This past Friday night I did something I haven’t done in twenty years. I drove a car on Shabbos. Wait, wait – it’s not what you think. I had an infection in my arm that my doctor told me to watch closely. He gave me an antibiotic to treat it. If it got worse he said it could be life-threatening. When I spoke to my father that morning (he’s also a doctor), he told me this was very serious, and I should not take it lightly. I was duly warned.
I spent Friday running around in normal pre-Shabbos mode, but then on Friday evening, moments before Shabbos began, I saw that my arm was becoming more inflamed from the infection which had spread. I headed straight to a local shul in a neighbor’s home to find a doctor to confirm what I thought I knew.
I pushed open the slightly ajar door and explained to the hostess that I needed to see a doctor for a medical emergency. Her response was amazing: “I don’t mean to pry, but if you let me know a little more about the nature of the issue, I can match you with the doctor of your choice. We have nearly every specialty accounted for in the minyan.”
I replied, “That line could be out of a sitcom!” Then said, “ER doctor, if you’ve got one.” She did!
The ER doctor quickly took me to a private room to examine me and said I would need to get treated right away. This was a life-threatening issue. He explained there was no time to consult a rav – he had gone over these issues many times in his position as a frum ER doctor. I had to go now, and I should drive myself. He said, “Don’t call for a taxi, don’t wait for an Uber. Just get in the car and go.” I had to start a stronger antibiotic immediately, and if the situation didn’t improve within a few hours, I was supposed to go straight to the ER.
I came home to tell my family what had happened. I felt weird. As I explained the serious nature of my infection I wondered aloud what one wears to the pharmacy when one is breaking Shabbos in order to save one’s life. My daughter, who was very much aware of the gravity of it all told me, “Just go! It doesn’t matter what you wear.” She was right! So in a Shabbos robe I drove to Walgreens!
I grabbed my purse and sheepishly walked to my car. I knew technically that not only was I doing nothing wrong, I was doing something very right by performing the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (guarding one’s physical health). But after disavowing driving on Shabbos 20 years earlier, it just felt strange to turn on the engine and pull out onto the street.
As I drove in the darkness, so aware of not touching anything extra in the car that didn’t need to be touched, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of how much Hashem loves me, how my Parent in Heaven’s greatest concern is my well-being. All over the Torah and Talmud we are told of the importance of mitzvos. We must perform them from the moment we wake up till the moment we rest our head. We discuss them, we put fences around them to safeguard them, but there is one exception – if those mitzvos could cause us grave harm, Hashem doesn’t want them. We are commanded to not perform them. Your health and survival is more important to Me than My laws.
As I drove feeling the embrace of that love, my mind went to the flesh and blood parents who do not treat their children with the same kindness that the Almighty treats His. The parents who see their kids as not much more than the sum total of their mitzvos, as the children who they wish would not embarrass them with their “rebellion,” not as the children who they love unconditionally, that they will never forsake, no matter what they do.
Many of the cases we see at Project Makom are children who were thrown out of their parents’ home for lack of observance or even something as simple as changing their way of observing! Children need their parents! It’s a basic rule of humanity! And parents who live as religious Jews are supposed to spend their lives emulating the Almighty. They are meant to live by the same principle: Your health and survival is more important to me than Hashem’s laws (because Hashem made your health and survival more important than His laws.)