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Part I — Chapter IX: Disabilities

Part I — Chapter IX: Disabilities

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Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Send Us Your Letters Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Multiple Sclerosis

.. With regard to your question about your acquaintance with a lady who has a health problem related to MS, and whether you should pursue the acquaintance with the intention of matrimony:

This, first of all, is a matter of personal feelings on the part of both parties. At the same time, it is necessary to be careful not to encourage false hope or wishful thinking.

However, since you are a physician, there is no need to point out to you that intensive research is being conducted in all branches of medical science, particularly in the area of MS, especially in its early stages. But, as mentioned, the final decision depends on mutual feelings.

.. P.S. Recently it came to my attention that a new approach to the treatment of MS has been made by means of the drug “Interferon.” Although at present it is believed to be helpful [only] in controlling the disorder, it is expected that in similar situations it will also prove helpful as a cure.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 25 Cheshvan, 5742)

“Distinguished” and Not “Disabled”

Although in this sefer we have avoided telling stories of the Rebbe that relate to healing — there are so many that they could fill several volumes on their own — the following tale is included as it directly relates to the excerpt of a sichah of the Rebbe regarding disabilities that immediately follows it.

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.”

Distinguished of Israel
A Sichah of the Rebbe

When Jews meet it is customary to greet each other with blessings of peace — sholom aleichem. This is particularly so when Jews of different countries meet; and especially when Jews who come from our Holy Land — “the land which ...the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” — meet with Jews living outside the Land.

Such meetings involve special joy, emphasizing that, despite living in times of exile — to the extent that part of the Jewish people are outside Eretz Yisrael — distance, in its true perspective, does not separate.

Hence, an encounter between Jews emphasizes that despite being “spread out and dispersed among the nations,” they are nevertheless “one people,” united by the fact that “their religion is different from all other peoples” — the religion of the one Torah, given to the Jewish people from the one G‑d. This unites and makes them unique among the other nations, for they are able to transcend all spatial limits.

Moreover, an encounter between Jews is a unifying event, revealing the truth of their erstwhile separateness — that, despite being dispersed, they are in reality one people.

Just as every Jew has the ability to transcend spatial limits, so he can transcend the limits of time — by remembering that the Jewish people are eternal, one people throughout the generations and for all generations from the time the souls stood together at Mt. Sinai.

This is the explanation for the endurance of the eternal Jewish people. Although it is the “smallest of all the nations,” it is small only in each individual place. In truth however, all Jews — from the time of Mt. Sinai and extending through all generations — are responsible one for another, to the extent of becoming one entity, one people. Therefore the Jewish people are really exceedingly more numerous than all other peoples.

This leads us to a further conclusion. The ability to transcend time and space is because the Jewish people make the spiritual dominant over the physical, quality over quantity. Hence, although the smallest of all the nations, Jews did not in any way wish to assimilate among other peoples — although at times it required literal self-sacrifice.

In times of affluence too, when they were invited and pressured to drop the differences between Jews and other peoples by living as the others, they stood steadfast on the fundamental principle of being one, unique people. Despite being small in quantity, they made quality triumph over quantity.

Another point associated with this concept: If a person, for some reason, is physically disabled, he should not be depressed G‑d forbid. Indeed, since he is physically deficient through no fault of his own, or because he did something noble such as protecting Jews, especially in the Holy Land, it is an indication that G‑d, the Creator of man, has given him or her special spiritual abilities.

These enable him to overcome physical disabilities; and, moreover, he has the ability not only to show that he is equal to others, but that he is spiritually superior, overcoming disabilities. He shows that he can achieve things — important and good things — loftier than that of the average person.

This is why I am unhappy about the term “disabled” being applied to people. It indicates inferiority, when one should really be stressing that this person has been distinguished by the Creator, Who has given him special qualities over and above that of the average person. Therefore this person can overcome difficulties the average person cannot.

I therefore suggest to change this term, and call them the “distinguished” among Jews — whether distinguished because of the war or other reasons.

This will also bring to mind the saying of our Sages on the exile in Egypt. On the verse “He (the Jewish people) became a great, powerful and populous nation there,” our Sages comment, “This teaches us that Israel was distinguished there.”

This is not just a change of name, but also a clarification of the true situation. It emphasizes that they have something special and distinguished, and therefore have the merit to be a personal example — with joy and self-assurance — that each Jew’s soul, notwithstanding his physical, bodily state, is “verily a part of G‑d Above.”

This part of G‑d is with each Jew; it will eventually triumph over the body, and the body will live according to the directives of the soul.

This leads to a further fundamental principle in Torah — “Serve the L‑rd with joy.” Since a person’s entire life is continual service to G‑d, it logically follows that a person has been given the abilities to be joyous all his life.

When therefore a person encounters difficulties, his hidden abilities are aroused to reveal themselves and act, and to also reveal to others that he is in a state of joy and is fulfilling his mission of increasing light, spirituality, and sanctity in the world.

Then all shall see that the L‑rd is G‑d of all the earth — King of the world through being G‑d of Israel, and that they are His envoys to bring His commandments to all the people of the world.

(Sichos Kodesh 5736, Vol. II, p. 633ff.)

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