The news was heartbreaking.

Charles Krauthammer revealed last week that doctors have told him he has but a few weeks left to live. Despite being paralyzed due to a freak accident when he was young, Krauthammer graduated from Harvard Medical School, achieved renown in the field of psychiatry, and then became a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist. His articles are brilliant and as one of the leading intellectuals of our times he made the moral case for Israel on a consistent basis better than perhaps any other journalist.

Only just a month ago the Washington Post reported that Krauthammer said he appeared to have recovered from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor last August and was cancer free. All that changed last week. In a profoundly moving public letter to his readers and friends Krauthammer wrote, “However, recent tests revealed that the cancer has returned and is aggressive and rapidly spreading. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

It is nothing short of a tragedy.

From a Jewish perspective however there is another response which needs to be expressed – both as it relates to the verdict of the doctors for Krauthammer’s imminent death as well as to the countless other occasions when practitioners of medicine choose the additional role of prophets.

Talmudic sources long ago questioned the right of human beings to practice medicine inasmuch as it might be considered interference with the Divine will which decreed sickness. The biblical source permitting the practice of medicine is clear. The Torah gives us the mandate to heal: “He shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:19). The Almighty grants us the gift as well as the responsibility to partner with Him in the preservation of life.

But there remains one caveat. Doctors may diagnose but they may not affirm despair; they have a mandate to heal but never to predict how long a patient will live given his or her condition.

Remarkably enough the Bible tells us that prognosticating imminent death is beyond even a true prophet. In the book of Isaiah we are told:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, ‘This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people: This is what the Lord, God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.’” (2 Kings 20:1-5; Isaiah 38:1-5)

The prophet had told the king that he would not recover. But he did – and he lived on for another 15 years. Hezekiah did have a fatal illness, yet prayer was able to overcome it. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it so beautifully, “From this the Talmud infers, ‘Even if a sharp sword rests upon your neck, you should not desist from prayer’. We pray for a good fate but we do not reconcile ourselves to fatalism.”

The Talmud only permits him to heal; it does not permit him to pronounce hopelessness.

My father, of blessed memory, told me of a congregant of his who wept bitter tears when his doctor told him he had but a few months left to live. His despair was indescribable, his depression unbearable. My father explained to him that his doctor, with all of his medical knowledge, was entering an area forbidden to him. The Talmud only permits him to heal; it does not permit him to pronounce hopelessness. Indeed that congregant lived another ten years – nine years more than his doctor who unexpectedly predeceased him.

Charles Krauthammer may pass away in a short time. Yet it is conceivable that God will decide that in light of all of the good he continues to accomplish, He wants him around longer. The Almighty is quite capable of overriding medical prophecy.

For me personally, as some of you know, that resonates very powerfully. Seven years ago, as part of my annual physical examination, my doctor told me I needed to call my wife so that both of us could at the same time hear what he had to tell us. The gist of it was that I have a fatal disease for which there is no cure. After the diagnosis, the usual timeframe is about six months left to live.

It is seven years later – and I’ve just written this article, continue to teach and to lecture, and thank God for every moment of life He is kind enough to grant me. And yes, miracles from God still happen in spite of medical predictions. And that is something all of us need to constantly remember.