We arrive at Ki Tetze and find ourselves again, in the midst of Moses and his summary of the trek through the wilderness. Law, ordinances and commandments in how to create and maintain a safe and secure society form the basis of this portion. There are a few verses in the beginning of Deuteronomy 22 that have become a major basis for the Jewish involvement with medicine.
In 22:1-2 we read that “If you see a fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must make it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him”. These verses, through Biblical interpretation, form one of the key foundations allowing people to become doctors. How?
Well, obviously, the context has nothing to do with medicine. The Hebrew of “hasheyvoto lo” (and you shall return or restore it to him) came to be seen in terms of lost health. Maimonides extended this idea to include the concept that if you loose your health, it is incumbent that you seek out a doctor and that the doctor restore that which has been lost. In fact, in carrying this interpretation further, tradition sees this idea as allowing a human being to interrupt the natural order of things to restore lost health to a person. This idea was so basic that in Talmud there is an injunction that says that we are not supposed to live in a town without a physician! Health and the preservation of health is a key element in living a holy life.
This is one of a series of texts that tradition has used to allow human beings to “fix” or restore that which has been lost. These texts, and our text here is one of the key ones, are part of a larger series of texts that form an interesting profile of texts that speak to the linkage of Judaism and medicine. Ke Tetze is a prime example of how biblical textual interpretation has been (and continues) used to take a classic text and re-interpret it to make it live for us in the modern world. Indeed, the field of Bio-ethics is a great example of how textual interpretation has been used to keep Jewish tradition alive and evolving.
Rabbi Richard F Address