When recalling his visits with other disciples at the court of his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, the Alter Rebbe would say, "When we were at the Maggid's table, miracles used to roll about freely on the floor; we didn't even bother to pick them up."
For forty-three years, miracles have rolled freely on the floor in "770" and yet, by and large, they were not picked up. Stories of miracles were told at chassidic gatherings, but they were never the focus of attention.
Why? - Because like the Maggid's disciples, the Rebbe's followers were much more involved with putting into practice the Rebbe's far-reaching vision, than relating the wonders that he brought about.
Why, then, are we now telling such stories? - To help us realize that our reality is not restricted to the limitations of our physical environment, and that there is more to our world than material substance and natural law.
In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe cites a teaching of our Sages - "Originally, G-d thought to create the world with the attribute of stern judgment; He saw, however, that the world could not endure, so He blended it with the attribute of mercy" - and explains that the attribute of mercy refers to "the revelation of G-dliness through tzaddikim."
In order to enable us to appreciate the extent of our innate spiritual capacity, G-d grants us righteous men who are able to bring about change that defies the accustomed limits of nature.
This chapter relates many wondrous stories concerning health (thus directly relating to the quality of mercy mentioned in Tanya). At the same time, our Sages advise us not to rely on miracles. Thus the chapter also includes several stories highlighting the practical advice that the Rebbe most often gives with regard to health problems: to provide a natural conduit for Divine blessings, consult a doctor who is a friend.
On the fifteenth of Elul, in 1970, the entrance to "770" was crowded with the members of the families of the groom and bride who were to be married several hours afterwards. They had come several hours early in order to receive the Rebbe's blessing as he went from minchah to his study. Unexpectedly, he gazed intently at the groom's father, Rabbi Zalman Leib Astulin of Bnei Brak, Israel, and ordered, "What is this? What is this? Go straight to a doctor!"
All those present were amazed by the Rebbe's sudden reaction. Only Rabbi Astulin comprehended that the Rebbe was addressing the condition of his leg.
During World War II, he had suffered a leg injury, and had to use crutches since. Lately, he had been suffering agonizing pain. Not wishing to disrupt the wedding preparations, which included a trip to New York and an opportunity to spend the festive month of Tishrei in "770", Rabbi Astulin had not mentioned his suffering to his family.
In response to the Rebbe's directive, he resolved to get medical attention as soon as he returned to Israel. "I do not know any doctors in New York," he thought. "Besides, I could never afford the doctors' fees here."
As he stood in thought, the Rebbe turned back and reprimanded, "Right away. Immediately! Before Rosh HaShanah!"
Caught off guard by the Rebbe's response to his thoughts, Rabbi Astulin blurted: "But I do not know anyone here."
"Dr. Seligson (the Rebbe's personal doctor) will refer you to the right physician," said the Rebbe.
After examining the leg, Dr. Seligson sensed the severity of the condition and referred Rabbi Astulin to Dr. Redler, an orthopedic specialist. A mere glance at the leg was sufficient for Dr. Redler to recoil in sympathy and pessimism. "I'm terribly sorry. There is a severe infection and irreversible gangrene. I cannot help you." The x-rays supported his diagnosis. "There's nothing I can do. There is no healthy tissue left. It's decayed entirely."
Mrs. Astulin recovered first from the terrible shock: "It can't be totally hopeless. The Lubavitcher Rebbe advised us to come here. If he sent us to you, then the condition is curable and you are the right person to help us."
With professional dignity and imposed patience, the doctor asked, "Is the Lubavitcher Rebbe a doctor? Did he inspect the leg?" He waved the x-ray at her. "Here, look for yourself. It's black. Nothing more can be done."
"Try something, anything. Maybe the treatment will help."
Dr. Redler agreed to experiment with some medicines and ordered Rabbi Astulin to stay in bed. The Astulins felt that he wanted to soothe their anxiety more than the leg. "If you see any improvement after two weeks, see me again," Dr. Redler said unenthusiastically.
A veteran of war, a victim of Communist harassment, and a long-time refusenik, Rabbi Astulin was not one to worry about his physical discomfort. Yet he could not conceive of missing the festive atmosphere of "770". Despite the doctor's orders, he went to shul on Rosh HaShanah and attended the farbrengen on the second day of Yom Tov. At one point during the farbrengen the Rebbe handed him a piece of his challah and said: "Eat, Reb Zalman Leib, eat - and you will recover."
