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Thursday, 30th May 2019

Blessings are great, but curses, well no one wants to hear those. This week’s Torah portion sets out the blessings that will occur when we do the Will of our Creator, and G-d forbid the curses that will occur if we don’t.

One of the curses although bad, could seem worse. "Venastem V'einRodef - and you shall flee when no one will pursue you" (26:17). We will feel as if the enemy is chasing after us and we will flee out of fear, whilst in actual fact they won’t even be chasing us.

This is a curse but wouldn’t it be worse if they were really chasing after us? Surely it’s not so bad if at the end of the day there is no enemy really behind us?

The Rambam (Moses Ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Rambam - Hebrew acronym for "Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon", was a preeminent medieval Jewish philospher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages) was the doctor of the Sultan of Egypt. He held a great position in the country and many of the other Sultans advisers were jealous. Eventually they came to the Sultan asking him to get rid of the Rambam, and place a better Arab Doctor in his stead.

The Sultan called the Rambam and the Arab Doctor and proposed a test to them. Each one was known to be a great physician and had knowledge in medicines and cures. He told them that he would give each one, a week to nurture up a poison that would be able to kill the other. Each one would also have at their disposal any medicines they wished. Whoever would die, would be the loser and the one who lived through the experience would stay on as the Sultan’s doctor.

The Arab doctor went home and started to nurture up an amazing poison, one that would be impossible to cure.

The Rambam on the other hand didn’t wish to waste his time, trying to make a poison that could kill. He had much more important things to do. He kept to his daily routine of attending to the long queue of patients waiting outside his house, and concentrating on his Torah teachings.

The final day came and the two doctors stood in front of the king. The Arab doctor gave over the poison to the Rambam. The Rambam examined it and before swallowing it made a medicine he deemed right to cure the poison. He then consumed the poison followed by the medicine. It seemed to work, but no one could be sure, as the poison might take a few hours to work on him.

Now it was the Arabs turn to consume the Rambam’s poison. But the Rambam had no interest in killing the Arab and merely gave him a cocktail of some food he had nurtured for the occasion.
Looking at it with great focus the Arab Doctor couldn’t define which "poison" it was. Perhaps the Rambam had managed to make some kind of super poison, one whose cure did not yet exist. After a few minutes of examination, he too made a concoction of medicine to counter the "poison". He consumed both the food and the medicine. He saw that nothing happened to him and he was amazed. He was happy with his medicine, but he didn’t underestimate the Rambam.

He started to think that perhaps the Rambam's poison only takes effect when a person eats meat. He decided not to eat meat. After a few hours he saw that the poison still hadn’t reached its climax. He said perhaps it’s not to do with meat, perhaps it’s to do with eating wheat. He decided not to eat wheat.

He stayed like this for a few days, until one day the Rambam met him in the street. The Rambam was concerned to see the Doctor looking so pale and started to ask him how he was doing and feeling. Then the Rambam asked him how he felt after he drank milk. The Arabs face turned red, and he thought that the Rambam meant that with milk the poison was supposed to take full effect. He had just drank a glass of milk, and was so concerned that due to his weak status he had a heart attack and died. The king heard that the other doctor had died, and called for the Rambam to be brought to him.

Wow, I knew you were a great physician, but I didn’t realise you knew how to make poison last for so many days before working and killing the man. The Rambam answered the king and told him that he was no killer. Rather the man had died due to his own weakness and anxiety.

Is imagination good or bad? It depends – if we use our imagination to form worlds to create our ideas and fulfil our destiny it is an awesome act. If however we use it to fool ourselves, to convince ourselves of a false world and to place importance in the wrong direction – it could be a curse.

The Torah states that one of the worst curses is to run when no one is really chasing. To imagine people are there, and they really are not. To live in constant fear when there is no need too. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where our business affairs, and the outside world pretend to chase us, our imagination is let loose and we charge great importance to these to the extent that we can make ourselves ill and die.


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