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The Rebbe Said Thank You

The Rebbe Said Thank You

The Rebbe talks and distributes dollars for charity to the wounded servicemen of the Israeli Defense Force
The Rebbe talks and distributes dollars for charity to the wounded servicemen of the Israeli Defense Force

When Joseph Cabiliv-today a successful real estate developer-regained consciousness in the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, he remembered nothing of the circumstances that had brought him there. He felt an excruciating pain in his legs. The discovery that followed was far more horrendous: glancing under the sheet, he saw that both his legs had been amputated, the right leg at the knee, the left at mid-thigh.

The day before, Joseph, who was serving on reserve duty in Zahal (the Israeli Defense Forces), was patrolling the Golan Heights with several other soldiers when their jeep hit an old Syrian land mine. Two of his comrades were killed on the spot. Another three suffered serious injury. Joseph's legs were so severely crushed that the doctors had no choice but to amputate them.

Aside from the pain and disability, Joseph was confronted with society's incapacity to deal with the handicapped. "My friends would come to visit," he recalls, "sustain fifteen minutes of artificial cheer, and depart without once meeting my eye. My mother would come and cry, and it was I, who so desperately needed consolation, who had to do the consoling. My father would come and sit by my bedside in silence-I don't know which was worse, my mother's tears or my father's silence.

"Returning to my civilian profession as a welder was, of course, impossible, and while people were quick to offer charity, no one had a job for a man without legs. When I ventured out in my wheelchair, people kept their distance, so that a large empty space opened up around me on the busiest street corner."

When Joseph met with other disabled veterans he found that they all shared his experience: they had given their very bodies in defense of the nation, but the nation lacked the spiritual strength to confront their sacrifice.

"In the summer of 1976," Joseph tells, "Zahal sponsored a tour of the United States for a large group of disabled veterans. While we were in New York, a Lubavitcher chassid came to our hotel and suggested that we meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Most of us did not know what to make of the invitation, but a few members of our group had heard about the Rebbe and convinced the rest of us to accept.

"As soon as they heard we were coming, the Chabadniks sprang into action, organizing the whole thing with the precision of a military campaign. Ten large commercial vans pulled up to our hotel to transport us and our wheelchairs to the Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn. Soon we found ourselves in the famous large synagogue in the basement of 770 Eastern Parkway.

"Ten minutes later, a white-bearded man of about 70 entered the room, followed by two secretaries. As if by a common signal, absolute silence pervaded the room. There was no mistaking the authority he radiated. We had all stood in the presence of military commanders and prime ministers, but this was unlike anything we had ever encountered. This must have been what people felt in the presence of royalty. An identical thought passed through all our minds: Here walks a leader, a prince.

"He passed between us, resting his glance on each one of us and lifting his hand in greeting, and then seated himself opposite us. Again he looked at each of us in turn. From that terrible day on which I had woken without my legs in the Rambam Hospital, I have seen all sorts of things in the eyes of those who looked at me: pain, pity, revulsion, anger. But this was the first time in all those years that I encountered true empathy. With that glance that scarcely lasted a second and the faint smile on his lips, the Rebbe conveyed to me that he is with me-utterly and exclusively with me.

"The Rebbe then began to speak, after apologizing for his Ashkenazic-accented Hebrew. He spoke about our 'disability,' saying that he objected to the use of the term. 'If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty,' he told, 'this itself indicates that G‑d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails, and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people. You are not "disabled" or "handicapped," but special and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.

" 'I therefore suggest,' he continued, adding with a smile '-of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them-that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael ("the disabled of Israel," our designation in the Zahal bureaucracy) but metzuyanei Yisrael ("the special of Israel").' He spoke for several minutes more, and everything he said-and more importantly, the way in which he said it-addressed what had been churning within me since my injury.

"In parting, he gave each of us a dollar bill, in order-he explained-that we give it to charity in his behalf, making us partners in the fulfillment of a mitzvah. He walked from wheelchair to wheelchair, shaking our hands, giving each a dollar, and adding a personal word or two. When my turn came, I saw his face up close and I felt like a child. He gazed deeply into my eyes, took my hand between his own, pressed it firmly, and said 'Thank you' with a slight nod of his head.

