We were in Bar, Montenegro. The meeting started like any other. Jasa invited us in, and we spoke for over an hour.

“So how about we put on tefillin?” I asked. He gladly accepted.

After winding the straps around Jasa’s arm and head, I asked Hillel for the siddur (prayerbook) that he always kept in his pocket. To our shoddy luck, this time he had left it in the car.

“Don’t worry,” piped up Jasa, “I have a siddur!” And off he went to another room to bring it. As I turned the pages to the Shema, a faded picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe fell out. After the short prayer and a little prodding, he told us the following story.

After growing up in Serbia, I immigrated to Israel in the 1960s. My first child was a boy, and when he was fourteen years old, he came home one day and told me he was experiencing pain in his leg. I told him it was probably just a small injury from the excessive tennis training he was doing at the time, and it’s nothing to worry about. A few weeks passed, and the pain kept getting worse, until one Friday afternoon he was writhing on the floor in pain. I decided that it was time to take him to the hospital.

After taking x-rays, the doctor came out and told my wife and me that he needed to consult with some professors; we should leave the boy overnight, and in the morning, when we return, he would be able to give us a diagnosis. This news made us very nervous, but what choice did we have? We grudgingly left, hoping for good news in the morning.

“When we arrived in the morning, we were immediately ushered into the doctor’s office. He informed us that they had found a large tumor in my son’s leg, and it was spreading very quickly. The only hope he had to live was if they would amputate the leg. My wife was hysterical. She broke down crying, and right away grabbed the pen and signed the permission form. I said that I needed a few minutes to think about it, and went outside for some air. I decided to call my mother, to hear what she had to advise. After describing the situation to her, she told me, “If G‑d wants, he will live with two legs; do not amputate.” “But the doctor said he will die if we don’t amputate!” “If G‑d wants, he will live with two legs.” I went back in, and, with my mother’s voice ringing in my head, told the doctor we are not amputating.

The doctor thought I was crazy. He was adamant that we must amputate, or my son would die within a few weeks. But after what my mother said, I could not allow myself to give permission. Finally he relented, saying, “He’s your son, it’s your choice. But we still need to do a biopsy.” After the biopsy, they told me it would be better if we transferred my son to a bigger hospital, one with a cancer ward. However, protocol dictated he must stay there at least one week, so we scheduled to move him on Friday.

My whole world seemed to be lost. My son lying on his deathbed . . . my life was meaningless. I was walking around in a daze, couldn’t sleep, eat, or even think. On Tuesday I went to work, and walked around aimlessly. I worked for what was called the “Lishka,” a division of Israeli security. I had a coworker who was a Vizhnitzer chassid. Noticing something was wrong, he asked me what was up. After telling him the whole story, he pulled out this picture of the Rebbe, and jotted a phone number on the back. He explained that it can be hard to get through to the Rebbe, but that our office had a private line to the Rebbe’s office, which we would use to ask for advice and blessings for various operations. He advised that I call and ask for a blessing.

I called the number, and a man with a very soft voice answered “hello.” (It was Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe’s personal secretary.) I told him the whole story, and asked that the Rebbe should please pray for my son. He answered, “Call me back on Friday with good news,” and hung up the phone. I thought the man was crazy. The doctor said he would be dead in a couple of weeks, and he says call me on Friday with good news, then just hangs up?!

I came to the hospital on Friday, and the doctor said that before we leave we should take another x-ray, so the hospital would have an updated image, as the last one was already a week old. I wheeled my now frail, emaciated son to the x-ray room, and after taking the x-ray, the technician came out and began to scream at me, “You should not make light of such serious matters! Why would you say he has cancer if there is nothing wrong with him?!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I protested in exasperation. “My son has cancer. You can go ask the doctor yourself!” He replied that the x-ray was clean, not a trace of the growth!

We returned to the doctor together, but he would not believe the technician. He went to take the x-ray himself. After seeing the result, he still could not believe it, and insisted on opening my son’s leg to find the growth. Just a week before, the tumor looked like a sun on the x-ray, large and bright, with live stems emanating from it like rays. He opened my son’s leg from the ankle up to the waist, yet found nothing but a small stone with no living cells! The amazed doctor stitched up the leg, and told us the stitches would fall out by themselves when it healed, usually in about two months’ time. Two weeks later all the stitches were already out, and my son was walking normally.

Of course I called the Rebbe’s office right away. The same soft voice answered “hello.” I thanked him and informed him of the miracle that happened. “Todah” (thanks), he replied, and hung up.

Hillel and I were sitting in awe after hearing such a story. As we got up to leave, Jasa said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you how it all started!”

“When my son turned thirteen, I asked this same coworker of mine where I could buy a pair of tefillin for him. He told me he knows a G‑d-fearing scribe in Kfar Chabad, and I should buy the tefillin there. But I was lazy, and instead of shlepping to Kfar Chabad, I went to the shuk (market) in Tel Aviv and bought a pair there. After the above story, I brought the tefillin to the scribe in Kfar Chabad to be checked. The words “. . . in order that your lives and the lives of your children shall be lengthened . . .” were not properly formed, rendering the tefillin invalid.