The Blinking Light of Bitachon

The blinking message light on the telephone tortured me all of Shabbos day. My overly active writer’s imagination sent me over the edge into an emotional abyss that is entirely incompatible with a peaceful Shabbos.

Never, never, never, look at caller ID when the phone rings on Shabbos and you can’t answer the phone.

I learned that lesson once, and ten years later, I learned it again.

Ten years ago, I had gone for an annual check-up with my gynecologist who said, “I’ll only call you if there’s a problem to discuss.” And so, on Shabbos morning, when the phone rang, and I saw the caller ID from his office, I went into a complete panic. My mind raced all day long and by the end of that Shabbos I was terminally ill, and it was time to start getting my affairs in order. Except that when I listened to the message, it turned out to be the billing office calling with a question about my insurance. So ever since then, I told myself – if the phone rings on Shabbos, don’t look at caller ID because you can’t answer the phone, and you’ll only torture yourself.
Ever since then, I have been completely machmid with this rule…. Until today.

And I sure paid the price.

Tomorrow morning my brother is getting married. The entire family has been gathered in his location to celebrate, starting Friday night. Since my extended family is not observant, we chose not to attend any of these festivities over Shabbos, promising instead to show up early enough Sunday morning for the family photos before the chuppah.

Like any good story about a divorced man and a remarriage to a divorced woman, his shidduch is a miracle, this wedding is a miracle, and there has been plenty of drama associated with this union. I am on pins and needles as the chuppah draws near.

And so, when the phone rang on Shabbos day, like a magnet drawn to a piece of metal, my eyes could not resist glancing at the caller ID as my yetzer hara took my brain hostage: “I hope it’s not my mother, and that nothing is wrong.”

And it was. My mother’s cell phone. My stomach lurched. My imagination went into overdrive, where it stayed for the rest of Shabbos, which didn’t end until late in the evening.

My mother, although not observant herself, knows that she can’t call me on Shabbos. So my logical mind told me that therefore, there must be some terrible reason for her call. She wouldn’t call me on Shabbos to talk, or to tell me something that could wait till after Shabbos because she knows I can’t answer the phone. So, my mind rattled on, she is alerting me that there is an emergency. G-d forbid, the wedding is off, there has been a tragic accident, the chosson is in the hospital, the kallah has…. Okay, you fill in the blank…. I did, all afternoon long, writing story after story in my head.

I took long walks and tried imagining all the positive reasons she could have called, and then, when I couldn’t figure any of them out, I dug up inane reasons… like, can you please bring an extra pair of stockings when you come to the wedding? And when that didn’t work, I pleaded with Hashem, and I tried to sooth myself with gam zu letovah talk, and when none of that worked, I debated finding a non-Jew to call my mother, but my husband reminded me that this wasn’t pekuash nefesh, this was just me going out of my mind with worry. And so ultimately, I watched the clock, and paced, and apologized to Hashem for not being in Shabbos, even though Shabbos was in my home.

At the precise second I was allowed to call, I picked up the phone and dialed into voice mail, literally shaking and perspiring as I braced myself for….

My mother’s “butt call.” That’s what we call it when a cell phone calls the last number dialed without the cell-phone owner’s knowledge. (So-named from the days when we used to walk around with cell phones in our back pocket). All I heard on the answering machine was the sound of clinking glasses, laughing people, and joy.

Later confirmed…. I missed one heck of a party. Everyone is simchadig. It should be a beautiful chuppah. They missed me at the party. My mother had no clue that her phone had dialed mine by accident. Sorry.

Whew. Breathe. Lesson learned. Never, never, never, look at caller ID when the phone rings on Shabbos! I’m sorry, Hashem.

3 comments on “The Blinking Light of Bitachon

  1. If a an elderly parent is ill, one option might be to set up a separate phone line (cell or land line), with voice mail, to receive emergency calls from the parent or his/her caregiver. As situations differ, a rabbi would need to be consulted beforehand about such a phone’s use on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

  2. I would think it sort of depends on mom, your kids and other particular issues. If someone’s mother is getting older, and there is a measurable likelihood you would be called for an emergency, it is (I think) halachically proper and I would think mandatory to answer a thousand pocket-dials on the chance that it might be that one called.

    It could well be (depending on your personality) that if your first thought it “she knows not to call, it must be an emergency”, that itself indicates that the chance you’ll be needed in an emergency is likely enough to warrant picking up the phone.

    I think this poster’s advice should NOT be followed by anyone with teenagers, for parallel reasons.

    Yes, it’s better not to look at caller id and ruin Shabbos, if you know you’re not answering the phone. But until you look at caller id, how do people in these situations know they’re not answering the phone?

    What if someone looks at the caller id and ch”v sees the name of a hospital in their parent’s area?

Comments are closed.