The Postponed Doctor’s Appointment


Yankel had made an appointment at the eye doctor
six months ago, which was scheduled for last Tuesday. On Monday morning,
Yankel received a call, informing him that the doctor had to travel
urgently to America and would only return the following week. Yankel wants
to know whether he has a right to be seen by the doctor immediately on his
return, even though this would mean postponing the appointments of those
who were meant to be seen on that day. Alternatively, could we say that it
was just Yankel’s bad luck that the doctor was unable to keep the
original appointment and he therefore must wait till the next appointment
becomes available?


of all, let us make it clear that we are looking at this question solely
from the point of view of correct ethical behaviour. We are not going do
deal with the parties’ financial rights. In Tractate Succah
(55a), when discussing the daily psalm recited in the Beis Hamikdash,
the question is asked: What happens to the psalm allocated to a particular
festival day if it falls on Shabbos? Since the psalm for Shabbos takes
precedence on that day, do we recite the psalm allocated to that day of
the festival the next day? Alternatively, do we say that it was that
psalm’s “bad luck” that its day fell on Shabbos and it is not
recited at all that year? The conclusion is that the psalm for that day is
recited the next day and the psalm for the last day is omitted. The psalms
are meant to be recited in a particular order and not on a particular day.

Ponim Me’iros (Responsa, Vol. 2, No. 126) was asked how to act in a case where a
shul had a different person blowing the shofar on each day of Rosh
Hashanah, in a year when the first day falls on Shabbos. Do we say that
each shofar blower has a right to his particular day, or that the one who
blows on the first day has first right and the person who blows on the
second day has second right? He brought a proof from the above gemora that
whoever is earlier has an earlier right. Therefore, the first-day blower
should blow on the second day and the second day blower should not blow at
all this year.

Sha’arei Teshuva (to Orach
, Chapter 581, Note 7) disagrees. He argues that each day of
Rosh Hashanah has its unique qualities and therefore each shofar blower
has acquired a right to a different mitzvah. Blowing on the first day is a
Torah commandment, whereas that of the second day is only rabbinical. On
the other hand, the second day’s blowing has the advantage that it can
never be pushed aside, since the second day of Rosh Hashanah never falls
on Shabbos. He therefore concludes that the first-day blower acquired a
right to the Torah commandment, but on the understanding that if the first
day fell on Shabbos he would not blow at all. The second-day blower can be
confident of having the right to blow every year.

TO OUR ORIGINAL QUESTION, at first glance, it would seem that the answer
is dependent on the two opinions mentioned above. If we say (according to
the Ponim Me’iros) that
appointments are made in a certain order, then if one appointment is not
kept on time, it and all the later ones are postponed.   However, if we say that making an appointment gives a right to be
seen on a particular date (as is the opinion of the Sha’arei Teshuva), if the original appointment can not be kept,
that is this person’s bad luck! He will have to make a new appointment,
and those who had later appointments will be seen on time.

further reflection, we can say that even the Ponim Me’iros would agree that in our case Yankel loses his turn.
When a person makes an appointment with the doctor, he chooses the date
which is most convenient for him (if available) – not necessarily the first
appointment. The doctor and the secretary also have their
reasons for allocating certain dates to certain patients. If the doctor
does not work on a particular day, it is definitely easier for the
secretary to reschedule all that day’s appointments than to reschedule all future appointments! Yankel should therefore make a new