It was down to the wire, but I was all set. Sermons done. I'd practiced davening Shacharit and blowing shofar.... We had our first service Sunday evening, the first evening of Rosh Hashanah, in the beautiful sanctuary of the East Greenwich United Methodist Church . . . and then I fell ill that night and wound up in the ER within hours.
While I was hooked up to a saline drip, the president of my congregation was teaching herself how to blow shofar; our Cohen School second grade teacher was reminding himself of how to daven Rosh Hashanah Shacharit . . . while leading Rosh Hashanah Shacharit; our guest cantorial leader for musaf was stepping in conducting and managing the service and davenning at the same time; the sermon I had worked on for so long, crafted so carefully, was read (beautifully, I hear) by my now shofar-proficient president. The team running the honors kept everything moving smoothly. Our kids services were so large the pastor of the church had to move them into a larger room.
And I'm in the ER . . .
So what did I learn on Rosh Hashanah?
- I learned that my congregation can meet any challenge. With aplomb. And grace. And real collaboration and teamwork. And commitment. I understand that Torat Yisrael's first day Rosh Hashanah services were beautiful.
- I learned some humility. The High Holidays are supposed to be the rabbi's big opportunity to reach out to the congregation, to mastermind a series of profound and moving spiritual services, to inspire everyone present with engaging, meaningful sermons. We rabbis spend months on High Holiday preparation. So the first day of Rosh Hashanah I got a not-so-gentle reminder from The Boss: "You're side-lined; it's not about you!"
- I learned not to take for granted a body that functions properly. There were a few, very long hours, when some very frightening thoughts were going through my mind, about what could be wrong with me. Thank God, I am not facing anything like the worst of them. And I'm committing to memory the words of the profoundly true blessing, "asher yatzar." Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who with wisdom fashioned the human body, creating openings, arteries, glands and organs, marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them, by being blocked or opened, fail to function, it would be impossible to exist. Praised are You, Lord, healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways."
- I learned to let people help me. I've never asked for help easily, but this time I had no choice. I literally could not take care of myself this time. And as soon as I let a few people know what was happening to me, the help poured in: loving, supportive, compassionate help. So I'm letting everyone know: I'll be needing some more help in a few weeks!
These are very good lessons to learn. It would have been nice to have learned them an easier way, but I am grateful to have learned them at all. I am grateful that my son and daughter-in-law could be with me through all this: wouldn't you know they'd wind up in the States exactly the year I'd need them? I am grateful to the Torat Yisrael member who is a physician and, at 7 am, gently drilled some sense into me: "You know, Rabbi, in your heart of hearts, that you're not leading service today, right?"; I'm grateful to the Torat Yisrael member who dropped everything at 7 am to drive me to the urgent care facility and the next Torat Yisrael member who dropped everything a few hours later to pick me up from the urgent care facility and drive me to the hospital; and to my president who, learning that she now had a crisis on her hands with no rabbi and a service starting in an hour and a half only cared about my health and welfare; and to all the members of our community who have since written e-mails and called expressing concern for me.
Not only have I learned some good lessons, I've also been granted some wonderful blessings. What a wonderful way to start a year!