Answering the Phone: A New Perspective on Shmeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah

I SOOO love the concluding days of the Days of Awe, Shmeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah.  Only a few times in the Jewish year are we commanded to tie one on, and this commandment I try to do as best I can.  In Israel, both Shmeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah are on the same day, but in the Diaspora, we are lucky enough to have them on two different days.  These are ‘chag’ days like Rosh Hashana or Shavouot–most observant Jews don’t answer the phone, use the computer, drive, etc., on these days.

So imagine the start I got Wednesday evening during our festive meal when the house phone rang.  I had had the endometrial biopsy earlier that day and half expected my GYN to call me and tell me she had found something and I had to come back.  After no one left a message on the house phone (we have an old school answering machine where you can actually hear the caller and decide whether or not to talk to them) , the super-secret cell that doctors call me on rang.  E yelled at me to answer it, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to hear what the caller had to say during the festivities I had looked forward to all year.

The next day G and I were getting ready to meet E at our beautiful new shul when the house phone rang again.  This time I ran to our office to listen.  It was the GYN’s surgical scheduler asking me to call her right away, as soon as I got the message.  Holy Day or no Holy Day, I answered the phone.  Josephine, the scheduler, insisted I had to come back the next day for a colposcopy.  “Why didn’t she say something yesterday–I was just there!” I complained.  The scheduler brushed off my consternation and continued with her instruction, “She said you need to come tomorrow at noon.  You are her first patient of the day after her morning surgery.” Tomorrow?”  I thought,  “Tomorrow is Simchat Torah!  I’m supposed to be drinking and dancing!  I put off other operations so I could be at shul for Simchat Torah, especially with it being the first one in our new building!”  “But….but…it is a Holy Day for me,” I tell the  scheduler.  “Can’t I do it on Monday?”  Her voice softened.  “Miri,” she said, “the order is STAT for a colposcopy and cervical biopsy. You have to have this done right away.  Monday is too late.”  I consider the gravity of her tone.  “OK,” I tell Josephine, I’ll be there at noon tomorrow.”

As I hang up the phone and continue getting ready for shul, I realize I don’t know how to the doctor’s office on a day that I can’t drive, nor can I carry any money or make a phone call.  G and I begin our walk to shul, discussing the differences between coniferous and deciduous trees on our path.  Internally, I’m having a very serious conversation with the Guy Upstairs.  “Really?  Another biopsy?  STAT?  On what is supposed to be a happy day?  You are the Master of this Outlook Calendar, so I know you know what you are doing, but do I have to miss one of my favorite chagim?”  G and  I arrive in time to hear the rabbi’s dvar torah (sermon), but G has an appointment with the Legos in the children’s room so he departs.  The rabbi speaks of the Holy Day of Shmeni Atzeret.  ‘What is its purpose?’  I know I will butcher his eloquent delivery, but basically, the rabbi teaches that we are NOT supposed to have a huge feast on this day.  On the contrary, in the writings it says on Shmeni Atzeret we are supposed to have a ‘seudat ctana,’ a small meal.  The emphasis of the day should be on spending time with Hashem before He takes a well-deserved break till the next set of Chagim.’  I consider the rav’s words.  If Hashem made me answer the phone today because he wanted me to draw closer to him on Shemini Atzeret, he was successful!  And don’t worry, Big Guy, with my stomach in knots, I will only have room for a ‘seudat ctana!’

Without getting into the details of how I got to a doctor’s appointment on a Holy Day, I had a wonderful erev Simchat Torah at our beautiful new shul the night before having my colposcopy and cervical biopsy on the day of Simchat Torah.  Now I patiently wait for the results.  If nothing else, not being in shul the day of the chag allowed my son and husband to stay for the Chinese lunch our shul has every year (I can’t be in the building due to a serious soy allergy, even airborne soy bothers me). While it certainly was ‘muksa,’ that phone call from Josephine was a message from Hashem.  I drew closer to Him not only on Shemini Atzeret, but have continued to draw Him close every day since.  Sometimes, we receive messages from Him in unexpected ways and from unexpected individuals.  May the news I receive be positive.

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