"I later learned that he had said something different to each one of us. To me he said 'Thank you'-somehow he sensed that that was exactly what I needed to hear. With those two words, the Rebbe erased all the bitterness and despair that had accumulated in my heart. I carried the Rebbe's 'Thank you' back to Israel, and I carry it with me to this very day."

Originally published in the Hebrew weekly Sichat Hashavuah; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
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Shoshana Grossman New Jersey July 26, 2016

30 Years Later it Happened Again Thank you for this wonderful story. I would recommend that readers see also "Thank You, My Soldier" on this same site, written by a woman, herself influenced by the Rebbe, about her visit to a IDF conference in Israel. My great-nephew described in very emotional detail one particular session. A visiting Chabad mother thanked the soldiers, moving from chair to chair in a large room, shaking each hand, 'kissing with her eyes' each forehead, and while looking deeply into his eyes she said those two magical words, 'thank you'. The Rebbe inspired his disciples to emulate him as the ultimate humane being. This story should serve to instruct all people about the highest Jewish cause of caring about others. Reply

Frits Hanekroot Adelaide Australia August 9, 2013

I will say thank you for all gifts of attention what makes my faith stronger and brings me closer to G-D Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg August 9, 2013

"SPECIAL" INDEED!! Thank you Joseph for what you did so many years ago. If it were not for brave young men like yourself, Judaism (worldwide) would not be as strong as it is.
We all owe you a huge debt.
I can't imagine looking into the eyes of the late Rebbe - but am sure that it was an experience never to be forgotten.
Once again, thank you for being "special." Reply

Igerne Paris, France August 23, 2010

And yet, those are the only words that would come in mind to say to each one of you -veterans and soldiers in service

Thank you! Reply

Anonymous May 22, 2010

The Rebbi said Thank you Thank you for your service to the state and for sharing your personal experience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Your thoughts are inspiring and a reminder of the beauty and wonderful contributions of the "special". Reply

Anonymous July 5, 2009

How touching, I just finished reading this story with tears rolling on my face. What a great love of Israel and of each soul! He knows the needs of each and everyone! We can't wait to see Moshiach revealed and answer our questions.

May G-d bless Israel! Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY April 15, 2008

THANK YOU On a visit to Israel, I went to Rachel's Tomb to pray. The place is well guarded by young soldiers.

As I was waiting to board the bus back to Jerusalem, I turned to a soldier and said "Thank you". The soldier seemed surprised that an observant Jewish woman would stop and say thank you.

It probably does not happen too often.

I want to thank you too Joseph, for putting your life on the line for you fellow Jew.
May G-d bless you with all good. Reply

Linda Walker Plainview, TX/USA January 25, 2008

Awed and humbled I am in awe of the Rebbe and humbled by the story of a successful person, living life to the fullest.
Living in a small Texas town, the opportunity to meet any Rabbi is most unusal. I remember well the day I met one, and the gentleness and peace that flowed from him.
Thank you for the story. Reply

Me'ira Hartman Ariel, Israel January 24, 2008

On Being Special Tpo Joseph: What a good thing to be given...appreciation, a heartfelt thank you. And I am certain that the Rebbe was truly.appreciative of whatever you had conveyed to him, with or without words Yes, it is a challenge for others to cope with OUR condition, whatever makes one special. I have a special granddaughter, and I have lost a child. People want desperately to help, they simply do not know how. And indeed, I agree with the Rebbe that those who are "deprived" in one sense or another receive something of equal or greater value to help them deal with their special circumstances. Another soldier who was not to have survived the destruction experienced in his mortal flesh, butdid survive and is thriving. I watched him dance in a wheel chair, with a beautiful young woman. He was celebrating life to the fullest! To Joseph, and each of our soldiers who have made such a contribution, a heartfelt thank you and a hug of warmth for what you have shared. Reply