The following is an excerpt from the memoirs of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950), recalling an incident from the author's childhood in the White Russian town of Lubavitch. The memoir is part of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's prison diary as translated by Rabbi Uri Kaplun and published by Sichos in English.

Pictured at right is the "ohel" in Lubavitch (rebuilt in 1989), where Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's grandfather and great-grandfather, the 3rd and 4th rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch, are interred.

... In the winter of 1891 my father was ill with high fever for about two months. The first two weeks were the most severe, after which he had to spend most of the next three weeks in bed, and for three or four weeks he was forbidden to engage in any strenuous intellectual exercise.

I did not study much during that period. Most of the time I sat in my room and cried, recited Psalms cried, prayed and cried. A dark dread fell upon me: my father was ill! "Master of the Universe!" I thought to myself. "I've had a father for only a year-and-a-half, for in the course of the preceding two years, except for the four times that he came home for a few days, I would have forgotten that I had a father at all. And now my father is ill!" (In the years 1887-89, my parents were out of the country; only occasionally did they return home for a few days.)

One night before daybreak, while we were waiting for the fever to reach its critical peak and then recede, I ran to speak to Reb Zalman Lieblis. He was descended from the family of our saintly uncle Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Yanovitch. As the caretaker of the ohel he visited it every day, after immersing in the mikveh. I begged him desperately to take me to the ohel and to promise me that no one would know of it. Realizing how much this meant to me, and knowing that my father's health was in need of Heaven's mercies and that my grandmother and mother had visited the ohel recently, he agreed.

It was bitterly cold and snowing heavily, and when we cleared the edge of the town the wind pushed me along. Though Reb Zalman was short and elderly he strode sturdily, whereas I stumbled at almost every step until we finally reached the ohel.

Before I even opened the door my little heart leaped up within me and released rivers of tears. Stepping inside I saw before me the holy resting places covered by fine snow, and in the unbroken silence recited the blessing over the future Resurrection of the Dead. Such a shuddering then overwhelmed me that I was quite unable to say the prescribed verses of Psalms. Instead, still weeping, I addressed those who repose in the dust: "My father is ill! My father who is a chassid and a tzaddik is lying ill in bed! My father who has only one son and who has been guiding me for only a year-and-a-half is ill! Pray to G‑d and ask that He be merciful and heal him soon!"

Reb Zalman approached me: "Here," he said, "light this lamp and read what is written here in Maaneh Lashon. Ask your holy forebears to have pity and to arouse Heaven's mercies so that your ailing father will be preserved among the living!"

These words made me cry out in anguish: "Zeides! Holy tzaddikim! My father is ill! Ask G‑d to keep him alive and make him well and let him guide me so that I will grow up to be a good Jew!"

Returning by the half-light before daybreak we found people already gathering at the marketplace. Reb Zalman walked quickly and I, ignoring my exhaustion, ran and perspired, eager to arrive home and hear news of my father's condition. As we reached Bram Street we saw ahead of us Reb Chayim Meir the Butcher and his brother Reb Avraham Dan. They called out from a distance of fifty meters: "Thank G‑d! Just now we came from the [Rebbe's] courtyard. The fever's crisis has passed! Two doctors were there, Brodie and Bogorodski, and both of them said that the crisis has passed. Now, thank G‑d, he's ours! And may G‑d grant him a long life!"

Dr. Brodie was a Jew who had come to Lubavitch from near Kharkov; Dr. Bogorodski was a 70-year-old Polish Russian specialist, a student of the celebrated Dr. Heibenthal.

I ran all the way home. Everyone there was overjoyed; no one knew where I had been and no one asked. My mother was in my father's room and many family members had gathered in the front rooms of the house, including: my grandmother; my uncles, Rabbi Zalman Aharon, Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Rabbi Moshe Leib; and my aunts, Devorah Leah, Basya, Basya, and Chayah Mushka.

I very much wanted to enter my father's room and see him for the first time in two weeks, but I was not allowed in. Since one of the visitors at that time was my teacher Rabbi Nissan, I decided that it would be a good idea to tell him that I had been at the ohel; perhaps he would advise me what I could now do to improve my father's condition.

I approached him and told him secretly what I had done and he said that I had acted as I should.