Two weeks after the first appointment, on the thirteenth day of Tishrei, Rabbi Astulin went back to the doctor. Dr. Redler looked at the leg, and exclaimed in total disbelief: "It couldn't be the same leg!" He examined it again and again, shook his head, and murmured, "Impossible! This is very strange. I must take another x-ray and compare them."
There was no question. Clear white spotting appeared inside the gangrene. "I can't believe it. Healthy tissue in a blackened, decaying limb! I have never seen this in all the decades of my practice!"
Although a nurse would usually have been charged with applying the salves, massages, and bandages that Rabbi Astulin's leg required, Dr. Redler announced to his staff that he would personally attend to this case. The treatment took months, but Dr. Redler generously dismissed the high bill. Eventually, the leg healed, and the Astulin family had a private meeting with the Rebbe at yechidus before returning to Israel.
"You have a revived father," the Rebbe commented to one of the daughters.
Some years later, the Astulins traveled to the States again. Paying a social visit to Dr. Redler, they were sorry to hear that he had suffered a heart attack. "But don't worry," Dr. Redler reassured them smiling. "Ever since your extraordinary recovery, I have been in contact with the Rebbe and I have consulted with him on many other matters, not only medical. I don't have to tell you how helpful his advice and blessings have been."
"My first encounter with Lubavitch sounds much more like an old chassidic tale than an incidental meeting in Corevallis, Oregon," says Amiram Avital, a mechanical engineer from Kiryat Motzkin, Israel.
It was 1985, and Amiram's contract with the Israeli defense department had terminated. The Avitals spent a sabbatical year traveling throughout the States. Four weeks before returning to Israel, Mrs. Avital developed a growth in her throat.
"At first, I didn't pay much attention," recalls Mrs. Avital. "We were on vacation and I didn't want to be bothered. But the growth swelled each day and couldn't be ignored."
"I am used to functioning under tense conditions," confided Mr. Avital. "I tried to be calm as the doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor requiring an immediate operation. But I could not help but respond with shock by the doctors' refusal to assure us that the tumor could be completely removed.
"We tried to collect our thoughts. Perhaps we should fly directly to our next destination, San Francisco, where we could board a direct flight back to Israel. We would rather be at home than in Corevallis during this critical time. But the doctors insisted that the situation was urgent. We could not decide."
The next morning, as Mr. Avital was walking towards the university complex, he heard a voice calling him to stop. A bearded man with a black hat approached.
"Excuse me sir," said the man in Hebrew. "You're Jewish, aren't you? Why do you look so troubled?"
Mr. Avital's worry gave way to irritated surprise: "I beg your pardon, but whatever brings you to confront a stranger? And besides, how did you know that I am Jewish and that I speak Hebrew?"
The man was not deterred. With friendly compassion, he insisted that he share his worry with him. Amiram did not need much coaxing. Here he was, far from home, with no friends, and someone offered to lend a listening ear. He told him of his wife's illness and of their dilemma.
The man listened sympathetically, then said, "Look, someone can help you." The man told him about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose blessings had assisted many Jews. Amiram had heard much about Lubavitch; he remembered those friendly bearded men who had visited even the most remote army bases in Israel. But he had never had any close contact with any chassidim or with the Rebbe.
Yet, Amiram decided that he was going to give it a chance. He did not even notice that the man had slipped away.
"Incidentally," relates Mr. Avital, "I never saw that man before, nor did I ever see him again.
Ignoring the doctors' advice that they receive care locally, the Avitals were soon on line at a travel agency. "I'd like to change the stopover on our return tickets to Israel, from San Francisco to New York."
"Sorry, sir, all flights are booked until Saturday."
Amiram could not see traveling on Shabbos to get a blessing from the Rebbe. As he turned towards the door, the agent suddenly called him back: "Sir, you're in luck. I just located a cancellation. You can leave Oregon on Thursday and arrive in New York on Friday. Your flight to Israel departs Sunday afternoon."
"I didn't know that much about Divine Providence then, but I could not help but marvel at this coincidence, and that of the timely encounter with the mysterious bearded gentleman, or the fact that that Shabbos we spent in Crown Heights 'happened' to be a weekend experience offered as an "Encounter with Lubavitch" for uncommitted Jews.
