Chapter 11: The Quality of Mercy
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,1 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
This chapter relates many wondrous stories concerning
health (thus directly relating to the quality of mercy mentioned
in Tanya). At the same time, our Sages2 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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“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.3 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
“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
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.
a) The Rebbe inquired about the doctor’s
b) The Rebbe gave him a blessing for a complete
c) 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,4
‘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
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
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
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 term5 meaning “you shall spread out,”
which is associated with Lubavitch’s outreach efforts to spread
Seeing this as a unique opportunity, Reb Hendel
asked the Rebbe to explain the visual image he associated with the
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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:6 “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
“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
“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
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,7 ‘And you shall love G-d, your L-rd, with all your
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.
1. Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 5.
2. Pesachim 64b.
3. (Professor Branover is a prestigious scientist and his wife is
a pediatrician. See page 13).
4. Deuteronomy 6:8.
5. Genesis 18:14.
6. Exodus 13:2.
7. Deuteronomy 6:9.