you will not live in the World to Come.
‘Why am I to be punished so severely?’ asked the king.
‘Because you did not attempt to father children,’ answered the prophet.
‘I refrained from fathering children because I saw through Ruach HaKodesh (Divine inspiration), that my children would be wicked.’
‘You have no business interfering with Hashem’s plans. You must do as you were commanded, and Hashem will do as He pleases.’
‘If so, then give me your daughter in marriage, and perhaps through our combined merits, we will have good children,’ said the king.
‘It is too late. The decree has already been sealed,’ said the prophet.
‘Son of Amotz! Cease your prophecies and leave! I have a tradition from my father’s father (David HaMelech) that even if a sharp sword is held to a person’s throat, he must not despair of Hashem’s mercy.’”
This concept was expressed elsewhere: Rebbe Yochanan and Rebbe Eliezer both said that even if a sharp sword is placed at a person’s throat, he must not despair of Hashem’s mercy, as the possuk says, “Though He may slay me, I will still hope to Him.”The Minchas Chinuch once remarked that if a sword is held against a person’s throat, he should not despair of salvation. Once the sword has already begun to cut into his throat, however, he must finally give up hope.
Rebbe Chanan said that even if someone is told by a dream interpreter that tomorrow he will surely die, he should still not despair of Hashem’s mercy, as the possuk says, “For with the abundance of dreams and many futile things, we must still fear God.”
The possukim continue, “Chizkiyahu then turned towards the wall and prayed to Hashem.” What is the significance of the wall? Reish Lakish said that he davened from the innermost chambers of his heart, as the possuk says, “My stomach trembles, and the walls of my heart groan.”
Rebbe Levi said that he davened concerning the walls of a certain room. “Master of the Universe,” he said, “the Shunamite woman built just four small walls to house the prophet Elisha, and in this merit her son was resurrected from the dead. My grandfather (Shlomo HaMelech) built the walls of the Beis HaMikdash and adorned them with silver and gold. In his merit, let me live.”
Notwithstanding the respect due to this greatest of Torah scholars, there are explicit proofs from the writings of our Sages that this is not so; even after the sword has begun to cut into his throat, he still should not despair.
Indeed, this is evident from the Gemara quoted above. When Chizkiyahu was told of his imminent demise, he rebuffed the prophet’s words by comparing his situation to that of the child of the Shunamite woman. This was a surprising comparison, since the child had already died, and was resurrected through the prayers of Elisha. One would have expected Chizkiyahu to compare himself to someone who had recovered from his illness, rather than someone who had died and come back to life. Although we find numerous instances of a person being brought back to life in the Tanach and the Talmud, we have never heard of a person refusing to let a loved one be buried, and instead beseech a tzaddik to pray that the deceased might live again.
Why then, did Chizkiyahu compare himself to the Shunamite’s child, who experienced a remarkable miracle and returned from the dead? This was certainly an uncommon occurrence, and should not have been used as a precedent to expect similar miracles in the future.
It was the practice of certain Torah leaders to discourage people from praying for a loved one to recover from cancer. They reasoned that, since we do not truly believe that recovery is possible, our prayers are bound to be insincere. As the Prophet said, “With his mouth and his lips he honours Me, yet his heart is far from Me.” Rather than awakening Divine mercy, such insincere prayer can actually make matters worse.
As we shall see, this outlook is incorrect. Even if a sharp sword has already begun to cut into a person’s throat, he should not despair of Hashem’s mercy. The moment we despair of a loved one’s life, we relinquish our hold on him. This is similar to the halachah of returning lost objects. Once the owner has despaired of ever regaining the item, the finder may keep it. So too, when we despair of a loved one’s life, we allow the Angel of Death to take him, God forbid.
How then can we resolve this seeming contradiction, enabling us to pray for a recovery, when in the depths of our hearts we feel it to be impossible? When the doctors inform us that there is no hope of recovery, and the best we can do is to ease their pain, how can we pray with sincerity and conviction that our prayers will be answered? See more...