"We were hosted graciously and participated in all the sessions. On Sunday, I took my place on the line to see Rebbe. I was impressed by the Rebbe's dignity, and felt calm as an inner voice told me that we had made the right decision. If anyone could help us, the Rebbe could."
When his turn came, Mr. Avital introduced himself as an Israeli officer and asked for a blessing for his wife's condition. The Rebbe handed him two dollars and said Brochah v'hatzlachah. He was already moving on when someone whispered loudly, "Sir, the Rebbe is beckoning you to come back."
"When are you going back to Israel?" the Rebbe asked as Mr. Avital rushed back.
The Rebbe handed him two additional dollars: "This is for parnossah (earning a livelihood) in Israel."
Outside, he met his wife. "I had been standing in line for two hours," related Mrs. Avital. "When I passed by the Rebbe, I told him about the tumor and requested a blessing. He blessed me with a complete recovery and handed me an extra dollar. I went blank from nervousness, and I don't know what I said or what the Rebbe answered. Without much thought, I went right back to the end of the line.
"When I reached the Rebbe, I described my illness again, and requested a blessing. The Rebbe said, 'But I already wished you a speedy recovery. Do not worry.' He handed me another dollar and blessed me again. I cannot understand how he could have remembered me among all of those people."
Back in Israel, the Avitals went straight to a doctor, who confirmed the existence of a growth and performed an operation three days later.
The next step was critical. Was the tumor indeed malignant? Did the surgeon extract all of it? These questions could only be answered by sending a sample for laboratory analysis.
The final lab results confounded the doctors. The growth should not have been classified as a tumor and it was not malignant. They could not understand what had happened.
However, for the Avitals, this was not totally unexpected. It was part of the extraordinary logic that had characterized their ordeal.
"I still faced another problem," concluded Mr. Avital, "Although I had received a salary during my sabbatical, when I returned, I was without a job. Yet, I believed in the Rebbe's "post-scripted" blessing for a livelihood and I landed another very comfortable position in a matter of days."
"It was the winter of 1959, I had been living in Crown Heights for about two years," recalls Reb Avraham Rothenberg of Bnei Brak, Israel, "it was decades before the fax era, and overseas calls were prohibitively expensive. So by the time I heard that my father in Israel had suffered a heart attack, he had already been in critical condition for a few days.
"I was very worried. I wrote the Rebbe in a disconnected stream of consciousness: 'I don't know what to think.'
The Rebbe replied promptly, gently, and firmly: "In similar situations, the previous Rebbeim taught: 'Tracht gut, vet zein gut. Think positively and the outcome will be good.'
"I await good tidings," the Rebbe added.
The Rebbe's answer helped Reb Avraham pull himself together.
Three days later, after minchah, the Rebbe turned to Rav Avraham: "Nu, do you have any good news to relate?"
"Yes. I just spoke to my family in Israel and my father overcame the crisis."
"When?" inquired the Rebbe.
"This past Thursday evening."
"When did you begin to think positively?" continued the Rebbe.
"Immediately upon receiving the Rebbe's reply."
"And when was that?"
"May such events never occur again," said the Rebbe. 'But you should always remember the importance of thinking positively."
Reb Avraham's father lived for another seventeen years.
A Belzer chassid was telling a story to some colleagues in Jerusalem. "It was one of those occasions when I sincerely missed my childhood city of Belz," he began. "After the Holocaust, I began a new life in the States. I married, had children, and opened a small business. Thank G-d, my life was relatively peaceful, until one day my daughter contracted a serious eye disease. The doctors were very pessimistic. 'She will most probably lose her eyesight,' they solemnly predicted.
"I was devastated. 'Dear G-d,' I thought to myself. 'As a youth in Belz, I knew where to turn in times of despair. But here, in America, what am I to do?'
"Suddenly, the phone rang. 'Hello, this is Rabbi Leibel Groner from the office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe has informed me that you have a problem. He seemed to imply that I should invite you to come to him for help.'
"It took me a while before I could grasp what had just transpired. But I didn't wait too long. Together with my daughter, I made my way to "770" and Rabbi Groner arranged for yechidus. The Rebbe read my note, looked at me, and said: 'True, you have strong belief in tzaddikim. When seeking salvation, however, you must put your trust in G-d. Re-establish your faith in Him, renew your commitment to His commandments, and your daughter will recover.'
