Dr. Nina Butler is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program and can be reached at nbutler@avichaina.org. After spending 25 of the last 30 years working at the school next-door, the last seven as principal, she is now the national Educational Consultant to the AVI CHAI Foundation, commuting the 400 miles from Pittsburgh to Manhattan. 

Note: When Brigitte coaxed me into writing this D’var Torah, she could not have anticipated that it would impel a couple, married for 30 years, to explore some Torah.  It’s easy to get caught up in the stuff-that-is-life, and forget to share these rare opportunities to stop and enjoy  – in this case,  learning Chumash.  So, thanks for the wonderful ‘date’ I had with my favorite teacher, chavruta and partner: my husband, Danny.

In our family, Parshat Shoftim has particular significance because of my husband’s long career as a judge.  Notwithstanding that much in this Parasha seems to be directed at judges, we have always been able to find ways that the principles can be applied to other professions.  In the Shemona Esrei (the central Jewish prayer, consisting of 19 benedictions) found in our thrice daily prayers, we say “hashiva shoftainu k’vorishona”  “Restore our judges as before”.  (literally, as “at first”)  The Rebbe of Modzhitz asks: What time period are we referring to?  When were our judges were so great that we yearn for a return to those days?   The answer that resonates with me follows that literal translation,“Restore our judges as at first”.

Judges should retain the patience for people and commitment to the law they had at the beginning of their careers.  Educators should try to keep hold of their original curiosity, their addiction to kids and the world of discovery.  Doctors should strive to preserve their awe and respect for the human body, its mysteries, and the wonder of healing throughout their careers.  Other parallels can be drawn, especially for those of us who are community leaders; we should forever strive to protect and preserve the sincere, overwhelming passion that we poured into achieving our positions.  

One of the most important proscriptions that the Torah invokes for judges is against taking bribes, which the Torah terms “shochad”  The Talmud explains that the wordshochad is an amalgamation of the Hebrew words  “she-who chad”   “that he is alone”.  The Talmud teaches that every judge acts in partnership with G-d to create a world of justice.  Where a judge accepts bribery, he cuts off his partner: G-d.  

There are numerous sources for the idea that G-d is a partner in many professions.  Certainly, medicine is an obvious one.  The Talmud says, Tov she’beroahfim b’Gehennom” “ The best doctors are in Hell.”  (I feel you smiling, but wait- I’ll explain).  Returning to the  Shemona Esrei, note that the title literally describes 18 prayers.  In our quote, the word “Tov” has the numerical value of 17. Our Rabbis advise that a doctor whose Shemona Esrei is lacking the prayer to of refo-aynu, asking G-d to heal us, is a doctor who believes that he acts alone.  In Parshat Eikev, two weeks ago, wealthy people were warned against thinking that they got there on their own: “Kochi v’oatzim yadi”  “My strength and the might of my hand achieved this…” 

This idea, of our partnership with G-d, appears to be a recurring theme this time of year. On a personal note, many of you know that we lost our eldest son at the age of 24.  Mikey had cystic fibrosis. You may have followed those years that I posted ‘updates’ of his progress, leading to a miraculous double lung transplant, and our devastation when those new lungs gave him the cancer that eventually took his life.  Those traumatic times were filled with tales about the hero-doctor, dear friend Dr. Joel Weinberg. Joel is an Orthodox Jew who serves as the medical director of UPMC-Shadyside Hospital, and was in charge of our son’s case once he transitioned from Children’s Hospital. 

During Shiva, we learned that Joel routinely attends the 6:00 AM Minyan. I can attest to the fact that Joel was in the hospital doing ‘rounds’ before 7AM, so it was no surprise when another Minyan-man’ described Joel as being more rushed on Mondays and Thursdays, days when Torah reading prolongs the service.  This Minyan-man said that he and others often offered Joel to allow one of them to recite Mikey’s name at theMishabayrach, so he could run ahead to the hospital. But, Joel insisted on staying. He would say, “I know that what is happening in the hospital with Mikey has nothing to do with me, and I need to acknowledge that as often as possible.” 

May we all be blessed to have doctors like Joel, and to be like Joel:  retaining our passion and appreciation for our Partner above.