אמר רבי יוחנן כל מקום שפקרו המינים תשובתן בצידן
Rabbi Yochanan said, every place the heretics made a free-for-all [found an opening to abandon the Torah, used the Torah to support their heretical position] the answer against them is right next to it. (Sanhedrin 38B, see also Bereishis Rabba 8:9 with a similar teaching from Rabbi Simlai.)
One of their new favorite Torah sources to use and abuse is Shemos 21:19, where they cherry-pick the words “ורפא ירפא” [verapo yerapeh], “he shall make sure that he is healed”. Like missionaries surgically excising a phrase here and distorting a verse there to “prove” their fantasies to the ignorant, the heretics of today make hefker with these two words to declare that doctors control our lives.
How they managed to convince so much of the Orthodox world with this specious “teaching” is an indictment of our entire education system, even “the best” yeshivos, not to mention the so-called “religious media” that should be thrown out of every Jewish home. When the average Jew is an automaton who cannot tell that a simple pasuk is being corrupted, or is too meek to challenge those who corrupt it, we have a community of sheep waiting to be slaughtered one way or another. We have no shortage of enemies from within and without intent on seizing the opportunity.
As Chazal taught us so long ago, the hammer to smash the claims of the heretics is always conveniently where they make hefker. The actual pasuk and section in which these words appear has nothing to do with doctors and medicine. The Torah is dealing with a case of two men who are fighting, and one severely injures his fellow. As with all cases of injury that do not result in death, the assailant is liable to pay for five types of damage, two of which are mentioned here. One of them is paying a doctor to treat the victim until he is healed. (Naturally, there are many details outlined in halacha, but that's what is relevant to us here.)
Chazal derive from here en passant that the Torah gives doctors a license to heal. If the Torah did not teach this, the assailant would argue that God allowed the victim to be injured, and He should heal the victim if that is His will (Bava Kama 85A, with Rashi). Indeed, a doctor only has permission to treat an injured person because the Torah implicitly grants it, otherwise it would be forbidden for him to meddle.
Once we know that a doctor is permitted to treat an injured person, we further infer that he is obligated to do so. The actual source for this is not “ורפא ירפא” but “והשבותו לו” (Devarim 22:2). We learn from there that one must not only return lost articles to their owner, but restore one's body to its owner – restoring his lost health (Sanhedrin 73A). (See Torah Temima on Shemos 21:19.)
Chazal also derive from “ורפא ירפא” that a doctor may be paid for his services, as medical care is one of the five categories of financial restitution. Were this not taught, the assailant might try to wiggle out of his obligations by providing inferior, even free medical care. The victim can rightfully argue that a doctor who heals for nothing is worth nothing (Bava Kama 85A). One who wishes to skimp on his own medical care can do so, but one who injures another must provide superior medical care to his victim.
That is the extent of what we learn from “ורפא ירפא”. A doctor has the right and the obligation to treat the unhealthy, he may be paid for his services, and one who injures someone must make sure his victim is healed.
Nowhere does the Torah grant doctors the massive control over individuals and entire societies that we see today. The Torah grants them permission to treat the sick and injured, and obligates them to help those who lost their health to regain it. The Torah does not give them the right to turn healthy people into chronic patients and drug addicts, to conduct medical experiments on healthy people, or to sacrifice some healthy people on the altar of “the greater good” for the presumed benefit to others. The Torah gives no one the right to exert totalitarian control of society in the name of preventing illness, even in the event of an actual plague.
Indeed, the commentaries uniformly explain that the Torah is limiting the power of doctors, even as it grants them a role in society. Ibn Ezra writes that doctors are permitted to treat external maladies, but internal illnesses are only in the hands of Hashem to heal. This is echoed by Rabbeinu Bachyeh and numerous other sources.
Chazal also make it abundantly clear that all healing comes only from Hashem, and a doctor is merely an intermediary (see Brachos 60A, the prayer of Rav Acha). The doctor treats those who are unworthy of receiving Hashem's healing without a natural process in the middle (the overwhelming majority of people), and provides camouflage for Hashem's activity. A doctor cannot control how a body will respond to any treatment, and cannot effect healing. He can only treat according to the nature of the world and pray that he is a conduit for God's blessing.
Whether and under what circumstances one may or must take treatment for internal illnesses is well beyond my scope and the scope of this article. However, it is crystal clear that “ורפא ירפא” in no way supports totalitarianism in the name of “public health” or medical decrees upon the masses. It does not grant “health authorities” the power to decide anything on our behalf or control our lives. It certainly does not obligate healthy people to get injected with anything just because a doctor – or any number of doctors – says so. Just the opposite.
Wherever the heretics found an opening to oppose the Torah's true teachings, the answer is right there. This is no exception.
Any rabbi who hijacks this pasuk to promote the exact opposite of what it means is an Erev Rav. The higher his stature, the less his heresy can be excused, and the more stridently he must be opposed.
Any government that uses “public health” as a pretext to seize control over the people poses the greatest of threats to public health, and must be opposed by everyone.
[Also see Medical Intervention in the Torah Part 1 and Part 2.]