"I was amazed at the Rebbe's keen perception. My outward appearance resembled that of many other Orthodox American Jews. But the Rebbe was able to see that after the Holocaust, I had abandoned my faith in G-d. My trust in tzaddikim, however, was still embedded deeply within me by my chassidic upbringing. I contemplated the Rebbe's directives and returned to my childhood Orthodoxy. Shortly thereafter, my daughter recovered."
"I had been anxiously awaiting this message from the Rebbe's secretary. I set out for "770" immediately, eager to be able to relate the Rebbe's response to my dear sister, who had been hospitalized with suspected cancer. The doctors had not been encouraging. Some spoke of using painkillers; others recommended an operation.
"I had written a heartfelt letter to the Rebbe describing my sister's illness and hospitalization, and I felt equally emotional now as I rushed into his office. The Rebbe's reply and blessing were encouraging. 'There is no need to operate. The diagnosis is in error and your sister's condition is not grave. May she recover soon and resume a healthy life.'
"The Rebbe's secretary afforded me a moment to express my joy and relief and then said softly, "I can understand how distraught and nervous you had been when writing the letter. Nevertheless, one must always try to concentrate more when writing to the Rebbe.'
"I looked at him in question. What was the reason for this gentle reprimand?
"The secretary continued. 'If the Rebbe himself had not told me that the blessing was for your sister and that the reply was intended for you, I would never have been able to contact you. You see, in your letter you wrote all about your sister, but you forgot to state her name. You didn't sign your own name, either.'
"The Rebbe's reply prompted us to ask another doctor to check my sister's condition. His findings confirmed the Rebbe's answer."
It is not uncommon for people to contact Chabad Houses around the world in times of medical urgency. The Rebbe Shlita's advice and blessings have been known to help thousands in need. Therefore, even when a person has had little contact with Chabad beforehand, he may turn to Chabad at a time of crisis.
One day a man knocked on the door of the home of Rabbi Yechiel Lechiani in Grenoble, France. "My name is Mr. Medina," he introduced himself. "My brother-in-law is very ill. His doctors say that it is necessary to operate immediately, but they have also warned us of the risks which may result from his unstable condition. Please help me contact the Rebbe for a blessing."
The Rebbe's answer arrived rapidly. As he frequently does regarding medically-related questions, the Rebbe responded: "Take the advice of a doctor who is a friend."
Rabbi Lechiani accompanied Mr. Medina to the hospital and told the Rebbe's answer to his brother-in-law. The sick man's eyes opened wide in wonder. "Is that so?" he exclaimed in surprise. "Is that really what the Rebbe said? Only five minutes ago, one of the doctors came to see me. He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'As a doctor, I would not be able to decide whether to risk the surgery or not. However, as a friend, I'm telling you, go through with the operation!' "
The operation was successful.
This same advice was given to Rabbi Nosson Barkahan of Lod, Israel. He had been visiting his friends, the Branovers, in the town of Omer in Israel's Negev. Omer is home to many highly-trained professionals. On the weekend of his visit, the Branovers introduced Rabbi Barkahan to some of their neighbors, including Dr. Berline, a world-renowned authority on kidney disease.
Rabbi Barkahan saw this as more than a casual meeting. Later he approached his hosts. "I have tell-tale symptoms of a problem with my kidney. I have put off going to a doctor because of all the red tape involved in getting appointments and undergoing tests. But perhaps your relationship with the doctor will enable me to bypass some of the bureaucracy."
Professor Branover was only too happy to assist his friend. He arranged an appointment with Doctor Berline, who discovered a large stone in Rabbi Barkahan's kidney. "The only way to remove a stone of this size is by surgery," he stated. Without a second thought, he asked his secretary to schedule a date for the operation.
Rabbi Barkahan promptly sought the Rebbe's advice. "Act upon the advice of a doctor who is a friend," the Rebbe replied.
After pondering the matter, Rabbi Barkahan dialed the Branovers' phone number. "I wish to consult with you," he told Mrs. Branover, relating to her the Rebbe's answer. "You are a doctor and a friend."
"But I am a pediatrician!" exclaimed Mrs. Branover.
"The Rebbe said 'a doctor'," persisted Rabbi Barkahan.
"But Dr. Berline is known throughout the world as an authority on kidney disease. If he feels that an operation is necessary, I have no reason to doubt his diagnosis."
"Nevertheless," insisted Rabbi Barkahan. "Since you are a doctor and a friend, I am asking your advice."
