Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Story, Not My Own

I'm not quite ready yet to risk my own voice, but I would like to share one of Rachel Remen's stories:

"As a young pediatrician, I had as a patient a twelve-year-old girl with Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lympht nodes, who had come from New York City for radiation treatment at the Stanford linear accelerator. Her father, an Orthodox rabbi, was deeply traditional and obeyed all of the many rituals and laws of this ancient religion. For the Orthodox, the holiest day of the year is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for sins committed. On this day, among other things, money is not handled, the skins of animals and even leather shoes are not worn, and one does not ride in cars of use electricity for any purpose. Shosana's eighth treatment fell on Yom Kippur. the accelerator was too far for this ill young girl to reach by walking and her father came to see me to discuss this. He explained the importance of the meticulous obervance of Yom Kippur. He proposed skipping the treatment.

"'No,' I said, 'The timing of these treatments is critical to Shoshana's recovery.' Angrily he said that she was not to go. God's laws superseded any human law. I was horrified. 'Are you telling me that God's law is more important that your child's treatment? What sort of a God would ask this?' Offended, he quoted the story of Abraham and Isaac to me. I remained unconvinced. He left the office saying that he would refer the matter to a higher authority, the rabbi in New York City who headed his sect of Orthodox Judaism. My heart sank.

"But on the morning of Yom Kippur, Shosana was sitting in her usual place in the waiting room, on time. With her were her mother and her father. 'I am surprised to see you here, Rabbi,' I said. 'What did the rabbi in New York say?' Subdued, he told me that he had written to describe the situation and his Rabbi, the Great Teacher himself, had called him. He had told him to order a taxi to come to his home on the morning of Yom Kippur. When the taxi arrived, Shosana was to ride to her treatment and he was to accompany her.

"When he protested riding in a car on Yom Kippur, his Rabbi had insisted he accompany his daughter. 'Why is this?' I asked. In a soft voice he said that his Rabbi, the Great Teacher, had insisted that he accompany his daughter so that she would know that even the most pious and upright man in her life, her father, may ride on the holiest of days for the purpose of preserving life. He said that is was important that Shoshana not feel separated from God by this breaking of the law. Such a feeling might interfere with her healing."

From, Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, "The Rabbi's Rabbi"

10 comments:

FranIAm said...

I read this story- which I have read before as I am a great admirer of Remen and as I read, I weep.

The threads that weave the fabric of our lives are at once more complex and more simple, much more resilient and yet much more fragile, than we can imagine.

Jennifer said...

This is such a rich and powerful story.
Remen rocks. So do you....

Paul said...

It is widely understood in Orthodoxy that the saving of a life takes precedence over the commandments. This story illustrates it vividly. May we all be mindful of G-d's compassion in our own judgments.

Lauralew said...

Important story. I have this book myself and read it some time back. A very generous book and this story is typical. Thanks for the reminder!

Diane said...

the thing that struck me the most was that the Rabbi was to ride with his daughter so that he would be "breaking the law" with her. I put this in quotes to indicate that this is not my idea of breaking the law, but it is in another tradition.

mompriest said...

Yes, I would not call it "breaking the law" but rather, "fulfilling the law"...to love God, love self, love others (from the Shema).

Lindy said...

LIfe is always the higher value. It is permissible to set aside any requirement of the law to save a life. The law serves us, not the other way around.

This is a great post. You are showing lots of depth and subtly in how we apply what seem like hard and fast rules.

Barbara B. said...

Wonderful story.

(I love that book -- borrowed it from Rev SS once!)

Jane R said...

I also love this story, not the least because it shows true Judaism and Jewish practice. It can remind us that when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he was being a good Jew, not going against his tradition!

And yes, I know you mean this story to be about many others things, but that is what is wonderful about it and other classic stories. They have multiple meanings at the same time.

Thank you.

Jan said...

Thanks. I like her stories/books.