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Balak: Kabbalat Shabbat at the Infirmary

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In his role as an itinerant storyteller (and a summer camp doctor), the Maggid has been privileged to serve on the staff of a wonderful sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania for eight years. The following story is one of those rare Maggid tales that is actually based on a true incident. It’s a little bloody, so reader’s discretion is advised.

Bamidbar: 23: 21

Medical emergencies never happen at a convenient time. (Is there such a thing as a convenient emergency?)

I was in the infirmary, just finishing up a last-minute breathing treatment on a little boy who was wheezing, when the nurses rushed her in. Ruchi was dressed in her Shabbat finest, a simple white blouse and a fancy blue skirt, with little tassels hanging off, but unfortunately the look had been ruined by all the blood. There was blood on her face, blood on her blouse, even blood on the nurses who brought her in. Ruchi seemed to be in good spirits, even a little embarrassed by all the attention, so I assumed it looked worse than it was.

Apparently, the entire camp had gathered for their pre-Shabbat assembly, for some singing and last-minute announcements, when the teenagers from the upper bunks, the oldest campers in Camp M______, came dancing down to the basketball court where the assembly was convened, singing “Tzaddik katamar yifrach.” All the adults watching the scene thought they were coming down the hill a bit too fast, and half the onlookers later stated that they knew something was going to go wrong, but the kids were so excited, and in their excitement they were like a well-dressed cattle stampede.

Sure enough, poor Ruchi, poor exuberant, singing and dancing Ruchi, didn’t watch where she was going. She should have zigged when she zagged, and she ran headfirst into a pole next to the basketball court, her head making a popping sound like a dropped light bulb, much to the horror of all the onlookers. She fell to the ground, clutching her head. A crowd gathered around her, as they always do.

The nurses were there in an instant. Ruchi was rushed to the infirmary as quickly as she could be stabilized, to be assessed and treated by the doctor.

It was 10 minutes before Shabbat when Ruchi was brought in. I had been looking forward to the Friday night davening at camp all year. The singing of Kabbalat Shabbat by all the campers never failed to inspire me. But here was Ruchi, covered in blood. What was I to do?

We cleaned her up, and as it turned out, all the bleeding was from a small laceration, less than an inch across, above her left eyebrow. Ruchi’s appearance may have freaked out all the eyewitnesses to the incident at the basketball court, but in reality the wound was no big deal.

I didn’t even think it needed stitches. All I had to do was dab a little Dermabond—a wonderful medical glue that closes wounds quite neatly—on the site, and in a few days Ruchi would be as good as new. Still, I needed the swelling to go down and for the bleeding to stop completely before I could do anything, so a nurse applied a pressure dressing and some ice to give the wound some time to settle down. I reached Ruchi’s parents just before Shabbat to get their clearance to glue her and then sat down to wait it out.

Minyan was out of the question. It would be about half an hour before I could use the Dermabond. I sat down with the nurses and chatted idly about camp and different cases that had come up that day.

It was about 15 minutes later that the singing began. At first I thought it was coming from the main camp davening in the auditorium a few hundred yards away, but after a few minutes it became obvious that the singing was emanating from somewhere in the infirmary. The nurses and I went to investigate.

Three of Ruchi’s bunkmates had come to visit her. They had brought siddurim and they were singing Kabbalat Shabbat together. (“Hariyu laHashem kol ha’aretz, pitzchu veranenu vezameiru, Call out to Hashem all inhabitants of the earth, open your mouths in joyous songs and play music.”) All were standing except for Ruchi, who remained supine on the exam table, but she sang no less loud than the rest of her friends.

What a magnificent scene. The girls coming to support their friend. The spontaneous davening. The heartfelt voices. The injured camper, still in her bloody blouse and a bandage on her head, singing at the top of her voice.

I thought of this week’s parsha and what Bilaam said as he looked out upon the multitude of Israel. Lo hibit aven b’Ya’akov, velo ra’ah amal b’Yisrael. God perceived no iniquity in Jacob and no perversity in Israel. At that moment, I understood what Bilaam meant. This small group of girls inspired me more than any minyan could.

I’m not saying that I was glad to have missed minyan. And certainly I would have preferred that Ruchi hadn’t made the acquaintance of that pole so intimately. But still, the scene of those girls davening together and comforting their friend so beautifully will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you, Ruchi and company. Thank you, Camp M_____.

By Larry Stiefel

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

 

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