G-d’s Debt to the Sick Man
By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
As a new Chabad emissary to Toronto in 2000, Rabbi Nechemia Deitsch rotated among the three shuls within walking distance of his home each Shabbos.
One week, he made the twenty-minute walk to Shaarei Tzedec, where he found the congregation just sitting down to the third meal of the day. When he declined their invitation to wash, citing the Chabad custom not to do so, a debate erupted, with some arguing that Chabad should not forego such an important mitzvah.
Mr. Sholom Langer, a long-time resident of the city, stood up. “Do you want to know what Chabad is?” he asked. “Let me tell you a story.”
In early February 1950, the front page of Toronto’s Yiddish newspaper announced the passing of the sixth Chabad rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz. The headline caught his eye, Mr. Langer recalled, because he had heard about the rebbe from his father, Rabbi Shlomo Langner, who was the grandson of the fourth leader of the Stretyn Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi Langner. (Sholom Langer later changed the spelling of his last name.)
Mr. Langer purchased the paper and brought it to his father, who sighed. “Mr. Silver from down the block will sadly pass away this year.”
When Mr. Langer asked what the connection was, his father told him that in the summer of 1942, Chaim Silver had become gravely ill. His distraught family, hoping for a miracle, had turned to Rabbi Shlomo’s father (Mr. Langer’s grandfather), Rabbi Moshe Langner, for a blessing.
The rabbi declined to give a blessing. He reminded them that Mr. Silver’s father had been a Lubavitcher chassid and encouraged them to write to the Rebbe Rayatz, who had recently arrived in New York.
The family called the rebbe’s office in New York and shortly thereafter received a response from the rebbe: “Since one angel is not comparable to one thousand, the family should do something with the number one thousand.” The rebbe suggested they give one thousand dollars to the Lubavitch yeshiva that had just opened in Montreal, “and this will stand in good stead for Mr. Silver.”
The Silvers immediately committed to donate the money, however, they could not agree on when it should be given. Mrs. Silver wanted to give it immediately, but Mr. Silver’s brother and business partner balked. “Are you crazy? This is a huge sum of money.” There would be plenty of time to make the donation if and when his brother recovered, he argued.
That autumn, during the High Holidays, Mr. Silver received a letter from the Rebbe Rayatz. “Thank G-d that your heart is strengthened and your health improved. You should strengthen your belief and trust in G-d, and G-d should send you a recovery…and you should follow the doctors’ advice and rest.”
Then, the rebbe turned to the family’s pledge to the yeshiva, relating a story about his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, known as the Rebbe Rashab:
“A Jew who was very ill once wrote to my father, promising that if he recovered, he would give a large donation to the Tomchei Tmimim yeshiva, at that time located in the town of Lubavitch. My father sent his blessing for a full recovery and wrote to him, ‘In regards to your commitment to the yeshiva, it is better that you should fulfill the pledge immediately, and G-d will be your debtor to cure you, rather than you being a debtor to G-d.'”
The Rebbe Rayatz’s letter convinced Mrs. Silver that the donation should be made immediately. She sent her son to Montreal to make it, and shortly thereafter, the Rebbe wrote to Mr. Silver again. He had immense pleasure in hearing that the pledge had been fulfilled, he wrote, particularly in the obvious importance it had been given, “by sending your eldest son personally.”
The rebbe concluded by reminding Mr. Silver not to take G-d’s blessings for granted. “When a person contemplates how, though he is lowly, he can still give G-d spiritual pleasure … he must be immensely joyous. And this holy joy is a pure vessel for health and good livelihood.”
Mr. Langer completed his story, that Mr. Silver recovered from his illness and, as Rabbi Langner had predicted, he passed away shortly after the Rebbe Rayatz passed away in 1950.
The crowd at Shaarei Tzedec enjoyed the story; the debate resolved with mutual respect, they parted from each other warmly.
Rabbi Deitsch had a custom to study several pages of the Rebbe’s published letters each day. The very next day after he heard the story, he was reading from volume 23, and there, on page 11, he found a letter from the Rebbe to Mr. Langer’s father. Rabbi Langner, over a decade after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, had written the story of Mr. Silver’s recovery and passing to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe responded, quoting the Talmud (Shabbos 10b), that only one who is refined appreciates refined items. “The blessings of the righteous are everlasting and have their desired effect,” the Rebbe wrote (adapted here from the Hebrew), insinuating that surely the blessing did not cease upon the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, “and especially according to what our sages say (Zohar 280a), that the righteous who pass away are even more accessible to the living than during their lifetime, as explained in epistle 27 of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.”
As Rabbi Deitsch was embarking on his life’s mission in the “Army of the Rebbe,” seven years after the passing of the Rebbe, the words, “that the righteous who pass away are even more accessible,” were especially meaningful. He shared them with Mr. Langer, who was amazed at the completed circle.