Mrs. Branover took a deep breath and thought. "If the question was so simple, the Rebbe would not have told him to seek a second opinion."
"Look," she finally said. "You've lived with this thing for quite some time now. Why don't you wait a while longer and see what happens?"
Within a week the stone dissolved and passed naturally. Dr. Berline could not understand; neither could the Branovers or Rabbi Barkahan. But there is often an advantage in following the advice of a doctor who is a friend.
Dr. Nirken, a well-known pediatrician in Houston, Texas, made this visit without his 'little black bag.' He had not arrived at the Chabad House to pay a house call; this time, he was seeking personal assistance.
"I woke up one morning a month and a half ago," he explained to the shaliach Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, "with a numb hand. I tried to restore sensation, but I discovered to my horror that I could not move my hand at all. For six weeks, the finest doctors in the field have been treating me, but they have not been able to determine the cause of the paralysis or to suggest any therapy. They also warned me that the paralysis may soon spread."
Rabbi Lazaroff had but one suggestion for the agitated doctor: "Why don't you write a letter to the Rebbe?"
Dr. Nirken readily agreed.
Six weeks later, the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Klein, called Rabbi Lazaroff. The Rebbe had three messages for Dr. Nirken:
- The Rebbe inquired about the doctor's condition;
- The Rebbe gave him a blessing for a complete recovery;
- The Rebbe instructed him to check his tefillin.
Rabbi Klein added that the answer was given the previous night after yechidus, shortly before 1 AM.
Rabbi Lazaroff contacted the doctor immediately and conveyed the Rebbe's answer. Dr. Nirken could not contain his excitement. "Incredible!" he exclaimed. "Last night at 12:45 a.m. I was suddenly able to move my hand for the first time since it became paralyzed."
Rabbi Lazaroff asked the doctor if he had tefillin. Dr. Nirken explained that he used a pair which he had inherited from his grandfather. They had been the subject of a unique miracle: Once the doctor's house had burned down, and everything he owned was destroyed except for the tefillin.
Now, after hearing the Rebbe's directive, Dr. Nirken gave his tefillin to Rabbi Lazaroff, who flew to New York on the same day to have them checked.
That evening, the scribe called the Rabbi, "The parchment scrolls inside the tefillin are not kosher. In the verse, 'And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm' the word, yadecha - 'your arm,' is missing."
The story continues several years later. Once the renowned opera singer Jan Peerce attended a bar mitzvah in Houston. When asked to speak a few words, he told a moving story of his own illness and recovery. Ten years previously, while in San Francisco, he had fallen critically ill. The doctors had given him no more than a few days to live.
A friend rushed to the shaliach in San Francisco, asking him to write to the Rebbe for a blessing. Almost immediately, the Rebbe gave Mr. Peerce a blessing for a complete recovery.
And to the amazement of the doctors, that is exactly what happened. "In gratitude," explained Mr. Peerce, "I resolved to put on tefillin every day.
"On his bar mitzvah," Mr. Peerce concluded, "a young man begins putting on tefillin. Let us all join him in fulfilling this practice daily."
The guests at the celebration were visibly moved. Among them was Dr. Nirken, who subsequently rose and told his own story.
It was not the lure of a new frontier that brought the Schochet family from Europe to Canada in the early 1950's. Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet was a distinguished Rabbi in Holland. Nevertheless, as his children grew, his concern for their education led him to immigrate to Toronto, where they could attend excellent yeshivos and benefit from the city's growing Torah community.
The Toronto community was quick to appreciate Rabbi Schochet's unique gifts, and he had little difficulty finding a Rabbinical post. As his home became an address for Jewish activity, their integration into the new city became easier. There were, nevertheless, considerable hardships during those first few years, such as a lack of a hot water heater and telephone.
"I particularly remember the assistance offered to our family by the Lubavitchers in Toronto," recalls Rabbi David Schochet, himself Rabbi of the Toronto Lubavitch community today. "The Lubavitchers gave much more than financial support. They played a major role in helping to fulfill the educational goals which my father had set for our family."
These chassidim shared stories of the Rebbe and his teachings with Rabbi Schochet. He was impressed, but still felt that he could not make a personal commitment to Lubavitch without more knowledge of the chassidic lifestyle.
