That Rosh Hashanah, the Hatzalah dispatcher did not answer any emergency calls during shul. Or so I thought.
“Usually the calls come while the Rav is giving his drasha,” the dispatcher later told me. “This time, I received a call while the kehillah was in the middle of U’Nesaneh Tokef, so no one but me heard it.” In all, she had fielded quite a few calls: a couple of women in labor, and a number of medical emergencies, including at least one person who collapsed during davening.
I suspected something was amiss on the second day when our usual fantastic baal tokeiah did not blow shofar for the congregation. I had no idea why until after davening was over and we commenced the long walk back home. All I knew was that his father had suffered a catastrophic accident a week before, and was lying comatose and apparently brain-dead in one of the major hospitals. Sadly, there seemed to be no hope for a full recovery or one that included any semblance of quality of life. So the siblings had already made their tearful peace with the dire situation, and prayed that their dear parent’s passing would be as swift and painless as possible.
Besides for the matter of the baal tokeiah, it happened that our usual baal koreh was in the U.S., only scheduled to return after Yom Tov. Thus, we had close to 200 mispallelim for Rosh Hashanah, with no baal koreh for both days, and ostensibly no baal tokeiah on the second day.
That is when Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s policy of “Hikdim refuah lamakah” came into play. One of the rebbeim in my husband’s yeshiva lives in our community. He is a brilliant talmid chacham and the quintessential ‘”ish eshkolos” (person of many talents). There is seemingly nothing that he cannot do – and do perfectly. Aside from teaching, he had also been the rav of a local shul, until he decided to quit that position several months ago.
Because of his strong kesher to my husband, he and his family had opted to join our shul for Rosh Hashanah. So, serendipitously, he was available – not to mention ready, willing, and able – to don all the hats that had suddenly been vacated. He leined meticulously, with absolute clarity, on both days of Yom Tov, and he likewise blew one hundred impeccable kolos on the second day of Rosh Hashanah on what was clearly very short notice.
The drama that, unbeknownst to me and the other females behind the mechitza, had resulted in the eleventh-hour switch of the baal tokeiah is that our resident shofar blower also moonlights as a wonderful Hatzalah volunteer. In that capacity, he took a call early on the second day, and was dispatched to the very hospital where his father was in the ICU. After dropping off the patient and attending to his needs, he took the opportunity to check on his own father – only to discover that his father was no longer in his assigned room.
It turned out that the family’s sincere entreaties had been answered, and their patriarch had passed relatively peacefully from this world to the next.
The son returned home with a jumble of conflicting emotions – and a multitude of halachic questions as well. Was he an onen, forbidden to perform mitzvot until after his father’s levayah, or not? Apparently his situation was far more complex than the standard, being that he lived in a different city than the hospital but had found out about his father’s passing while in the same city. In addition, the second day of Rosh Hashanah differs from other holidays on the Jewish calendar. In fact, levayas and kevurahs are theoretically permissible (though in this case, the levaya did not take place until motzaei Yom Tov). In the end, it was paskened that he would be allowed to participate in the Yom Tov davening as an individual, but not to blow shofar for the entire assemblage.
Nevertheless, thanks to the excellent substitute who was there to save the day as both a baal tokeiah and baal koreh, we managed to have a beautiful and inspiring Rosh Hashanah davening.