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The Healing Touch

Physicians are losing touch with their patients. So argues a recent New York Times op-ed by Dr. Abraham Verghese. Thanks to the dramatically expanding use of technology, the healthcare team now has unprecedented access to information about every aspect of the patient’s body. Doctors can sit down at the computer and pull up lab results, history, allergies, drug interactions. They can track the incidence of infections or medication errors across the hospital, allowing the hospital to improve its methods to prevent these events. MRIs, CT scans and other advanced diagnostic techniques allow medical technicians to explore every nook and cranny of the body.

What’s getting lost in all of this is the patient himself. The doctor sits down and looks at the computer and the monitors, while the patient lies alone in the bed, unattended. The doctor might occasionally look over his shoulder to ask the patient a question or two, and dutifully note the response in the computer. But the patient seems almost an afterthought, with the bulk of attention being paid to the “virtual” patient in the computer files.


The concept of paying attention to the virtual patient in the computer rather than the real patient in the bed has resonance in Jewish mystical teachings. The world and all that is in it is a manifestation of G-d’s creative power. To expose ourselves to further revelations of G-d, we can explore His teachings in the Torah, to ever deeper and more mystical levels. As we grow in our apprehension of G-d’s greatness, we can come to believe that we have finally touched the Essence of G-d.

Yet the essence always remains out of our reach. We have the manifestations of G-d, the “virtual” G-d. G-d’s teachings, G-d’s actions. But G-d Himself remains elusive.

How do we reach out to touch G-d Himself? The Tanya, the fundamental work of Chabad Chassidism, explains that with each mitzvah we do, we are “embracing the King.” Although the King may be dressed in many layers of garments, we are nevertheless embracing, and being embraced by, the King Himself. This is because the mitzvot are not just a manifestation of G-d but a reflection of His will, His innermost desire.

Exploring G-d’s wonders is all well and good, as long as we don’t neglect to do what G-d asks of us. Mitzvot encompass the most sublime as well as the most physical acts – to concentrate on our prayers, to study Torah, and to care for the poor, the weak, the sick. Through all these deeds we can touch G-d Himself, and hasten the day when the curtains will be peeled away and we will see G-d in all His glory.


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