Tikkun Olam In 'Grey’s Anatomy'
Credit: ABC

How Doctor Kepner's conversation with an ailing rabbi saved her Christian faith.

How do you get one of a medical show’s only religious characters back in touch with her faith in Jesus? You have her talk to a rabbi. That’s what happened on the 17th episode of this season’s “Grey’s Anatomy” a few weeks ago.

Dr. April Kepner’s (Sarah Drew) Christian faith has long been integral to her character’s arc. This is a big deal in a show that we usually think of as completely secular. These are doctors and scientists, people of reason and logic, who often find faith in a mystical being, and the rules and lifestyle that come with it, unreasonable and silly. And so, ever since April’s faith on the show has been revealed, religious folk have looked to her as a source of reliability. But the great faith of April Kepner, which survived the death of her first child and the divorce from a husband she still loved, finally suffered a fatal blow this season.

In episode 10, titled “My Personal Jesus,” all of April’s patients die in one day, some from the most horrible of circumstances, like a mother dying inexplicably after giving birth to her child (coincidentally, this is the wife of April’s ex-fiancé), and a black boy having been shot to death by police after being caught climbing through his own window because he forgot his keys. April likens her experiences to that of Job’s, receiving so many tests of her faith from God in a single day, that she eventually breaks. And so, the usually unbearably perky April becomes disillusioned with life and, more importantly, with God.

This brings us to that 17th episode, titled “One Day Like This.” In this episode, April cares for Rabbi Eli Rigler (Saul Rubinek), who has an extreme and random reaction to antibiotics that were prescribed to him. We quickly learn that Rabbi Rigler, or “Eli” as he asks April to call him, will not make it through the night. As she treats him, he notices that something weighs heavily on her and asks her to open up to him. “Dr. Kepner,” he says, “You really think I can’t tell when someone’s in pain too?”

He convinces her to speak her mind, telling her that the Talmud says that if you can take away a 1/60 of a person’s pain, then that’s goodness, that’s God. Being honest with him, Kepner says that throughout her whole life, she followed God’s rules to which he responds by asking where it says in the Bible that following His will guarantees her anything. Rigler goes on to recount the sufferings that the Avot (the Fathers) and Imahot (the Mothers) went through, and even goes on to say that Jesus got a “raw deal.”

“Faith wouldn’t be real faith,” Eli tells her. “If you only believe when things are good.” When April asks if that just means that the world is cruel and random, he tells her that she’s acting like a child. He says that we don’t get to know why certain things happen, why some people live and some people die. He doesn’t get to know why a pill that saves most people’s lives is killing him. Finally, Rabbi Rigler explains to April that Tikkun Olam means “that the world is full of brokenness, and that it’s our job to put it back together again.” It’s only a minute after this that he passes away, one of his last full sentences telling April that by letting him help her, she has taken away some of his pain.

Something that’s so special about this episode, is that we actually get to see a part of Jewish philosophy on full display, a concept that’s both insightful, and positive. When Judaism gets a shoutout on television, most of the time it’s either the******of a joke or part of a throwaway line about a character who’s Jewish, but doesn’t actually practice. On “Grey’s Anatomy,” however, we actually get to see a rabbi teaching someone about Tikkun Olam, one of the most beautiful topics in Judaism.

For seven long episodes, we watched April in pain, believing in a cruel world, but we finally get to see her heal. Ironically, it’s not the physical healing she does on a daily basis as a doctor, but a deeper, spiritual healing that affects her entire outlook on life. This is even more significant since we know that her character will be leaving the show at the end of the season. Nevertheless, there’s still a mystery on why she’s leaving; Doctor Kepner has been a staple on the show for the last nine seasons, beginning in 2009. Still, it’s good to know she won’t be leaving without being restored to her usual cheerful and faithful self. One could even say that she’s been put back together again.



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