As a young yeshivah student in Jerusalem, I first encountered Chabad by way of an underground Tanya class given by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Segal. This class would introduce quite a few outstanding yeshivah students to the Chabad school of thought and, in time, I ended up organizing these classes myself. As a result, I transferred to the yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, and in 1967 I went to study in the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva in the Rebbe’s court.
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When I came to New York, the first farbrengen of the Rebbe that I had the fortune of participating in was on Purim. In those years, anyone who needed to speak to the Rebbe could approach him at the farbrengen – as the chasidim sang between his talks – to say “l’chaim” and ask whatever was on his heart.
At the time, and for as long as I can remember before then, I had a certain medical issue that bothered me terribly. I had visited many doctors, undergone various tests and procedures, but nothing helped. I decided to use this opportunity, on the auspicious day of Purim, to request the Rebbe’s blessing.
I had already given up on normal medical means – they had been unsuccessful until that point – but I had the audacity to ask the Rebbe to promise me that everything will be resolved.
“Go to Seligson,” the Rebbe answered me, “and you will succeed.”
Dr. Avrohom Abba Seligson was a local chasid to whom the Rebbe would often refer people when they sought his blessing for matters of health. Encouraged by the Rebbe’s assurance, I went to see Dr. Seligson. He prescribed some sort of medication, which I took for a period of time, but it was to no avail. I was out of ideas, and felt deeply frustrated; after all of those treatments and after the Rebbe’s promise, I had really hoped that something would change.
So, I wrote to the Rebbe that I had followed his guidance and gone to see Dr. Seligson. I recounted all of the doctor’s instructions, and that nothing had helped. In my letter, I quoted the Rebbe’s own words to me: Go to Seligson, and you will succeed. “What,” I asked, “am I to do now?”
I received the Rebbe’s answer in his own handwriting, written on the margins of the note I had sent to him. Of his referral to Dr. Seligson, the Rebbe wrote, “Since the Torah says, ‘And the healer shall heal’ – the Torah has given doctors the authority and the power to heal.” As for my question of what to do next, the Rebbe drew an arrow to the words, “Go to Seligson and you will succeed.” That was how his assurance would be fulfilled.
As I understood it, the Rebbe was explaining that when turning to a doctor, one should recognize that “the Torah gives doctors the authority and the power to heal.” That is, the healing ultimately comes from G-d, and the doctor is merely an agent for that divine healing.
As an aside, the original Talmudic expression is that “the doctor has been given the authority to heal,” but in his note, the Rebbe wrote, “the authority and the power.” In other words, if our Sages emphasized that the Torah allows doctors to act as healers, this also carries a implication that the Torah gives them the ability to draw down healing from Above.
Following the Rebbe’s response, I returned to Dr. Seligson. I shared the content of my correspondence with the Rebbe and stressed that I was turning to him in adherence with Torah’s empowerment that he could heal me. He prescribed another medicine and, thank G-d, the problem went away once and for all.
In 1977, several years after marriage, I was living in Rishon Letzion. By that time, I was teaching in the local Chabad yeshivah. At the end of the school year, I took advantage of the summer break and, with two friends, I went to visit the Rebbe. In those years, one could request a private audience with the Rebbe in his office. These meetings would occur twice a week, and so we asked his secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner, to put us on the schedule.
“The list is closed,” Rabbi Groner informed us. None of our pleas about how far we had traveled to meet with the Rebbe did us any good.
We were so upset that we decided to write to the Rebbe and ask him directly. “We request that the Rebbe have compassion on us, as a father has compassion for his children,” was how we concluded the letter, and all three of us signed it. To our joy, the Rebbe instructed that we be given an appointment, and soon Rabbi Groner called us to report that our audience was scheduled.
The appointment was for the last night before the month of Elul, which turned out to be the last night he received people during that year. Generally, the Rebbe met fewer people and corresponded less during the month of Elul, as he was occupied with preparations for the new year. The next day, as was his custom before every new month, he would be spending hours in prayer at the resting place of the Previous Rebbe.
The three of us each met with the Rebbe individually. To the first of our group, the Rebbe gave 400 dollars towards his travel expenses; to the second, 500; and to the third – which was me – he gave 600.
At the end of my audience, the Rebbe commented on the fact that we were originally refused an audience. “Don’t be upset with Rabbi Groner,” he said. “I was the one who instructed him to do this when we have to prepare for the new year.”
I saw that the Rebbe wanted to make sure that one Jew didn’t have any resentment toward another. At the same time, I also saw Rabbi Groner’s great dedication to the Rebbe: Had he told us that it was the Rebbe who had instructed him to close the list, we would have accepted it without hesitation – but instead of blaming it on the Rebbe, he took it on himself.
Another thing I learned was that the Rebbe’s spiritual preparation for the new year began over a month before Rosh Hashanah; the month of Elul had not yet begun, yet the Rebbe was already too busy to meet with people; his preparations for the month of festivals were already in full swing.
Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz serves as a chasidic mentor to the Chabad community of Rishon Letzion, also heading an evening kollel for Chasidut in Bnei Brak and lecturing at the Beit Rivkah seminary in Kfar Chabad. He was interviewed in his home in September 2014.