Healer of Millions
The Avner Institute presents two outstanding accounts – one involving Rabbi Reuven Dunin, Chabad emissary to Haifa; the other told by Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson, the Rebbe’s personal physician – testifying to their leader’s transformative influence over Jews of every stripe and of every ailment, spiritual and physical.
In loving memory of Hadassah Bas Schneur Zalman
“A Will of its Own”
Rabbi Aharon Dov Halperin relates:
He looked very different from the rest of us seated around the long table in the hall of Yeshivas Toras Emes, then situated on Meah Shearim, one of Jerusalem’s best-known ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Amid the shtreimels and black hats, the young man with the long hair and the colorful kippah stood out.
It was the last day of Pesach 5732/1972, and the venerable Reb Moshe Weber was speaking at the Seudas Mashiach, the customary special meal among Chassidim at the end of Passover. The young man probably found the speech incomprehensible. But then, even the most experienced Chassidim might have had trouble grasping the lofty subjects.
Later, when Rabbi Reuven Dunin, of Chabad of Haifa, began to speak, the young man visibly relaxed. As the contemporary idioms of Israeli Hebrew ricocheted across the walls, the visitor found this speaker easier to identify with. Although here too, he did not understand everything, he felt drawn to the speaker’s down-to-earth directness. Rabbi Dunin, noticing this, made sure the young guest was given four traditional cups of wine, which were soon followed by another four. The young man tried to join in with the singing.
Many times that evening, Rabbi Dunin peppered his Hebrew with Yiddish colloquialisms, which the young man failed to understand. Sensing their importance, however, the latter asked the person sitting next to him what they meant.
To his surprise, the other person evaded the question. The young man tried asking someone else, but received the same reaction.
Finally, in frustration, he decided to ask Rabbi Dunin himself.
“Excuse me,” he asked shyly, “but what does ‘sh . . .’ mean?”
Rabbi Dunin replied with a question. “Have you ever looked at an animal’s tail? If not, then take a look at the people sitting around you!
“The tail moves backwards and forwards all the time, up and down, but it doesn’t move of its own free will. It doesn’t have any bones of its own or too many nerves. If doesn’t even know what it’s connected to!”
Suddenly, the young man burst into tears. At first the rest of us, believing he had felt offended by Rabbi Dunin’s tone of voice, tried to console him. But in vain – he continued to weep.
The farbrengen carried on into the night. We all seemed to have forgotten that Passover holiday ended. Everywhere else, the special dishes and cutlery were being washed and put away, and long lines were forming outside the bakeries. Yet in Toras Emes, Pesach melodies flowed, as if the holiday had just begun.
Finally it was midnight. After the birkat hamazon and the evening prayers, the gathering broke up. Only a few remained in the hall.
It was at this point that the young man felt able to tell us what was on his mind.
“I come from a traditional background,” he explained. “After completing military service I left Israel and settled in New York. There I gave up all religious observance and started going out with a Gentile girl. Eventually we decided to get married.
“Some Chabad relatives of mine in Crown Heights kept trying to dissuade me. But nothing worked. Finally they begged me to speak to the Rebbe. I’m no fool – I knew exactly what the Rebbe would say, so I refused. However, they managed to squeeze a compromise out of me. This week, I agreed to go to see the Rebbe while he was giving out matzoth.
“I decided – what have I got to lose? After all, I really didn’t believe in any of this stuff. I figured, once I received my little piece from the Rebbe, everyone would get off my back.
“So exactly a week ago I went to Crown Heights. It was Erev Pesach when I joined the line, accompanied by my cousins.
“When I reached the Rebbe, he gave me a piece of matzah and wished me a chag kasher vesameach.
“But then, as I began to walk away, the Rebbe called me back and asked, ‘Where do you live?’
“‘New York,’ I replied.
“‘And your parents?’
“‘Why don’t’ you spend Seder night with the rest of your family?’ the Rebbe suggested.
“I refused to answer directly, stammering that it probably wouldn’t work out.
“‘It’s not too late,’ said the Rebbe. ‘True, you won’t be able to spend the Seder with them, but you could travel after the first day of yomtov and be with your parents for the rest of Pesach. This would make them very happy and you would have gained a mitzvah.’
“With this the Rebbe gave me another two pieces of matzah which he said were for my parents. Before I could move on, the Rebbe stopped me again.
“‘Whereabouts do your parents live in Israel?’ he asked.
“‘Where in Jerusalem?’
