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March 17, 2005 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-03-17

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All Will Be Well

West Orange, N.J.
ver since my first child was
born, Purim, which begins this
year on March 24, has fascinat-
ed me. While the holidays and chagim
provide for family interaction, I cannot
think of another holiday that causes us
to interact more with our children than
After all, who among us has not
dressed our daughters as Esther and our
sons as Mordechai? Sure, as they get
older their tastes supersede ours and
Esther's gown and scepter give way to
Wonder Woman and Mordechai's hat
and beard morph into Superman's cape.
On what other holiday do we allow,
and join in, the noise accompanying the
reading of Haman's name in the
megillah? Who has not beamed with
pride as their oldest child, not quite 4


Stephen Flatow is the father of Alisa
Flatow, who was murdered in a Gaza
bus bombing in April 1995. He heads
the Alisa Flatow Memorial Scholarship
Fund that provides scholarships for dias-
pora students wishing to study in Israel:

months old, is oohed and aahed at in
her first costume while held in her
beaming father's arms?
Yet for all the fun and gaiety, there is
something surreal about the chag. Its
story of looming tragedy and redemp-
tion of the Jewish people more than
2,500 years ago is retold each year as if it
is being heard for the first time. And a
troubling story it is.
"And it came to pass in the days of
Achashveirosh" the megillah begins. It
took one of my daughters to explain
that our sages teach that whenever a
story begins with "and it came to pass,"
it means that trouble was ahead but that
all would turn out well in the end.
Indeed, the stubbornness of one Jew,
Mordechai, to not bow before a Jew-
hater, Haman, leads to a decree that all
the Jews would be killed in several
months' time. Instead of that destruc-
tion, however, Esther is able to turn the
tables on Haman, and it is his family,
and his followers, who are destroyed.
So, if we follow our sages and we
know from the beginning that all would
turn out well, why the annual sense of
excitement as we unroll the megillah?

The Answer

from home, that act paralyzed
President Carter and his con-
To me, the answer lies in the
response led to his elec-
fact that the Purim story is
tion defeat by Ronald Reagan.
timeless. It described the lives of
The apparent weakness of
the Jewish diaspora more than
America led to bold moves by
2,500 years ago and continues
the Iranians. After all, if the
to define the problems that
great Satan" cannot free its
plague the world today. To me,
own citizens, the rest of the
the villains of the story are still
world would be viewed as easy
the same in a figurative and lit-
eral sense.
Thus began Iran's role as an
Today, Haman has been
exporter of terror, first by arranging for
replaced by a threat to the Jewish people
the execution of expatriates, then by
in a rise in anti-Semitism (I prefer the
waging a surrogate war against Israel
less fancy term: Jew-hatred) and to the
through Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic
world in the threat of nuclear weapons
Jihad. America and France were Iranian
being introduced into the Middle East
targets through surrogates acting in
by the Iranians, the descendants of
Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
While sanctioned to the gills by the
For the past 25 years, Tehran, an
U.S., Iran was able to buy its way into
Islamic fundamentalist government
Europe, and European governments and
intent on spreading Islam throughout
businesses have thumbed their noses at
the world, has ruled old Shushan.
American sanctions as they lined up at
Its first target was the United States
the trough of Iranian business.
embassy in Tehran that was overrun by
Although the election of Mohammad
"students" in November 1979 and
Khatami to the Iranian presidency
which resulted in the taking of more
than 50 Americans as hostage. While far brought hope to the U.S. for a change
in Iran-U.S. relations because of his rep-


The Tragedy Of 'Million Dollar Baby'

he Oscar-winning film Million
Dollar Baby forces us to assess
the value of life amidst a shat-
tered dream. It strikes deep at the issues
of self-worth and the value of life.
Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is a
tough-luck waitress who persuades a
grizzled old trainer named Frankie
Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to help turn
her into a world-class boxer. On the
strength of believing in herself, Maggie
reaches the pinnacle of success and is
about to become world champion.
Suddenly, an injury renders Maggie
permanently paralyzed from the neck
down, unable to move and dependent
on a respirator to keep her alive. She is
mentally alert, but feels no reason to go
on living.





Dr. Daniel Eisenberg is with the
Department of Radiology at the Albert
Einstein Medical Center and an assistant
professor of diagnostic imaging at Thomas
Jefferson University School of Medicine.
He teaches Jewish medical ethics. Contact
him at www.claneisenbergcom. This is an
abridged version of Dr. Eisenberg's com-
mentary distributed by Aish Hatorah
Resources; log on to JNONline for the
complete version.

We can all identify with Maggie's suf-
fering: the glory that could have been
and the horrible turn of events that has
left her helpless. Without hope of recov-
ery, she attempts suicide, before finally
persuading Frankie to help her die.
Why would someone ask to die, and
should we be willing to oblige? We take
for granted a world where patient
autonomy is the overriding ethical prin-
ciple to which all other considerations
must bend. Common wisdom declares
that the wishes of a patient — whether
they be for more treatment, less treat-
ment or physician-assisted suicide —
must be respected and carried out.
Yet let us consider: If a physically
healthy person, with a stable family,
wealth and a successful career, would
state that he wants to die, we would
naturally find it hard to support such a
decision. The stated reason, whether
devastating or trite, would lead us to
conclude that this person is depressed
and needs emotional support and possi-
bly psychiatric treatment.
So we need to ask Is Maggie's deci-
sion to die reasonable? She describes her
previous fame, the crowds chanting her
name, and feels that having achieved
that exulted status, there's no point in
living as a quadriplegic. "I had it all,"

Maggie tells Frankie, "so don't
take it away from me."

tarian approach, we may still
question her autonomous deci-

The Jewish Take

Deeper Responsibility
From a Jewish perspective,
euthanasia is never permitted.
EISENBERG, Our society is so enamored
M. D.
Judaism recognizes that a person
with autonomy that we some-
has the autonomy to make
times fail to consider other
Commentary issues. In Million Dollar Baby
healthcare decisions, but insists
that they must do so in a pru-
what is presented as a question
dent manner. Jewish law does not
of the right to die is perhaps a distrac-
require the preservation of life in all
tion from the deeper question of
instances, and in fact, when someone is
responsibility to help our fellow human
terminally ill and suffering, we do not
being. When crisis hits, we must help
necessarily require treatments to prolong
our neighbor to dig deeper and solve
the root of the problem, even when they
Yet Judaism categorically states that
wish to die.
one may never actively shorten the life
As the Torah teaches, "Do not stand
of even a terminally ill patient. Jewish
idly by as your neighbor's blood is shed"
law approaches the preservation of life
(Leviticus. 19:16). No one would consid-
as a moral obligation, but recognizes
er it moral to yell "jump" to a person
that there are times, particularly when a
standing on a high ledge. The bystander
patient is terminally ill, when interven-
on the street would presume that the
tion should not be performed.
potential jumper is distraught and needs
We are certainly never permitted to
emotional support and help.
shorten the life of someone like Maggie
So perhaps the real ethical question is
who is in a very compromised state, but
not "why does Maggie want to die?" but
not dying. But it does not require an
why there is not a greater offering of
edict from the Code of Jewish Law to
emotional support? As a society, we
recognize that Maggie is making the
would rather take a person's cry for help
wrong choice. From a purely humani-
as a cry for death, rather than adequate-

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