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A Healing Heart

The Chassidic movement, begun by the Baal Shem Tov some three hundred years ago, preached the omnipresence of G-d, the importance of serving Him with joy and the essential holiness of every Jew. But it met with much opposition by “misnagdim,” or opponents, as they called themselves; religious Jews who had some theological issues with the teachings of Chassidism. Rabbi Yaakov Greenberg from Borough Park was a descendent of a long line of such misnagdim.

So he felt a bit incongruous entering the room of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the foremost of the Chassidic leaders, for a private audience.

Years earlier Rabbi Greenberg had accompanied his ailing father-in-law, who lived in Israel, to Houston, Texas, where he was undergoing treatment. The only kosher Jewish facility in Houston at the time was the Chabad House run by Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, where they received royal treatment.

Thank G-d, Rabbi Greenberg’s father-in-law recovered. Before leaving, he thanked Rabbi Lazaroff profusely for the wonderful hospitality, and asked his son-in-law, Rabbi Greenberg, to please visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of the Chabad Chassidim in New York, to thank him personally for the generosity extended to them at the Chabad House.

After returning to Brooklyn, Rabbi Greenberg discovered that he would have to wait several months for an audience with the Rebbe. He decided to suffice with just writing a letter of thanks to the Rebbe, highly praising the Houston Chabad House.

Several years later his father-in-law passed away. Rabbi Greenberg and his wife took the first flight to Israel for the funeral. When they returned one week later, they found in their mailbox a letter from his wife's father, written and mailed just hours before his passing. In the letter, he repeated his request to his son-in-law to personally visit and thank the Rebbe for the hospitality of three years earlier.

Rabbi Greenberg had no choice. He went to the Rebbe's headquarters early the next morning. When the Rebbe's secretaries heard the story of the dying man's letter, they gave him an appointment for a private audience with the Rebbe later that very week.

At the appointed time, Rabbi Greenberg entered the Rebbe's office, thinking that it would be a short audience. In fact, maybe he wouldn't have a chance to speak at all; the Rebbe's secretary insisted that he write his request on a piece of paper and hand it to the Rebbe upon entering.

But Rabbi Greenberg was in for a surprise.

When Rabbi Greenberg handed the Rebbe his note, the Rebbe immediately responded, "You wrote me three years ago and it caused me great pleasure to know that the Chabad House in Houston treated you and your father-in-law so well. Thank you. The reason that I didn't reply was because I was waiting for you to come here in person, as your father-in-law requested; particularly being that there is a commandment to honor your wife's father, and I thought you would fulfill what he requested.”

Rabbi Greenberg was speechless. How had the Rebbe known about a private conversation between him and his father-in-law? But he recovered sufficiently to say, “I finally am here. My father-in-law, of blessed memory, passed away less than a month ago.”

The Rebbe, without changing his tone, continued on a strange note.

“In Hebrew, the word for heart is LeB. It has the numerical value of thirty two (L=30 B=2) like the number of strings on the tzitzis (woolen strings attached to four cornered garments). This has an inner connection to what is written regarding tzitzis, ‘You will see them and remember all the commandments of G-d’ (Num.15:39).

“Namely, just as the heart must, G-d forbid, never stop beating even for one second, so a Jew must never allow even one moment to pass when he doesn't remember G-d. No matter what situation he is in; day or night, awake or even asleep. Therefore, we Chassidim have a custom to wear tzitzis (talis katan) even at night.”

The Rebbe then paused, smiled broadly and said, “Your father-in-law was in the hospital in Houston where there are truly expert doctors. But there are great doctors in other places as well. In fact, the greatest doctor of them all is found everywhere. He is G-d Almighty, and not only is He the true healer Who gives all the doctors the ability to heal, but He can heal when human doctors cannot.

“For instance, even when there is what they call ‘cardiac arrest,’ when the heart ceases to beat and no doctor can help, G-d can and will help.

“And even if you will say that this is ‘raising the dead’… so what? That doesn't bother me at all. We say three times a day in our prayers that ‘You raise the dead and are bountiful to save.’”

With that, the meeting concluded.

Rabbi Greenberg was moved to his very soul; he had never dreamed there could be such an awesome Jewish leader. But what the Rebbe said about tzitzis and doctors left him with a vague, confused feeling; it was clear that the Rebbe was getting at something but he had no idea what it was.

Three years later, Rabbi Greenberg was in Hong Kong for business purposes. He met someone in a hotel lobby and had just started a conversation when a sudden, massive pain in his chest knocked the wind out of him. It was as though someone hit him in the chest with a sledgehammer.

Two days later, he awoke in a hospital intensive care unit, where he learned that his heart had stopped beating.

“It's called total cardiac arrest,” the doctor said. “You didn't respond to any treatment. It was truly a miracle your heart started beating again. G-d Himself must have healed you, like the dead coming back to life!”

He told his wife, who had flown in from America, to call the Rebbe's office, report what happened and ask for a blessing. Within a few hours she received a reply by fax:

“I prayed for your husband at the grave of my father-in-law for a complete and speedy recovery. Certainly your husband remembers what I told him when we spoke about the importance of wearing tzitzis even at night.”

When he explained the answer to his wife, she berated him for not heeding the Rebbe three years ago; from that moment he began to wear tzizis at night and also became a chassid.

His heart troubles went into remission for several years, until one day he had a brief recurrence of heart pain. He realized that the previous night he had forgotten to wear his tzitzis.

Rabbi Greenberg told this story at a Chassidic gathering in Miami Beach Florida in 1981, at which point he publicly announced that he had broken the family chain of opposition to Chassidism and had become a fervent Chassid of the Rebbe.



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