Here is the part that interested me:
I brought an example once from the Iggerot Chazon Ish and was somewhat astounded to discover that none of my students had ever heard of the author. I digressed and told them the story of Professor Lev and what he had said. I then described the impact that the Chazon Ish had on halachah in our generation, especially in regard to mitzvos ha-tluyot ba-aretz. This led into a general discussion about great rabbis.
One hand in the back of the room shot up.
“Rebbi? Based on what you‘re saying about the Chazon Ish and the way you describe him, isn‘t it possible that if he had dedicated his time to medical research rather than full time Torah study, he might have discovered a cure for cancer?”
“That‘s a possibility although there is no guarantee that it would have happened,” I answered.
“Well, let‘s assume for a moment that he did discover the cure for cancer. Would that not have had a greater impact on the world than his contributions to learning?”
This is certainly a very legitimate question and one that is commonly asked in various forms (as I will illustrate shortly). I applaud Rabbi Landesman for providing a very fitting and poignant response:
“Quantitatively I think you might say that given that more people might have benefited. Qualitatively I‘m not sure, because none of us knows precisely how important Torah learning is to the preservation of natural order. When the Talmud tells us ein ha-olam mitkayem ella al hevel pihem shel tinokot shel beit rabban – the world only exists because of the study of the children – they were telling us that Torah study is the energy that fuels nature. Take it away and natural order collapses. Had the Chazon Ish gone into medical research – had he become A. Y. Karelitz M.D. – who knows how much quality Torah learning would be missing in this world.”
Although I thought that his response was a true answer and appropriate to a more secular mindset, I also thought that it slightly missed the mark.
He is saying that based on how we measure (qualitative vs. quantitative), the achievement in Torah can be considered no less far-reaching. With this response, Rabbi Landesman concedes that the Chazon Ish's great achievements in learning may have come at the expense of great achievements in medicine. Though Torah study supplies the energy that fuels nature, it does not directly alleviate the plight of cancer sufferers.
I am not so sure about that. And I think Rabbi Landesman missed out on an opportunity to deliver an hashkafic message that is simpler, less esoteric and more relevant to the petitioner's question about curing cancer. So I stepped in to fill the void. Here is the comment that I posted on Cross-Currents:
Incidentally, as I have written in the main theme of my book and in numerous posts, this concept applies to every malady that affects mankind, not just sickness. War, economic turmoil and poverty, infertility, Shalom bayis - all of it is here because we are not living up to our potential in Avodas Hashem.
I have likewise dealt with the question of “If the Chazon Ish would have been able to cure cancer…” but in a slightly different guise. The way I am asked the question is: “If all of the Jews would sit and learn Torah 24/7 as advocated by Ravi Shimon Bar Yochai (Brachos 35b), who would be the doctors to heal those who get sick?” My response addresses both forms of the question and follows a more theological track.
For starters, we can always rely on the response presented by RaShb”Y himself in Brachos 35b which is that non-Jews would come voluntarily and fill that role. HKBH is the Chonen L’Adam Daas and He is quite capable of inspiring whoever He wants – Jewish or not – with the requisite wisdom to make the medical discoveries that would help mankind. If HKBH wants a cure for cancer to be found, He has no small pool of “servants” that He can choose Himself to lead to the right place.
Nevertheless, I might expect this response to fall short of satisfying the questioner because he would ask: “But the Chazon Ish was blessed with extraordinary brilliance and understanding, why not assume that he is the ‘chosen servant’?”
So here is where I take the theological track:
HKBH tells us Himself in no less than 3 places in the Torah (okay, once it’s through Moshe) that if we faithfully follow His dictates, we won’t get sick! What this says is that the only reason we have cancer is because we are not “mushlam” (complete) in our avodas Hashem. If we would be, there would be no cancer. This is G-d’s promise in no less than 3 places in the Torah (Shmos 16:26, 23:25 and Devarim 7:16).
What the Torah is telling us is that working toward “shleimus” in Avodas Hashem is the cure for cancer (or – the way to avoid getting it in the first place. ‘An ounce of prevention…’). As such, one who devotes his life to helping Jews fulfill their role as a Mamleches Kohanim and a Goy Kadosh - as the Chazon Ish did - is doing more to cure cancer than anybody in medical school.
Yes, I know we are far from mushlamim and in our day even Kedoshim are stricken with the dreaded disease R”L, but had the Chazon Ish been A.Y. Karelitz M.D., we would be that much further from true Avodas Hashem and the cancers that much worse.
Y. Hirshman - Achas L’Maala V’Sheva L’Matta (1a7b)
So if anybody asks: If every Jewish male 18-26 is studying in Yeshiva, who would protect us and fight our enemies? Here is the answer:
Why is there war? And why do we need soldiers? Because we are not committed enough to Torah learning. If we were (Vayikra 26:3), there would not be any war (Vayikra 26:6) and we wouldn't need any soldiers.
Why is there poverty in the world? Because we are not careful in gezel (Targum YB"U Shmos 20:13).
And why are there droughts and water shortages? Because we bear false witness (Targum YB"U ibid.)
And why is there poor shalom bayis? Because we do not do G-d's will (Mishlei 16:7 and Yalkut Shimoni 954). If we did, we would not need marriage counselors and divorce courts.
And why are there infertile couples? Because we (i.e., collective society - not necessarily the individual couples) are not careful on the light mitzvos that people trample with the heels of their feet (Devarim 7:12). If we were, we would not need fertility clinics (Devarim 7:14).
And who tells us exactly how to perform these "light" mitzvos properly so we know all the Halachic nuances and can avoid "trampling them with the heels of our feet"? And how to do the ratzon Hashem so we can have Shalom Bayis? And how to deal in dinei mammonos so we can forstall poverty and avoid droughts?
The Chazon Ish, that's who. And other Gedolim like him.
So here they are (or were), doing the work of these cancer researchers and fertility experts and marriage counselors and of the entire IDF.
So what do we need them for?
Well, somebody has to win those Nobel prizes.