VaYikra 5774 -- Belated Confirmation; An Atzeres Tefillah
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 6, 2014
A Belated Confirmation
I'm in the midst of one of those periodic speaking tours that make it difficult to find a block of time for the sustained thinking required for an analytical piece. Fortunately, every such trip always involves meeting new people and hearing stories that deserve to be shared with a broader public.
On a recent visit to Toronto, my Shabbos host, Dr. Earl Nussbaum, shared a story that confirmed for him that he had indeed chosen the correct course in life for himself.
On a day he was supposed to pick up his daughter after school at a bus stop exposed to the elements, Earl discovered that his secretary had scheduled a late afternoon appointment with an elderly woman, who had previously been seen by another cardiologist in his group practice and should have been assigned to him again.
Though irritated, he knew his colleague would never agree to see a patient not on his schedule for the day, even if she was elderly and already in the office. So he met with her rather than raise a ruckus with the secretaries.
After speaking to the patient and examining her, he ordered a series of tests, and scheduled a follow-up appointment to go over the results. Her results were fine. But to his surprise, when Dr. Nussbaum informed the elderly woman that her heart was fine and her symptoms not a cause of concern, she showed no relief and remained completely affectless.
At that point, her husband confided to Dr. Nussbaum that his wife suffered from chronic anxiety and asked if he could prescribe some medication. Dr. Nussbaum was once again was scheduled to pick up his daughter and tried to bring the appointment to a close: "Nervous? What is there to be nervous about? You should be happy that your heart is ok?"
But now the husband indicated with a hand gesture that matters were not so simple, and looked to his wife for permission to share something private with the doctor. She nodded.
"We had a tragedy in our life," he began. Though it was not his style to be nosy, Dr. Nussbaum pressed him for further details.
"Thirty-five years ago, our 18-year-old daughter was killed when her car was hit by a truck," the elderly husband continued. For no particular reason, Dr. Nussbaum asked where the accident took place, and when he was told Montreal, he pressed for further details of the location. The old man answered, "In St. Laurent."
"I was there," Dr. Nussbaum blurted out. The scene at the busy intersection at the end of the street on which he lived flashed vividly in front of him. A garbage truck had struck a small Austin mini on the passenger side, with such force that the front wheel of the truck was bent inwards. A body lay on the grass nearby, under a tarp.
Long after the gawkers had left the scene, the curious ten-year old remained. He was there when the truck from the morgue arrived and lifted the tarp to reveal a beautiful young girl, with long blonde hair. As the morgue workers lifted her, the young boy noted that there was no disfiguration of any kind. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Even the way her limbs hung, as she was being carried, did not suggest any broken bones. For over a week afterwards, Earl had nightmares every night, which left the scene permanently engraved in his memory.
Now, 35 years later in his office, Dr. Nussbaum was able to tell the old lady, "She did not suffer at all."
"Really?" the old woman replied,. "I saw her afterwards, and I always wondered about that."
With the benefit of his expertise as a cardiologist, Dr. Nussbaum recognized that death had been caused by the rupturing of the connection between the pulmonary artery and the aorta. At birth, the ligamentum arteriosum forms out of scar tissue, and connects the two parts of the circulatory system. In high impact injuries, that ligament pulls out of the aorta, like a plug ripped from its socket. Death is instantaneous.
Soon after Dr. Nussbaum offered his eye-witness testimony and expert interpretation, his wife Debbie, also a doctor, knocked on the door. When she poked her head into the room, the old lady told her in a calm voice, "He will tell you some story tonight."
A year later, Dr. Nussbaum saw the elderly couple again. But they were so transformed from the previous year that he did not recognize them, until they reminded him of the car accident he had witnessed as a young boy. They had undergone a total metamorphosis, and were the type of cute old couple younger people seize upon to offer hope of a joyful old age. So striking was the change that Dr. Nussbaum asked to take a picture of them.
At the subsequent year's exam, the elderly lady again exuded happiness. When she and her husband came back a few weeks later to receive some test results – again positive -- Dr. Nussbaum could not restrain himself from asking about the obvious change in their entire demeanor.
She told him that learning that their daughter had not suffered constituted only the beginning of the answer. On one of their subsequent visits, Dr. Nussbaum had given them Rabbi Aroush's Garden of Emunah, and that had been the key: the knowledge that everything is from Hashem that lies at the sefer's core. Dr. Nussbaum had completely forgotten the gift.
This entire story took nearly four decades to unfold. Had Dr. Nussbaum not initially agreed to see a patient whom he could justifiably have refused to examine, it would never have taken place. But far more important from his point of view is the confirmation offered for his life choices: first, to become a cardiologist and second to become a Torah-observant Jew.
The first could not have seemed a more unlikely career for ten-year-old Earl Nussbaum, who suffered from dyslexia. Yet without his expertise as a cardiologist, he could never have offered closure to the still grieving couple about their daughter's death.
No less unlikely at the time the young boy witnessed the transfer of the girl's lifeless body was that he would become an observant Jew. Yet had he not, he would never have offered The Garden of Emunah and transformed their later years. For Dr. Nussbaum, the meeting with the two elderly Holocaust survivors confirmed two of his most important life choices.
An Atzeres Tefillah
It is with good reason that this week's huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da'as of the elders of the generation.
In every chareidi history of American Jewry's responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l'gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym"sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)
Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught him that should be the guiding light for all who speak in a public forum. Rabbi Lorincz had prepared a fiery oration attacking Chaim Weitzmann to be delivered in the Knesset prior to the vote on a second-term for Weitzmann as president. As always, he submitted the speech to the Chazon ish days in advance of its scheduled delivery. And when he heard nothing from the Chazon Ish, he assumed that it was approved.
Just as he was about to mount the podium in the Knesset to deliver his speech against Weizmann, who was known to be hostile to Torah Jews, a messenger entered the plenum with instructions from the Chazon Ish that Rabbi Lorincz should not deliver the speech and should instead should absent himself from the Knesset for the duration of deliberations.
Later, the Chazon Ish explained to Rabbi Lorincz the basic calculation behind his instruction. Weizmann's re-election was assured. So Rabbi Lorincz's speech could have no possible positive effect. The only thing that it could achieve would be to reinforce President Weitzmann in his contempt for Torah Jewry.
That basic calculation applies today. In politics alliances change frequently and today's adversary may well become tomorrow's ally. As threatening as the Shaked Report is – particularly the criminalization provisions -- it is far from representing the limit of possible damage to a vulnerable Torah community, and we will in the future need every potential ally we can get, including MKs from the national religious community.
In addition, if we permit ourselves to spew forth venom and hatred, however understandable our imprecations may be, we not only reinforce the reciprocal hatred of our enemies, but also create sympathy for them, and thereby strengthen their hand.
Here another page from Jewish history is relevant. At a gathering to protest the statement of a certain rabbi who had spoken in a denigrating fashion of the saintly Chofetz Chaim, one of the speakers used the term, yemach shmo against the rabbi who had insulted the Chofetz Chaim. As soon as he did so, he turned the subject of the protest into a nirdaf (the one pursued), and entirely took the momentum out of the rallies called to protest the insult to the honor of the Chofetz Chaim.
The ultimate support for the atzeres tefillah, however, comes from Megillas Esther, which we will soon be reading. Mordechai called upon the Jews of Shushan to fast and pray for Esther – to direct their words Heavenward – not to waste words on expressing their contempt for Haman.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Jewish Ethics, Personalities
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