In 1982, Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe, a fit Marathon runner, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Hairy Cell Leukemia, for which at that time there is no known treatment. Jaffe and his best friend Rabbi James Rudin tell the inspirational story of Hirshel’s agonizing physical and psychological struggle with his illness and how he miraculously overcomes it.
While over the years since Jaffe’s ordeal there have been medical advancements in the treatment of Hairy Cell Leukemia as with all other forms of cancer, the psychological problems and theological issues raised when Hirshel learns of his illness are still relevant today: Why me? Hirshel asks. Or, rather, Why Not Me? Why did I have to suffer and face death? Why does anyone have to suffer? What kind of God causes suffering or, at best, allows it? What should we expect of God? Why is there evil in the world? How can we cope with it or overcome it? What is our best response to it? What, if anything, can we learn from it? Who comforts someone whose profession, a rabbi, is to comfort others? Who comforts the comforter?
The possible answers to these questions from the Jewish tradition that Jaffe and Rabbi James and Marcia Rudin offer show how astonishingly relevant Judaism is in understanding human psychology and responding to the existential problems we have faced since the beginning of human life: What does Judaism say about God’s role in suffering and comforting? About the importance of friendship? About visiting the ill? About the efficacy of prayer? About how much and what kind of medical treatment should be administered? About death and the process of dying? About afterlife?