Weekly Story: Oh Did He ‘Fail’

by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

I heard this story from Reb Berel Mockin of Montreal a few years ago, who heard it from the person himself.

A Shliach moved into his city on the west coast and was trying to meet as many Jews as possible. He carried his brochure with him and would engage whoever was willing to talk. One day he was with his child in the doctor’s waiting room, and he heard various patients being called in. Recognizing that the name of one patient was definitely Jewish, he decided that he would introduce himself to the lady, as she came out of the doctors’ office with her son.

Some minutes later, he noticed the door opening and the lady was talking to her son, reassuring him that the doctor said it is nothing to be concerned about.

Going over, he introduced himself and said that if she would ever want to discuss anything about Judaism, she should feel free to call. While he thought he was being pleasant, she felt he was being overbearing. She replied, why would anyone want to speak to a person like you who has no decency whatsoever? You see I must rush back to my work and you are delaying and aggravating me. I came here with my sick son and you tried to corner me in a time of vulnerability. No I never would want to speak to a Rabbi like you and I will inform my friends and associates of what an indecent person this new Rabbi is!

She kept up her tirade, until she walked out the office and the Shliach meekly sat in his seat, waiting to be called in, feeling that everyone in the waiting room was eyeing him negatively, evidently, they all agreed with the lady. Thankfully he was the next person to be called in and his misery ended.

However, the public rejection was something he felt bad about and when he came home, he decided that perhaps he was wrong in trying to begin a conversation in a doctor’s waiting room. Obviously if someone would ask him who he is, he would respond, but to make that introduction, no, it was an experience he did not want to repeat. “I suppose I blew that one, I failed and will learn from that experience,” he thought.

A few months passed and one day he receives a phone call. A  Jewish woman introduces herself and says her elderly father is in the hospital and is urgently requesting that a Rabbi comes to visit him, as soon as possible. She concludes with the plea “can you please come over this hour?”

Knowing that the hospital is a twenty minute drive, he replied that it will be his pleasure to visit him and would be there in an half an hour. Driving over, he wonders from where does he remember that name, but what is the difference, not only would he be visiting a Jewish patient and become acquainted with the family, he will utilize the opportunity to introduce himself to the hospital administration offering his services for any Jewish patient.

Sure enough, the lady who called was waiting for him in the hospital lobby and profusely thanked him for rushing over on such a short notice. Hearing the voice in person, he recognized who she was; Yes, this was the same lady who gave him a complete tongue lashing and wash down in the doctor’s office. But now wasn’t the time or place to discuss or think about it, he had to see what the elderly man wanted.

Entering the room, he extended his hand to the elderly man and asked him how he is. The man began speaking to his daughter in Russian and then after she replied ‘da’ (yes) he switched to Yiddish and asked him, if he is a Rabbi?

Hearing an affirmative answer, he told the shliach, he knows his health is very critical and he is suffering from various ailments. However, as a dying man, he has one request; please make sure I pass away as a Jew. I grew up in communist Russia and my parents weren’t able to give me a bris milah. But now that the doctors are informing me that they don’t believe I will leave the hospital healthy, I have only one request, a mohel performs the bris and I will be circumcised before I pass away, like every Jewish male is supposed to.

The Shliach replied that he personally is not a mohel, but he will see what he can do.

Hearing this answer, the man says something to his daughter and with tears in her eyes she says Rabbi, please promise my father that you will arrange it. She then adds, if you have to fly in a mohel or incur other expenses, our family will cover it, just please honor papa’s request.

The shliach then turned to the elderly patient and said, I will focus on arranging it and I will come back tomorrow and inform you of the progress.

Hearing this promise, a faint smile appeared on his face and he thanked him.

Leaving the patient’s room with the daughter, he explained to her that the problem is not just finding a certified mohel. Being that her father is ill and in fact critically ill, the hospital is going to demand that the mohel has a medical degree as well. However, he is positive that he will be able to find one. But please take me to the main doctor or administrator and see what their guidelines are.

To put it mildly, the administration wasn’t happy to hear this request. They were afraid that if it causes any complications they would be sued. So they replied, we have a few conditions, in addition that we receive an affidavit that we will not be sued or held liable in any way or manner by the patient’s family, we must also protect ourselves from the states’ medical board. So therefore we are informing you that we won’t allow just any doctor you find, to perform this dangerous circumcision, we are demanding that it be a doctor that has a license to work in this state and has clearance in our hospital.

If you can convince one of our Jewish doctors to do it, it will be done. But we won’t allow even the head surgeon of another hospital to enter our hospital and make this procedure. The daughter was hysterical and cried, how can you deny a dying man his final wish and they replied, since when does your religion instruct you to bring death upon an elderly patient. We are confident that our associates won’t be swayed by your emotional plea. Have a good day.

