There is nothing like going to the dentist to elicit genuine hirhurei teshuvah. In fact, every step of the way to the dentist’s office involved a virtual verbatim illustration of the Rambam’s prescribed stages of the teshuvah process. There was certainly heartfelt remorse for past misdeeds, near-tearful confession and sincere resolve to never repeat past offenses. Unlike the Divine repentance process, however, my 13-year-old daughter’s teshuvah did not miraculously transform zedonos to zechuyos.
Her cavities unfortunately remained intact and her rendezvous with root canal treatment loomed ominously close. In fact, we arrived just minutes before her scheduled appointment, with no let-up in the mumbling and pledges to change, even as we signed in and took seats in the waiting room. If anything, the murmuring intensified as the appointed hour neared, particularly as the sounds of drilling and crying wafted out from behind the dentist’s closed door.
The hour was already late, and most people were home enjoying dinner before beginning the frantic bedtime routine. Both the waiting room and the receptionists had a tired, battle-weary look, attesting to the end of a long busy day. Only one other patient occupied another of the royal blue upholstered chairs, a young boy with peyos framing his round face. A few moments later, a bearded man, obviously the boy’s father, rushed into the room. The receptionist looked up and announced in Hebrew, “We’ve been trying to reach you. Your son’s appointment was cancelled. His dentist received a Tzav Shmoneh and had to report for reserve duty.”
The father shrugged, resigned to the realities of life in the Holy Land, thanked the secretaries and hurriedly accompanied his son out of the office.
Whereupon, my daughter who had overheard the entire exchange, turned to me wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Oh, how I wish my appointment had been with that dentist, instead of the woman!” Already at her tender age, she was experiencing the seemingly arbitrary nature of our day-to-day existence and lamenting the unfairness of it all. Soon enough she was to discover the unshakeable truth, that nothing in this world is ever actually random. But alas, I digress…
To compound her disappointment, the door to her dentist’s office opened just then and its occupants traipsed out, with nary a whimper to be heard. The deer-in-the-headlights look in my daughter’s eyes proclaimed, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you.” She had an expression of unadulterated terror on her face as we answered the dentist’s summons, rose and entered her office.
The woman looked over my daughter’s chart and a perplexed look came over her face.
“Did she have the root canal taken care of yet?” she inquired.
“No,” I responded, “That is why we came today.”
The dentist shook her head from side to side and explained the protocol to me, in her heavily accented Hebrew/Russian, as if to a somewhat slow child.
“First you see Doctor X. He takes care of the root canal. You may need one, two or even three visits. Then, you schedule an appointment with me and I put on the silver crown.”
My husband had accompanied our daughter to her previous dental appointment, had told me about the necessity for a follow-up visit and relayed the assurance that we would be called to schedule an appointment.
After a number of months had passed with no phone call, I had decided to ignore their “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” policy and phone them. I had explained to the secretary that my daughter had met the woman dentist and now required a root canal. Due to a misunderstanding, she had inadvertently set up the appointment with the same doctor.