Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Vilna Gaon was once called upon to litigate between a doctor and patient.

This doctor was a specialist who viewed pain and suffering as a blessing to the medical profession. He charged exorbitant sums for his services and never treated a needy person for free.


One day, a poor woman became critically ill and the distraught husband ran to the specialist and begged him to save her life.

“My dear man,” said the doctor coldly, “I may treat your wife for weeks and you don’t have sufficient funds to compensate me.”

“Doctor,” cried the desperate man, “you save her life and I’ll pay you every kopek even if I have to sell my house.”

“And suppose I can’t save her,” queried the physician, “won’t you pay me then?”

“I’ll pay you whether you cure her or kill her,” shouted the loyal husband.

After treating the woman for a few weeks, she passed away.

With unseeming haste, the doctor sent the bereft man a bill for 1,000 rubles, but it received no attention. Subsequent letters were equally ignored. Eventually the doctor sued the delinquent debtor and the judge, seeing the poverty-stricken defendant, referred the case to the Vilna Gaon.

The Gaon heard the arguments and regarded the two litigants thoughtfully. It was unjust, thought the Gaon, to make the poor man sell his house and give the money to the avaricious practitioner and he determined to protect him.

After a few moments, the Gaon called the doctor to him.

“What was your agreement with the defendant?” inquired the Gaon, again.

“Our agreement was that I was to get paid whether I cured or killed her.”

“Did you cure her?” asked the Gaon.

“No,” replied the doctor, reluctantly. “It was impossible.”

“Did you kill her?” was the next question.

“Oh no, I should say not,” answered the doctor.

“Then,” declared the Gaon, “you have no claim, for you neither cured her nor killed her.”