During the holiday of Sukkos in 1952, a daughter of one of the Lubavitch families suffered from food poisoning, and her situation was quite serious. Her parents asked the Rebbe for a blessing for her recovery. The Rebbe agreed, and suggested that the parents immediately prepare a generous and joyous kiddush in shul on the coming Shabbos.
The kiddush was indeed an inspiring affair, with everyone's spirits uplifted in true chassidic joy. Rabbi Schochet participated in this kiddush and was both moved and mystified. "How could the parents and acquaintances of a critically ill girl manage to express such genuine good cheer?" he wondered. Soon the child recovered, and it was clear that she had suffered no permanent damage.
Less than a month after this incident, the Schochet family themselves met with similar turmoil. The Schochet's tiny one-and-a-half year old daughter overturned a huge kettle of boiling water and burned herself severely. The child was rushed to the hospital and placed in intensive care. She had suffered heavy burns on her entire body and her condition was nearly fatal. The child was quarantined for fear of infection, and even her parents were not allowed in her room.
From the hospital, Rabbi Schochet called "770". To his surprise, the Rebbe himself answered the phone. He listened patiently as Rabbi Schochet described the situation and requested a blessing. The Rebbe diverted the conversation to other matters. He inquired about the family's integration in their new place, Rabbi Schochet's Rabbinic post and other details. There was no mention of the immediate emergency. The Rebbe concluded with a token blessing and ended the conversation.
Rabbi Schochet was left stunned; no direct blessing for his daughter's recovery, only what appeared to be polite concern with his family's adjustment.
The next day, the Schochets received a message from the Rebbe's secretary. "The Rebbe has requested that you prepare a generous kiddush and seudas hoda'ah this Shabbos expressing your gratitude for G-d's providence with a festive meal."
This encouraging message stood in dire opposition to the grim forecasts predicted by the doctors. However, the Schochets were optimistic. Had they not themselves witnessed a precedent only a month before? "It was a very joyous kiddush," recalls Rabbi David Schochet.
Days went by with the family maintaining telephone contact with the hospital three times a day from a nearby store. Suddenly, about two weeks after the accident, a police vehicle stopped in front of the Schochet's home. The officer who knocked at the door had a grave expression on his face. "We were requested to inform you that your daughter's condition has taken a sharp turn for the worse. The doctors fear that her days or perhaps hours are numbered," he said. The officer offered to drive the distraught family to the hospital.
"Only my father was allowed to enter the room," recalls Rabbi David Schochet. "When he emerged his face was ashen. Our little sister's skin was rapidly losing color and the doctors had no hope for her survival."
Rabbi Schochet immediately contacted the Rebbe's office and described the desperate situation. The Rebbe's response was most unexpected. "Nonsense! The child is not in danger and will regain her health," the Rebbe said. He instructed the dumbstruck father to protest loudly against the hospital staff, blaming them for causing the deterioration in the child's condition.
Rabbi Schochet felt totally helpless. He was intimidated by the professional staff, who looked at him as a mere "greenhorn." Whom was he to approach? What was he to say? Evidently the Rebbe sensed his hesitation, for he repeated his instruction once again.
Slowly, the Rebbe's words sank in. Rabbi Schochet thought about the miraculous recovery of the other child only a month earlier. He did not doubt the Rebbe, and he mustered up the courage to confront the hospital staff with resolute determination. The doctors agreed to review his daughter's treatment carefully. To everyone's horror, it was discovered than an error in the I.V. dosage had caused unnecessary complications, and had endangered the child's life. The dosage was corrected and the little girl recovered. Since then, she has merited to tell the story many times to her children and her grandchildren.
Reb Chanoch Hendel Lieberman was one of the first to communicate a genuine appreciation of chassidic life in the world of art. His experiences in the Russian chassidic community were expressed through oil and canvas, bringing an awareness of Chassidism to many who would not enter a synagogue.
Reb Hendel was himself a unique picturesque personality whose constant celebration of life touched all those who came in contact with him. Up to his last days in 1976, he conducted the singing at every farbrengen like a true maestro, following the bidding of the Rebbe. One only had to watch his radiant face to see how he cherished this delightful role.
The overwhelming majority of Reb Hendel's paintings were of the chassidic shtetl in Russia. Nevertheless, during one yechidus, the Rebbe asked him to draw a painting depicting Uforatza, the Biblical term meaning "you shall spread out," which is associated with Lubavitch's outreach efforts to spread Jewish consciousness.
