A story is told of a baby born with a heart deformity that required emergency surgery. The parents were encouraged to take their child to a Boston hospital specializing in open heart surgeries for infants. Obtaining an appointment with an exclusive well-known surgeon who boasted a 100% success rate, proved to be quite difficult – three months to be exact. Through persistence and using various connections, the parents were ultimately able to get a meeting for their toddler with the specialist. Soon after arriving in Boston and an examination, a grueling yet successful six-hour surgery commenced, and finally the mom and dad were assured their child would lead a happy, healthy life. The parents – overjoyed – thanked the doctor profusely and watched as their baby was transferred to a recovery ward. A couple passed without incident when suddenly the tot started to run a high fever. Deemed a normal occurrence after such a surgery, the baby was prescribed antibiotics, however the fever continued to increase to a dangerously high temperature. The operation proved to be too much for the infantile and the baby soon perished. The surgeon was left in utter dismay, repeatedly stuttering, “I cannot believe it…” This was the first time he had ever lost a patient! Tearfully apologizing to the couple that brought the child into the world, the physician straightaway raced to the head of the hospital and slammed a letter of resignation down upon the wooden desk. The administrator – shocked – tries to comprehend this sudden action. The surgeon enlightened his superior, “When I graduated medical school, I made a promise that if he ever lost a patient I would immediately resign.” The boss would not accept this reasoning and tried convincing the disheartened doctor to rethink the decision. “It may have been the fault of someone else on your team,” argued the higher-up. Resolute, the two peers scrutinized the necessary paperwork as the practitioner continued to apologize. Intent on keeping his promise, the doctor headed over to his desk to clear out.
Shortly thereafter, a woman walked into the downcast doctor’s office with worry over her face. Holding back tears, she stammered “I am responsible for the baby’s death; it was all my fault.” The hospital worker explained, “I am tasked with sterilizing the medical equipment between patients. During yesterday’s purification process, I left hurriedly and failed to complete my duty.” It was soon revealed that the tools used in the procedure caused the baby to contract an infection resistant to antibiotics.
On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish nation are the doctors conducting surgery. During this time, we are cutting away all our bad deeds; aveiros. One may wonder, “If we are surgeons, what tool are we using for the operation?” A wise scholar would ascertain that our mouths are the instruments of the trade. Our mouths are the means for both prayer and repentance. No matter our level of observance, if our mouths are jammed with bacteria; complete with impurities like derogatory words of lashon hara, lies, and answering back our elders, then our tefillot are delivered with an infected – full of bacteria. If our tools do not undergo proper sterilization, then what good is our remorse? Do our prayers even have any meaning?
One of the main features to focus on as we enter the period of the High Holidays, is disinfecting the tool that we use to perform the surgery. Let us concentrate on our mouths and allow our teshuva and tefilla to be received by Hashem fully and properly.
By Rabbi Yitzchak Aminov
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