“‘Well,’ said the Rebbe, ‘Romema is not very far from Meah Shearim. All you need to do is to keep walking straight and you’ll get there. On the Seventh Day of Pesach, a Seudas Mashiach is usually held in Yeshivas Toras Emes, which is at the end of Meah Shearim. You should go there and join in.’
“Then the Rebbe wished me a successful journey and said that he would like to hear good news.
“As I walked away, I was besieged by my relatives, as well as a crowd of other Chassidim, who all wanted to know what had happened. I found out that it was very unusual for the Rebbe to engage in such a large conversation with someone while handing out matzah.
“‘So what are you waiting for?’ my cousins exclaimed. ‘Let’s book your ticket!’
“‘What ticket?’ I snapped. ‘You told me to see your Rebbe, so I did. Stop bugging me. I’m not going back to Israel and that’s final!’
“My relatives obviously did not see it that way. They continued to pester me until I gave in, and that is why I am here.
“I don’t need to tell you about the scenes that erupted once I told my family about my girlfriend. When I first arrived, my parents were so happy to see me after four years. That immediately changed once I told them about my forthcoming marriage.
“Throughout Chol HaMoed I have been feeling torn apart. I began to realize how cut off I had been from my family and my people. Today, the Seventh Day of Pesach, I remembered the Rebbe’s words – to come to Toras Emes.
“So here I am. When Reuven started talking about the tail which does not know whether it wants to be up or down and lacks a will of its own, I began to think that maybe this is why the Rebbe sent me here.”
We suggested that he go speak to Rabbi Dunin. We gave him the address of Rabbi Dunin’s father-in-law in Jerusalem, as well as Rabbi Dunin’s home address in Haifa. The young man left graciously but without promising that he would make contact with him.
Unfortunately I have no idea what happened in the end. I only hope that this confused young man made the right decision and that today he is living the life of an observant Jew.
Who knows? Maybe he is a Chabad emissary somewhere in the world with a wife and family. If he is out there, among our readers, or if anyone else knows of his whereabouts, I would love to know what happened to him.
“A Bottle of Wine”
Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson OBM relates:
Many years ago, after Seudas Mashiach, the Rebbe gave me a bottle of wine, saying, “This should be used for healing.”
I did not understand exactly what the Rebbe meant. Spiritual healing or physical healing? Because I was unsure, I took the bottle home and put it away.
Years passed, and the bottle of wine remained in its place on a special shelf. One day, noticing it there, I wondered, “What should I do with this bottle of wine? The Rebbe must have given it to me for a reason.”
At this time a melave malkah, the post-Sabbath meal, was being held in Crown Heights. What other event, I decided, could be more appropriate to distribute the Rebbe’s wine for use as a cure? And to fulfill the Rebbe’s request?
The wine attracted all kinds of people, who came to the melave malkah specifically to make use of it. Some wanted it for themselves, others on behalf of friends or relatives.
By the end of the evening, all of the wine had all been given out. I did not know whether it had reached its intended destination, but at least I knew I had carried out the Rebbe’s directive to the best of my ability.
Long after this event, a Jew from Boro Park came to visit me. He told me the following story:
“I was at the melave malkah where you gave out the Rebbe’s wine. I took some of it on behalf of my wife, who was sick, and I also asked for a little extra to give out to other Jews in need of medical help.
“A few days ago, a Sephardi turned up at my home. He said he was to shortly undergo a serious operation and asked if I could give him some of the wine.
“As it happened, I already knew this particular individual. He owned a laundromat which was open on the Sabbath and holidays. I told him, ‘This means you violate the laws of Shabbos. I’m afraid I can’t give the wine to you.’
“‘What do you mean?’ the man exclaimed.
“‘This wine is uncooked. If it is touched by anyone non-Sabbath observant, it will no longer be kosher. Sorry, but I can’t let something like this happen to the Rebbe’s wine.
“The man seemed despondent. So I said to him, ‘I will give some to you only on condition that you promise to close your laundromat on Shabbos and yomtov.’
“At first the man hesitated. To agree might mean giving his competitors an edge. However, in the end, he agreed, and I gave him some wine.
“His operation proved to be more successful than his doctors had imagined. As for the laundromat, it did even much better after his agreement to keep it closed on Shabbos and yomtov. He was suddenly offered a good deal on some more efficient washing machines and his business is currently booming.”
I now realized what the Rebbe had intended when he gave me the bottle of wine. For this particular Jew, it had cured his body, his soul, and his livelihood.
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