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Thought for the Day: Accountability Makes All the Difference

I once gave a midterm about an astronaut floating in deep space traveling due north (celestial north, of course) at 30 mph.  At some point he jettisons his 30 pound back pack straight to the east.  Given that his initial speed was 20 mph and that he weighs 200lb, what is his final speed and direction of travel?  A few days after the exam, a disgruntled student came to me to complain that we never had a problem like that on the homework.  I pointed him to problem 14, Chap 6 (right; like I remember): two cars approach an intersection, one from the north and one from the east and collide forming a big mush of metal; ignoring friction calculate the final speed and direction of the conglomerate.  "See?  Exact same problem", I said.  He walked away realizing he was not going to get anywhere with me and looking for the department head to sign his drop slip.

The nature of physics is to be able to look at a real situation and abstract out the distinguishing physical characteristics.  Doing that allows one to apply lessons learned to a wide variety of situation that -- on the surface -- look quite different.  I find that halacha and gemara work very similarly to that and so my physics training was the next best thing to proper yeshivah training.  I was reminded of this again when I heard the following ma'aseh about how R' Moshe, z"tzl, handled a certain tzedaka issue.

A young women had a certain heart condition and was referred to a cardiologist at NYU.  Upon examination, he told that he could do the surgery and she would be fine.  Additionally, he and his team did that surgery twice a week at Bellevue, so she had the option of having the surgery at Bellevue for free (as it is a city hospital) or at NYU for not free.  The young lady decided she we much more comfortable for a lot of reasons with NYU; so she and her husband went to ask the gabbai tzedaka for help.  The gabbai tzedaka, as you might imagine, said he could not justify dispersing community funds when the same surgery with the same team of doctors and nurses could be performed at no cost to her.  He was sorry she was uncomfortable with Bellevue, but he was firm.

The sh'eila came to R' Moshe.  Where will you find such a situation discussed?  Bava Kama (85a), of course.  When one Jew damages another, he must pay for five things: damages, pain, embarrassment, time off work, and medical bills.  The case over there discusses what sort of medical care the nizek (damaged party) has a right to demand.  If the mazik (damager) is a doctor and wants to treat himself, the nizek can say, "You look to me like a crouching lion; forget it!"  If the mazik says he has a friend who will treat for free, the nizek can say, "A doctor who works for free is worth just what you pay for."  If the mazik suggests a doctor friend of his who is visiting from China, the nizek can say, "Foreign doctors blind people."  Rashi explains that since no one back in China will know anything about his mistakes in America, he won't be as careful.

R' Moshe said he knew that all surgeries at NYU are recorded and go on the doctors' records.  He didn't know about Bellevue, so sent an agent to check.  Lo and behold; surgeries performed at Belleveu do not go on that doctor's record.  Based on that, R' Moshe therefore paskened that the young lady had a right to community funds so she could have the surgery done at NYU.


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