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A Patient Whose Doctor Disconnected His Life Support Machine

Published on Monday April 13th, 2020

In the book Vehigadeta, Rav Yaakov Galinsky shares a startling story: "One day when I was in a hospital, a doctor came to find me. He looked concerned and he asked to speak to me. He told me that a few days earlier, a patient who was in critical condition and was suffering terribly, was hospitalized. The cancerous disease had taken over his body. He was fighting for his life, but without hope. Death would have extracted him from his sufferings, but the different devices to which he was connected kept him alive. During the doctor's last visit, it was decided that there was no reason to prolong his life. The head doctor ordered one of the doctors - my interlocutor - to unplug the machine. The patient was disconnected from the apparatus and began to convulse, and three hours later, his suffering ended."

The doctor continued; "Last night, the patient revealed himself to me in a dream, and said, "What did you do to me, why did you disconnect the device?"

"I saved you from suffering," I replied in my defense.

The sick man retorted, "Why? Why did you do that? My soul went up to Heaven, and I was told that the plan was for me to have another four days of suffering in this world to erase all my sins. If I had remained alive for these four days, I would have gone right up to Gan Eden, pure and without sin. Now, since you took my life before the appointed time, who knows how much suffering I will have to endure in (hell). What did you do?!"

The troubled doctor asked Rav Galinsky: "Is this really the way things work? Is there a difference if he suffers here or there?"

I replied, "Of course! This world is called "Olam Hatsimtsum, a small world". Any small Mitzvah accomplished here does wonders in the higher worlds, and a slight sin below darkens the higher worlds. The same goes for the minor ordeals that one encounters here, which spare us sufferings in hell. The Ramban talks about this in the introduction to his explanation to the book of Iyov which explains that one hour in Hell is worse than a lifetime of suffering like Iyov's. As the Saba of Kelm declared, in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter; man can "lose his future world" by consuming a spoonful of compote!

Rav Galinsky continued explaining to the doctor: "The Gaon of Vilna once said to his pupils, "know that all that is written in the Reshit Chochma on the terrible sufferings of Gehinom is quite true, and is not to sow fear or panic, but know that it's even worse, it's fire and sulfur!"

These remarks had such an effect that one of his pupils fell ill with fear and fright. When the Gaon of Vilna was informed of it, he went to his pupil to perform the Mitzvah of visiting the sick.

The students who accompanied him were convinced that the Gaon would appease his pupil, explaining to him that it was not necessary to take these words to heart and that things were not as terrible as they seemed. When he arrived at the student's home, the Gaon said, "know that everything I told you is totally true, and this is only a small part, we do not have the opportunity to really know the suffering of Gehinom! But I forgot to add a detail: we do not know how much we spare ourselves from suffering when we experience trials in this world!"

Rabbi Galinsky addressed the doctor in these words: "This is what this deceased came to tell you, the value of tribulations in this world!"

The doctor, upset, asked, "So what should I do? "

Rav Galinsky replied: "Listen, this deceased has his own worries, he is about to be sent to hell. Did he have nothing else to do but to go down to this world to complain to you, and this certainly took authorization from Heaven. Why was he given permission to do such a thing? For one reason only: Since you are responsible for his not completing the number of hardships set up for him and he did not go up to Gan Eden immediately, he revealed himself to you for you to repair this injustice and for you to help him enter Gan Eden!"

"How? asked the doctor, and the Rav replied firmly: "By doing Teshuvah, and the Mitzvot you perform will also be brought to his credit!"

The doctor then asked: "But until I perform the Mitzvot, will he be cleared?"

The Rav responded: "You must not worry about this, it is written explicitly in Rashi: On the day of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Moshe Rabbeinu ordered the Bnei Yisrael to take the Korban from Passover on the 10th and offer it on the 14th: "The Bnei Yisrael did as Moshe commanded them" (Shemot 12:28). Had they already done it? No, but as they committed to it, Scripture speaks of it as if they had already done it! "

The doctor made a real return to his routes!

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