The daughter looked at the Rabbi and said, “Rabbi, what can be done?”

The Shliach replied “call me late at night and I will see what is possible. With G-ds help we will succeed.”

As soon as he arrived at home, he called up the mohelim in the area and asked if they know of any mohel that has all the credentials being demanded by the hospital. The first few mohelim replied that they are unaware of anyone that has those credentials. However, the elderly man’s plea rang in his ears and he couldn’t let him down, so he kept on calling anyone and everyone he could think of.

A few hours on the phone finally paid off as he was informed of a religious surgeon, who also learned milah, in order to help the families that for whatever reason their son was in the hospital for his bris. However, this surgeon moved to the east coast over five years ago.

So now began the difficult task of tracking down the surgeon, and reaching him after regular hours. But once again Hashem was with him and he found someone who knew the surgeon and made the introductory call.

The surgeon knew the rules well, as he himself was licensed to work in that hospital and in fact did perform a few surgeries there years ago. However, he was booked busy and also said he will have to discuss it with his Rov, if it is permissible to perform a bris on such a sick patient. The only thing he could commit to was to discuss the situation with his Rov. He added, therefore, I will advise you to instruct his daughter to obtain a copy of his medical file and fax it to me before noon your time tomorrow. However, there are no promises.

Not wanting to make the daughter wait, the shliach called the daughter and informed her of the developments and the need to receive a copy of her fathers’ medical file. Flabbergasted and extremely thankful at how he accomplished what seemed the impossible, she informed the shliach that she would be in the hospital at eight in the morning and will call him as soon as she obtains a copy of the files requested.

Sure enough shortly after eleven the following morning, she brought over a copy of her father’s thick file and they were immediately faxed it to the surgeon.

A few hours later, the shliach called the surgeon asking him if he was able to read the file. The Doctor replied, even if his Rov paskens it is permissible to perform the bris, he can’t do it for the next few weeks, as he was overbooked.

The Shliach, who already discussed it with Rabbonim and was certain that it was the proper thing to do, pleaded with the surgeon not to deny a dying person such a wish. Who knows if he would still be alive in a few weeks he said, and if he is, who knows if his medical situation at that time would permit it. Please fax me a copy of your Californian medical license and clearance to work in this hospital and I will see how we can minimize the hours you will lose. Please discuss this aspect with your Rav and ask him if it becomes a priority.

Hearing the plea and realizing that this was one of the reasons he learned milah in the first place, the doctor faxed over the necessary documents.

Coming to the hospital, the Shliach went over to the administrator’s office, who knowing that none of his staff would agree to perform the bris, he greeted him cordially and said, well Rabbi, how is it going?

Realizing the administrator’s game the shliach said, I couldn’t finalize anything yet, but I have to ask you one question. Being that your objection is not personal, but rather because of legal considerations and statutes of the state, I need to know, hypothetically, if I do find someone who has all the necessary credentials, would the hospital make the operating room available and accommodate that professional to the best of its ability?

Thinking that he had nothing to lose the administrator replied, “Certainly.”

The shliach then said, I am in contact with the renowned physician and surgeon Dr__, who is well known to you and here are a copy of his credentials to show that he is considering performing the circumcision. Our problem is now logistics. As you know he moved to the east coast and assumed a prominent position, so it is extremely difficult for him to take off. However, he might be willing, only if we can guarantee him that he won’t have to waste any time once he is here.

In other words he might consider doing it, if he can be in and out in sixty to ninety minutes

If you get my good friend Dr –to come, and he is willing to put all his work on hold, in order to do this procedure, I will definitely accommodate him, as long as he gives me ten minutes to talk to him personally.

The surgeon spoke to his Rov who paskened that if he could perform the bris, it is indeed a priority and they set up a date and time to do it. He would come into his office an hour earlier than usual and would take an early afternoon flight, arriving in on the west coast around four. He would then go directly to the hospital and perform a proper bris. He would wait a few hours to make sure that everything is alright and take a return flight that evening so he can be in his office the next day.

Boruch Hashem, everything went as scheduled and there were no complications because of the bris. However, as noted previously the man was critically ill and he passed away a few weeks later from his various ailments.

Obviously the family asked the Shliach to arrange a proper Jewish burial for their father, and shortly after the week of mourning, the daughter came to the Shliach’s house to thank him. She was accompanied by her husband and eight-year-old son, and said, we decided, being that being circumcised was so important to my beloved father, my husband and son also wish to be circumcised by a mohel. But this time you don’t have to bring in the top surgeon, may G-d bless him for taking off from his heavy workload, just to do this for our father, may he rest in peace.

Additionally, one of the attendants in the operating room is also a Jew from Russia, and he also expressed his desire to have a bris.

Dear Shluchim and chassidim of the Rebbe, may all your “failures” turn out as successful as this.

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