Seeing this as a unique opportunity, Reb Hendel asked the Rebbe to explain the visual image he associated with the word.
The Rebbe told him, "Imagine a broad river with a fast-moving current. A carefully constructed dam in the midst of the river regulates the flow of the water and controls the directions to which it is diverted.
"This is the idea of Uforatza - to control and direct the flow of water, enabling it to reach the fields and irrigate them, and cultivate fine produce."
In 1957, Reb Hendel felt a general sense of weakness and acute stomach pains. The doctors discovered abdominal cancer. No doctor would operate, because the chances of recovery would be small. With grim solemnity, they told Reb Hendel that he had only several months to live.
Reb Hendel went to see the Rebbe. "You will recover," were the Rebbe's encouraging words.
"But Rebbe, that is totally above the natural order," Reb Hendel said. He trusted the Rebbe, but was surprised at his promise.
"Lubavitch has endured more difficult circumstances," replied the Rebbe. "Nevertheless, you must find a doctor who will perform the operation."
Reb Hendel consulted numerous doctors, but to no avail. As each one reviewed his file and examined the X-rays, they shook their heads in refusal. In his search for a willing physician, he came across one elderly non-Jewish professor, who at first also refused. In desperation, Reb Hendel told him that he was advised to undergo the operation by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"The Lubavitcher Rebbe?" repeated the professor slowly. "I just read an article about him in the New York Times. Look, if you ask my professional opinion, I would tell you not to undergo the operation. However, the New York Times describes the Rebbe as having access to supernatural powers. If you're prepared to rely on those powers, then I will be prepared to perform the operation."
The complicated operation required the removal of three-quarters of his stomach. At one critical stage, the professor had a call placed to the Rebbe's office at "770": "Tell the Rebbe to activate those supernatural powers."
The secretary immediately conveyed the message to the Rebbe, who assured him that all would be well. Indeed, the operation was successful and Reb Hendel resumed a normal life. Despite the reduced size of his stomach, he was able to eat and drink normally. He lived for eighteen years after the operation, even managing an occasional lechaim.
The Rebbe himself once told the following story:
"A letter arrived one day from a sick man in Israel. He was scheduled to undergo a complicated operation and he requested a blessing. Nu, when a Jew asks for a blessing, shouldn't I help him?
"I gave him the blessing, adding that he should commit himself to putting on tefillin every day. The sick man resolved to do so and his condition suddenly took a sharp turn for the better. The doctors were surprised at the remarkable change. They canceled the operation and the incident became the talk of the department.
"As the word spread, many patients inquired what had caused the sudden recovery. The man told them that he began putting on tefillin.
" 'If that's the case,' they responded, 'We will also begin performing this mitzvah.' And indeed, many patients began to fulfill this daily obligation diligently.
"We can see from this," concluded the Rebbe, "that the sick man's stay in the hospital was intended to bring him and others to commit themselves to putting on tefillin. As soon as this mission was fulfilled, he was discharged."
"Although severe heart disease had caused a permanent malfunctioning of my arteries, I was thankful to be alive," related a congregant at the Lubavitch shul. "The doctors had promised that medication, a restriction of activity, and other changes in my lifestyle would reduce the immediate threat to my health."
"Some time later, the Rebbe wrote me: 'Increase your involvement in the Lubavitch center's activities,' as 'this will increase G-d's blessing for a speedy and complete recovery.'
"I was taken aback. I had become accustomed to the medication and my restricted activities, which had stabilized my condition. Furthermore, the Rebbe had instructed me to increase my involvement in Lubavitch activity. Increase it? The doctors had so restricted me that I was hardly involved at all!
"With mixed feelings, I offered my services to the local Lubavitch center. The overburdened staff was happy to delegate responsibilities to me. As the weeks passed, my involvement grew, and I began to feel better. Soon I became extremely busy, and I neglected my doctor's strict orders for rest and minimal activity.
"In the meantime, the date of my quarterly examination arrived. As the cardiologist proceeded through the tests, I could tell that something had happened. He reviewed the results again and again, and consulted with other doctors. There was no mistake; the malfunction had corrected itself.
"Ever since, the extent of my Lubavitch activities has served as an accurate barometer for my heart condition. The more active I am, the more efficiently my heart pumps."
Reb Eliyahu Peretz graduated from yeshivah, married, settled in Kiryat Gat, Israel, and became attracted to the thriving Lubavitch community which had enhanced the religious life of this largely secular community.
