Lazer Gurkow

Are You on The Pill

Can I have A Pill?
Have you ever heard of the man who went to the doctor and asked for a prescription? When the doctor asked, what’s ailing you, he replied, nothing. I just want to be sure that I don’t get sick. The doctor explained, “you don’t need medicine sir, what you need is a strictly healthy regimen. Exercise each day, eat healthy well balanced meals, live a healthy life style, don’t party too hard, sleep well each night, don’t do drugs, don’t abuse alcohol and you will be healthy.

Ah doctor, says the man, that’s precisely what I was hoping to avoid. Can’t you just give me a pill?

The Spiritual Pill
As there are physical pills for physical ailments, so are there spiritual pills for spiritual ailments. And as there is a healthy regimen for healthy people in the physical sense so is there a healthy regimen for healthy people in a spiritual sense.

In our relationship with G-d, it is healthy to observe all the mitzvot, study Torah every day, avoid all the transgressions and ensure that everything we do is for the sake of heaven. If you follow this regimen, you will be sure to have a healthy spiritual disposition. But what happens if you indulge to excess and weaken your connection with G-d? How do you re-establish spiritual health? For that there is a medicine; it is a pill called teshuva, repentance.

Repentance has the power to reinvigorate the soul and rekindle our relationship with G-d. It can restore our spiritual health. But when you look at it mathematically it doesn’t compute. Repentance is a single mitzvah, yet it makes up for the omission of many mitzvot and even the transgression of many sins. How can one mitzvah make up for many? How can it restore and invigorate what many sins destroyed?

The answer is that repentance is like a medicinal pill. It is small, but it can restore the health that has been abused by many excesses. We can abuse our body for years, yet a regimen of medicinal pills over several months can restore us. This is because the pill’s size belies its strength. It might be a little guy, but it packs a powerful punch.

That is precisely why you don’t want to pop pills when you are healthy. Powerful pills restore strength to the ill, who suffer from a lack of strength, but they can be deadly for those who are well. Rather than heal, such powerful pills can drag one into illness.

This is why doctors prescribe two kinds of regimens. There is the health regimen for the healthy and the pill regimen for the ill. There is no question that it takes more effort and diligence to follow the healthy regimen. You need to be committed to your exercise, devoted to healthy eating habits, and loyal to your bedtime. It is not an easy undertaking. It is comparatively easy to pop a pill. But woe to those who abuse their bodies and rely on popping pills when they feel sick.

Are You On the Pill?
Just the same, when we fall ill, we need to take the pill. If we convince ourselves that there is no need to see a doctor or take medication, we doom ourselves to illness and possibly worse. When it is time to take the pill, it is foolhardy to avoid it. When it is time to avoid the pill, it is foolhardy to take it.

This time of year is a time for repentance. We think back to the year past and recall many instances that we are not proud of, many actions and behaviors that strained our relationships with others and with G-d. The day of reckoning is here and it is time to face our shortcomings. It might be embarrassing to swallow the bitter pill of shame, but it is foolhardy to avoid it.

This is why we seek out those we have hurt and ask for forgiveness during this time of year. The ask is painful and embarrassing, but the forgiveness that results from the ask is healing and cathartic. It is a single moment in time, but so powerful, so intense, that it erases months if not years of bad blood and resentment. It is a single action, but it is medicinal. Small, but powerful. Just like a pill.

Being on the pill is shameful and bitter. It is an acknowledgement of our shortcomings. It tears away the veils of denial and forces us to stare the bitter truth in the face. Yet, the powerful moment is cathartic. It heals. Without it, the illness remains.  This is why we ask G-d to forgive us during this time of year. We dredge up our shameful moments and we seek reconciliation.

We can’t repent all year long. That is way too intense. Just like the pill is for when we are ill, repentance is for when we have sinned. We repent and turn back to a healthy G-dly lifestyle.

But imagine someone who makes the following calculation. Taking the pill is a bitter experience, but it can be done once a year and it is over. In the meantime, I get to enjoy myself all year long. It might very well be worth the price. It spares me the need to tend to my relationship with G-d all year long.

That would be the equivalent of a man betraying his wife and begging for forgiveness. After she grants him forgiveness, he starts thinking, well, that wasn’t so bad. I enjoyed months of betrayal and had to grovel for only a day, or a week. Why don’t I try it again and see if it works?

Effectively this turns forgiveness of betrayal into the cause of betrayal. Forgiveness can follow betrayal, but it shouldn’t trigger betrayal. If the wife learned of his dirty little trick, she would never forgive him again.  G-d says the same thing. If you live sinfully all year long, banking on receiving forgiveness when you repent, the repentance won’t work. Because rather than the pill healing the illness, it will become the reason for the illness and that can’t work.

Take Only One Pill
When we have sinned, we need to take the pill; hard and shameful as that is. But one thing is certain, you never want to take that pill again. You never walk away from a prescription hoping to fall ill again and get a chance to fill it again. One is plenty.

Let’s take our pill this High Holiday season and let us commit ourselves to a lifestyle of G-dliness, holiness, Torah and mitzvot, with kindness, honesty, integrity and empathy. May G-d in turn shower us with a year of plenty, blessing, health and happiness.

Shana Tova


About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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