Rosh Hashanah is the time for introspection. Where was I one year ago, where am I today, what is the state of my spiritual balance sheet, the curses of the past year and its blessings.
Last Rosh Hashanah, 5771, I walked with a heavy heart to the small synagogue in the Tel Hashomer hospital. Two and a half months had passed since the terrible accident and my son, David, was still unconscious. After five weeks in intensive care in the Schneider hospital, the devoted staff that had saved his life transferred him for continued care to the wonderful people in the rehab ward of Tel Hashomer. They set out to preserve his physical functions; keeping the hole carved out in his neck to allow him to breath uncompromised, feeding him through tubes, moving his limbs, caring for his eyes they did it all. And we waited and prayed that he would wake up.
The doctors remained split. Some tried to explain that this type of injury did not leave room for optimism. The days, weeks and months that passed seemed to bite away at our hope.
"Stay at home with the children," Tzippy said to me. But I insisted on praying the prayers of the Day of Judgment with David. Not really with him, of course, for he was laying motionless in his bed, at the very most being rolled down the halls of the ward in a chair that would support his listless head along with all the tubes entering and exiting his body.
The first day of prayers passed unremarkably. I arrived at the hospital synagogue early, chose an inconspicuous place in the back row, hid myself in my prayer shawl and attempted to concentrate on the words in the small prayer book. Unlike an ordinary synagogue, a hospital synagogue does not have an organized congregation. Nobody goes there by choice and most of the worshippers do not know each other. The services were conducted by somebody up front. The line of people waiting to be called up to the Torah was long. Everybody wanted to recite the special blessing for the hospitalized patient with whom they were spending the holiday. It didn't look to me like I had a chance to be called up to the Torah, and that was fine with me.
From the anonymity of the crowd and my general distress, I was able to feel alone with my Maker and to verbalize my supplications. Nobody paid any attention to me. That, at least, is what I wanted to think.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I once again set out for the synagogue at the same time and with the same heavy heart. Once again I took my place at the back of the small synagogue and once again the services were conducted in the same manner. But as the time for the blowing of the shofar approached, a murmur wafted through the congregation. Everyone turned around, calling my attention to the large wheelchair that was cumbersomely making its way to the front of the synagogue. At the first moment, I did not understand why everybody was looking at me until I realized that it was David laying/sitting in the chair and that the person pushing him was Tzippy, who had decided to set out on the difficult trek with the unwieldy chair from one end of the hospital to the other so that David would hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. I quickly approached them. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been alone in my prayers, at all. Everybody in the synagogue knew and was praying with me. I found myself standing with David at the front of the room and when the time came to read the Torah, I was called up to make the blessings.
In an obvious act of Heaven, the part of the Torah to which I was called up was exactly the portion of the Akedat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac, read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. I recited the blessing of the Torah and read along in a whisper straight from the Torah with the man reading aloud for the entire congregation.
"Take your son, your only one, whom you love," the holy letters crashed into my being straight from the parchment, and my whole body began to tingle. "And the two of them walked together."
At that moment, I felt that the letters were talking about the father and son standing right there; my son at my side and I were now being brought to the akedah. Tears that I had repressed deep inside me since the accident welled up and out of my eyes, straight onto the holy Torah scroll.
Tzippy had to bring David back for some treatments before the end of the prayers and I returned to the back row of the synagogue for the Mussaf prayers.
At the end of the prayers, I walked lightly to the rehab ward. My heart was no longer heavy. I felt that with this prayer session I had entered the same plane, the same point of accepting G-d's judgment that leaves no room for fear. Perhaps this is also how Abraham and Isaac felt during those fateful moments. All the prayers, blessings and acts of kindness of the Nation of Israel, big and small, more observant and less observant that had flooded us since the accident enveloped me. I felt that everybody had prayed for David, I had prayed as hard as I could and now it was in G-d's hands. Whatever He decided, I would accept. That was a huge relief.
Rosh Hashanah 5771 ended. The Ten Days of Repentance flew quickly by. Three months had already passed since the accident and David was still unconscious. I decided to spend Yom Kippur with our other children, at home. Just moments before the sun set on Yom Kippur eve, Tzippy called from the hospital. "David is talking!" she shouted almost hysterically. "Talk to him and hear for yourself!"
"Shalom," I heard the familiar voice of my son, weak but clear.
At the end of the conversation I wrapped myself in my prayer shawl and turned toward the synagogue for the Kol Nidrei prayers.