I was able to go 57 1/2 years without needing to travel in a vehicle on Shabbat…until yesterday, that is.
A few days ago, I found myself in the ER of Hadassa Ein Karem in Jerusalem with a torn retina. Since I had had a similar event four years earlier, I was only slightly anxious, knowing what was awaiting me with laser surgery. In a relatively short time, I had the surgery and was discharged from the hospital, arriving home, only hours after leaving. All was doing fine–until Friday night.
Just as I was getting ready to go to sleep, I began to see flashes in the corner of my eye. Since that is a sign of a potential upcoming new tear in the retina, I sat at the edge of the bed to see if I would have any other symptoms. I felt that if I wished it away, it would stop. As luck would have it, I went to sleep with no other incidents…until the early morning when I woke up. Once again, I had other symptoms (no need for gory details!) and thought of the ER doctor’s parting words: “If you have any symptoms, no matter when, please come right back to the ER.”
And now, it was Shabbat morning, and I needed to go to the hospital. As a rav, I have had the question come to me numerous times about “what if” someone needs to go to the hospital on Shabbat–best ways to go; issues to deal with; and on and on. But this time, it was MY turn, and I was the patient. I consulted briefly with a couple of people, and off I went in an ambulance to the hospital.
When the ambo arrived (that’s what we call itת when we watch enough medical dramas), the paramedic got out and wished me a Shabbat Shalom and inquired as to my health. But after that initial greeting of Shabbat Shalom, it felt like anything BUT Shabbat. Sitting in a vehicle, watching people still going to shul dressed in Shabbat clothesת while at the same time hearing the chatter on the dispatch radio in the ambulance, all of that created for me a dissonance that I had never really experienced before. I think the technical term is “weird.”
(It should go without saying but going to the hospital on Shabbat is a necessity in cases of emergency and even in certain cases when it is not! One should never play games with health on Shabbat or any other day. Halacha is replete with excoriations of individuals who “hesitate” in tending to a medical emergency on Shabbat.)
Arriving at the hospital, going through the “reception” process, and being directed to the Eye Department, all seemed to occur in a bubble in which Shabbat was not “there.” Yes, on the one hand, much of the hospital was empty and there was some actual form of quiet; nevertheless, being surrounded by equipment, telephones, writing and all other forms of activity that is not done on Shabbat–all of that gave me a strange feeling, even knowing I HAD to be there.
I was fortunate to be told that, for now, I did not need additional surgery; yet the doctors said it was indeed imperative that I came in the first place. No, they said, it was not a wasted trip at all.
While I came all prepared to remain the rest of Shabbat in the hospital, for various reasons, I was, indeed, able to get home later in the early afternoon. (As to the reasons for that and as to the Halachot of whether or not one may/may not return from the hospital on Shabbat–all of that must be discussed with one’s Rav and is beyond the scope of a blog post.)
In the car on the way back, I once again experienced the same feelings I had when I first left early in the morning. I watched as people streamed out of shul and headed home for their Seudat Shabbat. And here I was…in a car. Yes, a very strange and uncomfortable feeling. And yes, it was indeed weird.
But all of that dissipated as soon as I walked in the door to my home. I entered as my family and some guests were just about to eat, and a calm sense of peace and serenity washed over me. I was back “in” Shabbat! No machines, no phones, no writing, no radios. All that there was was Challa and food and zemirot and–rest.
I had left the peace and serenity of Shabbat for a few hours, but returned with an even greater appreciation for the best gift Hashem ever gave the Jewish People. I love Shabbat, even if I had to “leave” Shabbat for a little while.
I also realized that as much as I always have loved and appreciated Shabbat, that being without that spiritual force, even for a few hours, gave me an even deeper love for this day of rest.