Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25): The Blessing of Medical Technology

Photo by Alex E. Proimos, used under Creative Commons License.

This week we continue the second of Moses’s farewell sermons. The content of this week’s portion is filled with challenging issues. We see laws related to captives and the regulations on divorce  (22:13) and the subject of individual vs. communal responsibility. However, there is one text (one of our favorites) that I wish to mention. That text is 22:2. We have mentioned this before, as it is one of the key proof texts that has been used by tradition to allow for people to become physicians. The context of the verse is that if some one looses his ox, it then becomes incumbent on the community to restore that which has been lost. Maimonides , a physician, saw in this the mandate to restore to a  person lost  health. This is not a space to discuss the details of these interpretations. However, I do want to mention that this has prfound impact on us as we age.

We should have in every prayer book a blessing for medical technology.* Indeed, the linkage between medicine and Judaism is well documented. Also, it is true that for many of us we know people (maybe even you) who, were it  not for medical technology, would not be here. One of the ethical challenges remains for us how to balance the use of technology with the wishes of people in certain circumstances. We live in a society that does practice, what many doctors refer to as “futile care”, care toward the end of life that may not be medically needed. There is a rich textual tradition within Judaism on how to make a sacred decision as life ebbs (indeed, this is one of our more requested study sessions). The questions that need to be asked  by each of us and the discussions we need to have with family members about our wishes are increasingly important and timely. There is a delicate balance at times, between what we “can” do and what we “should” do and, I believe, our tradition places that focus on what the wishes are of the person. If we are not in the position of being able to discuss those decsions, how much the more so is the need to have the appropriate documents (advanced medical directives, healthy care power of attorney, etc) on file and widely distributed. What we often forget is that, given the advancements of medical technology, we need to re-visit these wishes every few years. What may been “heroic” years ago, may now be standard.

One other thought on this verse. The end of the verse “and you shall restore it to him” begs the question, what kind of life should be restored. Again, this gets in to very personal issues. One person’s “quality of life” may not be the same as someone else. How and who to choose? Under what contexts does this change? This single verse in this week’s portion opens the door to these and a host of other spiritual and medical ethical concerns. Again, Torah is our teacher as it invites us to enter these discussions for, especially with this verse, it very may be a matter of life or death.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

  • if you would like to create such a blessing, or have done so, we would love to see it and share it with our community….send it

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