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The Bleeding Hat

The Bleeding Hat

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I was building momentum on my journey back to Judaism, and was traveling at what felt like 150 spiritual miles per hour—until I ran heart-first into a brick wall.

When Yosef Sholom (“addition of peace”) was born, the first sounds he heard were my singing to him the Yiddish melody Rozhinkes und Mandlen:

In dem beys ha-mikdash in a vinkl cheyder,
Zitst di almone, bat tsion aleyn.
Ir ben yochidl yidele vigt zi keseyder,
Un zingt im tsum shlofn a lidele sheyn

. . . Dos vet zayn dayn baruf.
Rozhinkes mit mandlen,
Shlofzhe, yidele, shlof . . .

[In a corner of the Temple
The widowed daughter of Zion sits,
Rocking her only son Yidele to sleep.
She sings a tender lullaby:

That will be Yidele’s calling, too
Trading in raisins and almonds.
Sleep now, Yidele, sleep . . .]

The miracle of new life spiraled my spiritual momentum further upward.

Until the physician shattered the blissful ascent with a terse interjection:

“I think your child may have Down syndrome. Do you have any questions?”

His curt manner discouraged dialogue at that moment, and he left.

Wisdom requires the moisture of felt experience . . . as yeast needs water to come alive But many questions came later: How could G‑d do this? What about the concept of reward? Why three healthy children then, and this now? You know the many “why”s driven to expression from pain and loss: Yosef Sholom would not become wealthy trading in raisins and almonds.

A logical response might have been to turn away from G‑d in anger, to retreat on the journey. But instead I pushed forward to face the challenge and discover the meaning of Yosef Sholom. How could this be an addition of peace?

After exploring endless sources on the meaning of suffering, I discovered a deceptively simple answer from a sage rabbi: The meaning of Yosef Sholom is Yosef Sholom. Seeing my son as himself, as a unique individual, not as my projection of what I wanted him to be, transforms the suffering into acceptance and a true, ultimately deeper, love. G‑d defined Himself, “I shall be what I shall be.” Yosef Sholom needs no further explanation other than being himself in his uniqueness, an individual as G‑d willed him.

I recognized that he is complete and whole as he is, a loving child whose enthusiasm and joy when he greets me is full of endlessly fresh sincerity and spontaneity. If spouses would greet their mates with this joy, there would be a measurable increase in love in the world, an increase in peace.

But this understanding cannot be a mere dry, intellectual grasp. Philosophy fails at times of sorrow and pain. The philosophical Jew will abandon his faith, while the simple Jew will remain true. Ideas must be brought into the heart. This deeper and sustaining wisdom requires the moisture of felt experience to come alive, just as yeast needs water to rise and yield life-sustaining bread.


There is no better way to immerse oneself in experience than sitting in the sukkah. To dwell in the sukkah is the only commandment that encompasses the entire body. So it is not surprising that my transformative moment came during a small farbrengen (chassidic gathering) with two of my good friends and teachers.

My child needs no explanation other than being himself in his uniqueness, an individual as G‑d willed him . . . Over the months since my spiritual challenge, we had many helpful conversations about suffering, tests, meaning and acceptance. But here in the sukkah was a time for only joy. So we talked and sang and connected in joy. Then a light rain began to fall. Being new to Chabad, I began to glance towards the glass doors leading to the living room. Noting the gaze of my eyes, one friend said, “Let’s make l’chaim.”

Then the rain grew from a drizzle to a steady stream. My neck strained further towards the dry warmth of the living room. I noticed the eyes of my host’s mother peering through the glass window, seemingly beckoning her Jewish son to be sensible and come in from the rain. Perhaps there was hope.

At this point, my other friend, knowing my deep love of music, said, “Let’s sing a niggun” (chassidic melody). So we sang in the rain:

“Ay de di di dii dii diiiii diiii . . .” In response to our song, heaven replied ironically by opening its gates and releasing a downpour. Sensing my near desperation, my friends resorted to the ultimate involvement, “Let’s dance.”

As the three of us danced and sang in the sukkah, the transformative rain penetrated deeply, and I surrendered to the experience. I understood, not with the dry intellect alone, but with the wet, mikvah-like immersion in G‑d’s presence and will.

We sat down again to continue farbrenging, and I noticed that my hat, not Borsalino quality, was the only one bleeding black ink into the rivulets washing over the plastic tablecloth. In my joy, I knew these were no longer dark tears, but another message of transcending the limits of the physical and of conventional awareness.

Everything is good, even that which must for the moment feel bad. As the Talmud instructs: Thank G‑d with joy for the bad as well as the good.

In the sukkah state of mind, no rain can harm you. Bring the sukkah state of mind into daily life, and life’s adversity is transformed. Since that day, I have never used an umbrella. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe put it, “Rain is a blessing.”

The next day, when I went to put on my hat, it no longer fit. I wasn’t sure at the time whether the hat had shrunk or my head had expanded.

