Thursday, June 29, 2006

Death and Tehillim

My cousin died this afternoon. She'd been battling cancer and she lost... so did her family... so did the rest of us. The world is a poorer place without her.

Last night, my brother called me to let me know that she'd been taken into the hospital with fluid in her lungs, and that things were very bad. He told me her Jewish name - the one I've been inserting into my tefillot for some 6+ months already - and said that we should daven for her and say some Tehillim.

It occurred to me to wonder why.

It seems that we're very often asked to daven for someone whom God has seen fit to give a life-threatening illness... and that God doesn't usually change his mind. There is no, "Well... I was gonna kill 'em... but then all these people started asking me not too... so I decided, what the heck!" My personal assumption is that He knew what He was doing when He gave them the disease in the first place.

Now I'm all for it when there's a realistic possibility that the person can recover. But at a certain point, I think it's sort of wasted effort to pray for their recovery. At those times, I think it would be more useful to daven for them not to be in pain, or for their families, or in their z'chut so that their n'shamot will have an aliya when the time comes. But for their recovery? God has already decided that they weren't going to.

Now, I know... I know... "But God can do anything. He could make them recover if He wanted to." Yes, yes... that's true. But first of all, we're taught al tismach al ha'ness - we don't rely on miracles. If someone has a disease like pancreatic cancer or something. If the prognosis is just bad, then maybe we ought to focus on what comes next.

In fact, I think that's alluded to by the Medrash when discussing the illness of Yitzchak. If I recall it correctly, the Medrash says that, until his time, people would just drop dead. When your time was up, it was up. Yitzchak prayed, asking that people be given time to get their affairs in order. And God responded by saying, "That's a good idea. I'll start with you."

Maybe, if we looked at terminal illness as the mechanism for preparing for our imminent departure, we'd be better off. We'd, at least, not be so frustrated when we've davened and the person dies anyway.

Please pray for the freed soul of Rena Tamar bat Ester.