Every Sunday morning I have the pleasure of studying with two Jewish surgeons. Each week we explore the meaning of a section of the siddur (daily prayer book).
We were up to the Shema, the most prominent – and fundamental – Jewish prayer. “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Hear means more than just uttering words; it means hear the deep message and internalize it in our hearts and minds. When we say the words “God is One,” we are saying everything in the universe concurrently exists because God wills it to exist, and that life’s occurrences are a result of God’s inner-workings and underpinnings of the world.
The Shema expresses our complete devotion to God, regardless of our life circumstances. We are recognizing that everything is ultimately part of His Divine orchestration. Every time we cover our eyes and proclaim God’s unity, we are essentially stating that regardless of what is in front of my eyes today, regardless of whether life is delivering me celebration or tribulation, I cover my eyes and declare my devotion, no matter what is in front of me. It is about unconditional devotion.
While we were discussing the topic that Sunday morning, Dr. Goldberg*, one of the surgeons, shared a most incredible story. One morning while driving to work he decided to take a route that he doesn’t normally drive. As he pulled up to a red light prior to entering onto the highway he looked out his window and noticed a motorcyclist stopped next to him. The motorcyclist was dressed in black from head to toe, riding a sleek black Italian motorcycle. The light then turned green and the motorcycle sped off.
Arterial blood was pouring from his thigh; he was bleeding to death.
Dr. Goldberg continued on the highway for a short stretch and suddenly saw the man in black on the Italian motorcycle grinding across the highway on its side with sparks shooting everywhere. The motorcyclist had lost control and was thrown from the bike. Dr. Goldberg quickly pulled over and ran to the man. He was lying on the ground, still wearing his black helmet, and missing one of his legs. Arterial blood was pouring from his thigh; he was bleeding to death.
“Another woman arrived at the scene and was assisting me in saving his life. I turned to her and realized it was one of the nurses from my hospital. She was running very late to work that morning and happened to pass by at the exact time of the accident.”
Dr. Goldberg realized that in another 60 seconds the man would bleed to death. He quickly placed his lab coat on the man’s artery and pressed with all his strength. As he was trying to prevent the bleeding, the man lifted his hand to his helmet and began slowly pulling it off.
“I had no idea what to expect when I saw him removing his helmet. I expected to hear groaning, cries or perhaps screaming. I was shocked and couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him saying the words, ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!’”
Dr. Goldberg managed to slow the bleeding until an emergency medical team arrived, who then rushed him to the nearest trauma hospital. He did not recognize the motorcyclist at the time, but as it turns out they attended the same synagogue.
On Rosh Hashanah of the following year there was a knock on Dr. Goldberg’s door. He opened the door and immediately recognized the face of the motorcyclist standing there with his children beside him. “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.”
Dr. Goldberg finished the story and the room was completely silent. Then he turned to me and said, “This is what I think about when I say the words Shema Yisrael.”
It dawned on me that we are all this motorcyclist riding down the open highway. Maybe it’s not a physical motorcycle, but as we travel down the highway through our own personal lives we all have ‘accidents.’ We all hit bumps in the road that may throw us off course – sometimes in the form of overwhelming, life-altering trials related to health, finances, or family, and sometimes as the small aches and pains of living. That’s when our belief in God hits the pavement and we can gage how real we are when we say Shema Yisrael and proclaim God’s unity. Do we see the Divine orchestration of events, the blessings hidden within?
Whether it’s a motorcycle accident or challenge in the office or home, or a celebration of good fortune, I cover my eyes with my hand, regardless of what is in front of me today, and declare, “Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
*Not his real name.