"And now," he asked, "have you drunk tea yet?"

"No," I replied.

"If so," he said, "then don't drink or eat all day, but fast. Now, go along and pray with the minyan and then I'll tell you what to do next."

He promised to keep my secret. I went off to pray and followed the day-long schedule that he prescribed.

It was clear to me that it was my prayer at the resting place of my holy forebears that had aroused G‑d's kindness and compassion. I keenly desired to go there again, to inform them that the crisis had passed, and to ask that G‑d in His mercy send my father a complete and speedy recovery — but I was afraid to speak up.

The doctors' consultation took place at 5:00 p.m. Though I had already prayed Maariv with the congregation I had not yet broken my fast. At almost 6:00 p.m. the doctors left my father's room, beaming. They both said that the day had passed very well; the illness had passed; the fever had gone; and now my father needed only an orderly regimen and complete rest.

Dr. Bogorodski was very fond of me. When I was five years old, before our visit to Yalta, he had cured me of a dangerous illness. And by meticulously fulfilling all his orders and taking all his medicines I had captured the heart of that pedantic physician.

"Why do you look so sad?" he now asked me. "Your father is getting better, thank G‑d, and in a few days he'll be healthy."

Then, turning to his colleague, he said: "And now, my friend, we have to set out a regimen of rest and diet for our patient."

I spoke up and said: "I'm longing so hard to see my father. I haven't seen him for about two weeks, but they won't let me in!"

In addition to his professional connection, Dr. Brodie showed a lot of respect to our family. He was especially fond of my father, whom he had visited several times in his study. Being a thinking man with philosophical leanings, from time to time he would discuss scientific matters with my father.

He now rose from his place and after ten minutes in my father's room rejoined Dr. Bogorodski, who was enjoying his very sweet tea with milk. In the meantime they conversed with our relatives, all of whom were in high spirits. An awareness of G‑d's kindness to my father lit up all faces, not only of the family, but also of the household staff and of all those who visited the courtyard. Even the face of Yosef Mordechai, the old household help, lost its usual irritable appearance...

Mendel, the domestic, suddenly appeared from my father's room and said that my father called me in. After only a brief moment of confusion I went in calmly and happily.

I stood next to his bed without a word. His pale and weary exhaustion saddened me, until his frail voice asked: "Yosef Yitzchak, what are you doing? Are you studying? What did you learn in the course of this time? Did you keep up going to pray with a minyan?"

"I went to pray with a minyan three times every day," I said. "I learned, too, but they warned me not to speak a lot so that I wouldn't disturb your rest. All this time they didn't let me into your room. Even now I'm afraid I'll make them send me out."

A gentle smile appeared on his lips. "From now they won't hold you back any more," he assured me. "Tell me, have you drunk tea?"

Now I was in a quandry. On the one hand, I was not only reluctant to tell a lie but also afraid. After all, my father was a chassid and a tzaddik and no doubt knew everything, so how could I lie? On the other hand, I did not want to tell the truth either. Could it be that tzaddikim are not kept informed of things that concern them personally? At that moment I recalled that the patriarch Isaac knew of the sale of Joseph but kept it a secret from Jacob.

At that opportune moment, while I was still hesitating, my mother walked in with a cup of milk and said that the doctors had ordered my father to drink three cups of milk before going to sleep.

"Very well," said my father as he put down the cup, "I will drink as much as I can. Yosef Yitzchak will give it to me when it has cooled a bit, and then I'll drink it."

These words healed all my ailments. Sheer pleasure raced through my whole being, as I considered: I would now serve my father — I, who only eleven hours ago had run to the ohel and wept and begged for G‑d's mercy, was now privileged to see that G‑d had accepted my prayer, the prayer of an only son whose love for his father was unbounded.

Though at first I was concerned that my father might ask me again if I had drunk tea, my delight at being able to help him banished all my anxiety. Deep in my heart, moreover, my pleasure was doubled by the awareness that I was serving my father while still fasting. I considered: Esau, who was so wicked that he sought to kill his innocent brother Jacob, made a point - while serving his father - of wearing clothes so precious that he entrusted them to the safekeeping of his mother alone. How much more appropriate was it that I, the son of a chassid and a tzaddik, should attain a level at which I served my father while fasting and pure of heart...