As his connection with Lubavitch grew, he decided to write the Rebbe in order to introduce himself and to request a blessing for himself and his wife.
The blessing arrived in due time, with a word of advice: "Check your tefillin."
New as he was to Lubavitch, Reb Eliyahu saw no urgency in carrying out the Rebbe's directive. Moreover, he knew that his tefillin had been written by a well-known, expert scribe.
About eighteen months later, on Erev Rosh HaShanah, Mrs. Peretz gave birth to the couple's first child. Unfortunately, the tiny boy had meningitis and was in critical condition. Weeks passed, but the baby's condition did not improve. Reb Eliyahu wrote a second letter to the Rebbe, this time including an urgent prayer for his son's health. He received the same directive he had neglected for a year and a half: "Check your tefillin."
This time, Reb Eliyahu rushed his tefillin to an expert scribe. He looked over his shoulder as the small scroll was unrolled. The tefillin were written beautifully, but both men could clearly see an error. In the verse: "Sanctify unto me all your firstborn..." the word 'firstborn' was missing. Shortly after the error was corrected, the boy recovered.
"Why did you come to see me?" the doctor asked Mr. David Segal with concern. Mr. Segal was a heart patient whom he had treated for several years, and his sudden visit worried the doctor.
"Please give me a full EKG and checkup," requested Mr. Segal.
"But why?" asked the doctor. "Are you feeling worse than usual?" He knew that his patient suffered constant chest pain.
"Please do the examination," Mr. Segal begged without any explanation.
The doctor shrugged agreeably. If it would make his ailing patient happy, why refuse?
After the examination, the perplexed doctor deliberated over the results. He looked at his patient, back at the results, then at his previous file and back at the patient.
"This is the second time in the last few days someone is giving me a very strange look," remarked Mr. Segal. "What's going on?" he asked, pointing at the papers.
"I don't understand," the doctor mumbled. "Your heart and your file tell two separate stories. Today, your heart is in fine condition for a person your age."
After thanking the doctor and leaving his office, Mr. Segal thought about the first strange look he had received. It was from a scribe.
Some time earlier, Reb Shlomo Greenwald, an acquaintance who was a Lubavitcher chassid, had persuaded him to seek the Rebbe's blessing for his recovery. At first, Mr. Segal was reluctant, he had given up all hope of recovery. "When I was healthy," he argued, "I never wrote the Rebbe. Why I should I write to him now when I am ill?" Finally, he agreed to have Reb Shlomo himself write the letter. He added a short note himself stating his despair about his health.
The Rebbe's reply was short. "Check your mezuzos."
The scribe unrolled the first parchment scroll of Mr. Segal's mezuzos and gave him a strange look. "I was told that you have heart disease, Mr. Segal," he said. "Well, so does your mezuzah!
The word 'heart' is missing from the verse, 'And you shall love G-d, your L-rd, with all your heart.' "
One of my first Rabbinic posts was in Birmingham, Alabama. While living there, my curious two-year-old daughter managed to reach the container of cotton swabs and inserted one deeply into her ear," related Rabbi Moshe Stern, Rabbi of the Shaarei Tefillah congregation in Toronto, Canada. "We were devastated when the doctors informed us that she had apparently suffered permanent loss of hearing. She underwent two complicated, but unsuccessful operations to repair the damage. 'There is nothing more we can offer,' the specialists said.
"We asked the Rebbe for a blessing. Surprisingly, he suggested that we check our mezuzos, especially the one in the child's room. Only a few weeks earlier I had purchased excellent new mezuzos for nearly every room in our house.
"I removed the mezuzah, but there was no need to have it checked professionally. The very first word, Shema - 'Hear' - was defective."
The Rebbe also advised us to search for a doctor in a different city to continue the treatment. We discovered a doctor of international renown in Memphis, Tennessee.
After the 'hearing' of the mezuzah on my daughter's door was repaired, the doctor performed an operation that enabled her own hearing to improve.
- (Back to text) Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 5.
- (Back to text) Pesachim 64b.
- (Back to text) (Professor Branover is a prestigious scientist and his wife is a pediatrician. See page 13).
- (Back to text) Deuteronomy 6:8.
- (Back to text) Genesis 18:14.
- (Back to text) Exodus 13:2.
- (Back to text) Deuteronomy 6:9.