On this daf, we find a dispute about whether there is “zikah:” a spiritual bond between the widow who hasn’t undergone yibum or chalitzah and her deceased husband’s brothers. In the realm of the soul, sometimes spiritual connections are not so clear, but they still have very important effects.
There was once a young father who became very ill with a rare form of cancer. The doctors regretfully explained that there was only one therapy with any chance of helping him in America. They didn’t recommend that he go, however, since the chances of this therapy helping him was well under one percent.
That Friday, the askonim and the worried wife of the ill man went to Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and asked whether the husband should try the therapy despite its unlikely chances of success. “Since the chances of success are virtually non-existent, no,” answered the gadol.
After a moment’s pause to absorb this negative reply, the man’s wife spoke up. “According to the doctors’ prognosis, I will be a widow within a month at the most. I can accept that, but I wonder what I will tell my children. When they ask if absolutely everything was done to preserve the life of their father, can I say that it was? If the real answer is ‘yes,’ I accept that.”
Rav Elyashiv tuned to the askanim. “Go, right now, and procure tickets for the very next flight to America. When you arrive, check this man into the hospital for the therapy.”
The askanim were astounded, “We should take the Friday afternoon flight and be mechalel Shabbos for this?”
The gadol was unfazed. “Absolutely. This is a case of pikuach nefesh that is docheh Shabbos.”
Without waiting, they followed their instructions.
When they arrived, the doctors in charge of the expensive program had great reservations about admitting him. “Didn’t they tell you that this therapy has only a miniscule chance of assisting him?”
Finally, they admitted him and began the therapy. They were amazed to see that it brought him immediate improvement. By the time he completed the course, he was on his way to recovery.
The most astounded person was the medical askan involved with the case. He had been to the gadol with others in this situation and had always been told not to do the therapy. He wondered how the gadol had known that this time was different. Why had he changed his mind so abruptly?
Rav Elyashiv’s answer showed him the gadol’s incredible sensitivity to what influences psak. “When I saw the complete acceptance of his wife—she was already planning to face her difficult situation with complete emunah, only considering her children’s reaction—I realized that we had to try. It is forbidden to deny a woman with such profound connection any chance of recovery. Even the most unlikely chance can well succeed in the merit of her bitachon and prayers!” (Reishah D’Galusa, Part I).