Since that day, I have never used an umbrella The friends who provided me with this gift of transformation were Dr. Zvi Yehuda Saks (of blessed memory) and Rabbi Yosef Deren. Words cannot express the gratitude, but perhaps song and dance can. I am grateful that I had the opportunity, together with several of his friends, to dance with Zvi Yehuda on the last day of Sukkot before his passing and his penultimate transformation—and to share with him the lasting positive impact he had on my life, as he had with countless others.

May we all have Yosef Sholom, a complete addition of peace, speedily with the coming of Moshiach.

Dr. Robert M. Schwartz is founder and president of Cognitive Dynamic Therapy Associates, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is the author of Holy Eating: The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.
Illustration: Detail from a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Benoni Benzion Kansas City September 30, 2012

Bleeding Hat This article has come to me at a time that I really needed some hope. Thanks. Reply

sue Kanata, ON October 23, 2011

tears so touching, thank you for sharing. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 19, 2011

days like this, strange days indeed Don't you think there's something in the air? I feel it as I wind my way from the college where I teach, back to this beautiful Cape refuge where I live. And everywhere it is beautiful. Today the rain is falling hard, and it seems this year the leaves are late in turning, late to Go, and yet for me, green is auspicious, being also about GO, as in our signals.

I worked with children who had Downs syndrome and they were truly special, with an abundance of love. I think all the children I have been with, in years of being a speech therapist and in working in psychiatric clinics as a psychiatric social worker, have taught me more about life, than the dry exercise of reading about this in books. I loved them all.

Rain and Reign are aurally synonymous in English. As for synchronicity I am recording a visible dance of astounding connects wherever I go and this story has wings. I know it.

I can say, something is happening and I keep a Diary of these days, and I feel that Beatles song. Reply

Anonymous Ocoee, FL - Florida October 9, 2011

Don't worry having a child with a disability is a blessing because Hashem teaches you things in life you would have likely never experienced if you had a normal child. Hashem sends gifts which are jewels such as children never have a little crack the jewels are perfect the way they are. Reply

leah amdur Jerusalem, Israel October 20, 2006

The bleeding hat I fostered a Down's boy. He is now 6 1/2 he is the greatest joy of our lives. He is always happy. Every parent should be blessed with a Down's child. I would love to foster some more children Reply

fraida Pittsburgh, PA October 11, 2006

What a beautiful tribute to two astoundingly beautiful neshamas, Zvi Yehuda (of blessed memory) and Yosef Sholom (may he by healthy and well). May we have the ultimate joy this Succos--Moshiach, followed immediately with techias hamaysim. We are all so ready. Reply

Dr. Susan B. Spitzer Miami, FL October 10, 2006

Thank you for your perspective. The autistic children in our community frequently show me new ways to view things, as we might also discover in the rain. Despite the clouds in the sky this evening, I will be lounging in my sukkah with friends. I only hope that G-d opens up the heavens with drops of H2O! Reply

lauren howitt-vallone sarasota, fl October 10, 2006

sukkah state of mind very well written and may all your children bring you joy Reply

Robert Schwartz Pittsburgh, PA October 9, 2006

My Article Submission Thanks for the warm comments. Have a joyful Succos--regardless of the weather.

Response to "a bit puzzled":
It is my understanding that we are certainly exempt from sitting in the Succah during heavy rain. Chabad custom, though, encourages remaining in the Succah despite the rain because of the fervor to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the Succah.
Although it is puzzling on the conventional level, consider the many conventional but passionate football fans who will sit in rain and snow in mid January! It's all how you view it and this is the point of the story. Reply

Moshe Leib Gray hanover, nh October 6, 2006

I have heard this story many times and it is more powerful now then ever.
Thank you for the much needed laugh and cry.
I plan on sharing this with the 30+ Jewish students who will grace our sukkah tonight. Reply

Gershon Mcgreeevy October 6, 2006

Why That was indeed a beautiful article but I am a bit puzzled. why did those three Chassidim continue to sit in the Sukkah in the rain? Aren’t we exempt from sitting in the Sukkah in the case of a downpour? Reply

Rochie NY, NY October 4, 2006

Thank you for this beautiful memory of my Ta. Reply

RIvka Saks Pittsburgh, Pa. October 4, 2006

Reuven, just beautiful to read again. Very, very special. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, Pa. October 3, 2006

THANKS To Dr. Schwartz,
Thank you for your very beautiful and heartfelt story. Thank you for reminding me that G-D's will is only good and that in a "Sukkah state of mind," we can feel the joy and transform any experience. May you be blessed with much JOY on this holiday of Sukkot. Reply

jon via chainetwork.com October 3, 2006

beautiful, absolutely inspiring Reply

Dovid Monsey, NY October 2, 2006

That is a beautiful article. The story really brought your message home. Thank you for sharing. (And may G-d bless Dr. Saks' soul.) Reply

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