I was driving home from New York with my family at the end of our vacation when my cell phone rang. Since we were in Tennessee and I wasn’t sure if it was legal to talk on the phone, my wife picked it up and said, “Hello.”
“Rebbetzin, this is Hal (not his real name). I know that you are on vacation, but I must speak with the Rabbi.”
“Hal,” my wife responded, “my husband would love to talk with you, yet we think State Law prohibits the driver from using his phone. Can I give him a message?”
“Rebbetzin, I know that you are on vacation and I hesitated to call and disturb you. Yet, I need your help. A few days ago I started to experience pain in my back. It intensified and my doctor advised me to undergo an MRI scan. After spending an uncomfortable two hours in the donut-shaped machine, the results pointed to a blood clot on my spine. I am scheduled for surgery tomorrow by two neurosurgeons that have 70 years of experience between them. I am both frightened and worried, and I am calling for a spiritual injection.”
My wife relayed to me what Hal told her, and since it wasn’t safe to pull over to the side of the busy Interstate Highway that we were on, I asked my wife to put the cell phone on speaker.
I raised my voice and said, “Hal, I’m sorry to hear about your situation, but I am happy that you called. I should arrive in Dallas late tomorrow night and then I will come to visit you the next day. Yet now I would like my family and me to say a Psalm that the surgeons and their assistants should be good messengers from Hashem to enable you to have a speedy recovery.”
My wife, my children, and I recited Psalm 130 through the speakerphone and asked Hal if there was anything more that I could do for him.
“Rabbi,” Hal replied, “I truly appreciated the prayers and your being there for me. I am happy we talked and now I am more prepared for the surgery. I look forward to seeing you post-op. Have a safe trip.”
The next day, Hal underwent a six-hour surgery where the surgeons had to delicately scrape away the clot, which had affixed itself to his spine. Though they were optimistic regarding the results, they forecasted a rather lengthy recovery.
When I arrived at the hospital the following day I was relieved to see that Hal was resting comfortably. After exchanging some good-natured pleasantries, Hal said, “Rabbi, could you please help me put on my Tefillin?”
“Hal,” I replied, “I would be delighted to assist you.”
After Hal said his “Brachos” and donned his Tefillin, he and I slowly said the “Shema Yisroel” and its first paragraph. While he was wearing his Tefillin, I mentioned to him the following Dvar Torah. The Tefillin for the hand and the Tefillin for the head contain the exact same four paragraphs from the Torah: “Shema and V’Ahavta,” “V’Hayah Im Shemoah,” “Kadesh Li Kol Bechor,” and “V’Hayah Ki ” The only difference between the parchments of the two Tefillin is that in the Tefillin of the head, each paragraph is written on its own parchment, whereas in the Tefillin of the hand, all four paragraphs are written on one long parchment.
The Meiri, a classical commentator on the Mishnah, offers the following beautiful insight. He points out that there are four senses in our head – sight, taste, hearing, and smell – and one sense in our hand – touch. The four parchments in our head Tefillin are there to guide and direct our four senses located in our head to conform to the dictates of our Holy Torah. We should only see, taste, hear, and smell what Hashem wants us to. The one parchment in our hand Tefillin is there to guide and direct our sense of touch to hold and to feel what we are supposed to.
“Rabbi, that is a beautiful thought to think about, especially when one wears his Tefillin. I am becoming tired and I would appreciate it if you would help me remove my Tefillin. My doctor should be coming by at any time now to check my progress.”
As I was helping Hal wrap up his Tefillin, I told him, “Hal, I would like to tell you a story that I think you and your doctor will enjoy. Dave went to see his physician for an annual checkup, and his wife received a phone call stating that Dave had won the $50 million lottery. Though his wife was ecstatic, she was afraid that her husband would faint when he heard the news. She telephoned the doctor and related her fears. The doctor told her not to worry, that he would break the news to Dave in a very gentle way.
“When Dave entered the examining room the doctor casually asked, ‘Dave, if you won $100,000, what would you do?’ ‘Doc, I would buy a brand-new car.’ ‘What would you do if you won $1 million?’ ‘Doc, I would buy a new house.’ ‘What would you do if you won $50 million?’ Dave thought for a few moments and then said, ‘Doc that is a tremendous amount of money. You know you have been my doctor and the doctor for my family for the past 25 years. I really appreciate all that you do for my family and me. If I won $50 million I would definitely give half of it to you.’ Whereupon the doctor fainted!”
Hal and I laughed, and he assured me that he would tell his physician the story in a way that would cause him not to faint.
Rabbi Aryeh Rodin is the founding Jewish chaplain at Medical City Hospital, Dallas, Texas, where he has served for the past 20 years. He implemented a kosher food program at the hospital. Rabbi Rodin is also the founding rabbi of Congregation Ohev Shalom. He is a rebbi at the Texas Torah Institute, the boys’ Yeshiva High School and Yeshiva Gedolah in Dallas, which attracts students from around the country. He has lectured throughout the United States, and his articles have appeared in both Judaic and secular publications. Rabbi Rodin can be contacted with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.