Upon losing someone near and dear, there will often be moments when the grief will seem too much to bear. “There is only so much pain I can handle,” the mourner might say to him- or herself before collapsing and falling into dysfunction.

What follows is a moving account shared by Mr. Yaakov Schiffman about the Rebbe’s personal involvement and encouragement at a very difficult time in his life, which helped lift him out of despair when all seemed lost.

In 1973, which was the year that I celebrated my bar mitzvah, my parents sent me to a summer camp in Israel. When I came back, I learned that my father was about to undergo surgery. It turned out he had colon cancer, and from that point on his health went downhill.

Two years later, just before the holiday of Purim, my father’s condition took a turn for the worse. We went to the hospital, and after the doctors examined him they called me in and said, “You’d better go home; your father is staying here tonight.” That night the doctors operated on him and found that there wasn’t much they could do but try to make the end as painless as possible.

Of course, we didn’t want to give up, so we went to several rabbis for blessings. We even tried the alternative medicines of the time. My father lost a lot of weight, and nothing seemed to be working. Then one of our relatives told us, “You should go to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”

It was wintertime when we went to see the Rebbe. There were five of us at that meeting: my father and mother, my grandmother, my sister, and me. My father was so ill; he was haggard, and his face had lost its glow.

We entered the Rebbe’s office. I stood in the back of the room, and my father spoke quietly with the Rebbe for a few minutes. When the Rebbe finished speaking with my father, we began to leave, when suddenly the Rebbe said to me, “You stay.”

I was already anxious with everything that was going on; I was only sixteen years old at the time, and I became very nervous.

The Rebbe gently said to me, “Come over here,” gesturing that I should approach. He went over to his shelf and pulled out two volumes of the Talmud, and he said to me in Yiddish:

“By the laws of medicine, your father is extremely sick now; he’s near the end. G‑d will help, but your father will be depressed, and you’re going to be depressed. You’ll need something to give you strength. I want to teach you something which will help keep you going.”

He opened up to page 10a of Tractate Berachot and began to teach me the story from II Kings [20:1-6] that the Talmud is discussing. King Hezekiah was ill, and the Prophet Isaiah visited him. The prophet told the king that his days were numbered and he should prepare to die, but Hezekiah refused to accept this and said, “No, I have faith in G‑d.” Although the prophet said it was too late, Hezekiah began to pray because, “even if the tip of the sword is pointed at your throat, you should never give up hope.”

I was standing across the desk from the Rebbe, and he was sitting. But in middle of the story, the Rebbe motioned for me to come around the desk, and I looked into the volume together with him. He translated the dialog slowly into Yiddish, word by word, pointing to the place, the way a father teaches his son.

I remember him pointing to the words with his finger, then looking at me, and pointing again. He had me repeat it until it was clear that I understood. Though my father was quite knowledgeable in the Talmud, the Rebbe wanted to make sure that I understood the Talmud’s idea well and that I could explain it to my father, as well. The idea he kept stressing was that even at death’s door you should never give up hope, you should never become depressed, and you should accept G‑d’s will. It took quite some time—about twenty-five minutes.

What stands out in my mind more than anything else is the earnest, loving way the Rebbe looked at me. I never saw that type of love. Here I was, a stranger to him, a young boy coming with his father, who needed a blessing. He gave his blessing, but then he gave much more. He saw that this boy needed fatherly love, and he gave it.

When I came out of the Rebbe’s office, I was sweating. As we drove home, I told my father what had happened, and he broke down and cried. As soon as we got home, we learned the piece at least three or four times.

I remember that my father asked me a few times, “Do you understand why the Rebbe told you to learn this with me? Do you understand?”

Two and a half months after our visit with the Rebbe, my father passed away. It was Monday night, the 18th of Shevat, and the last thing he said to me was that I had made him very proud and had given him tremendous nachas.

After he passed away, I was on the verge of becoming despondent. I didn’t have relatives to look after me—my mother was an only child, and my father’s whole family had been wiped out in the war—and I was only sixteen years old.

I don’t know how to thank the Rebbe for this fact, but he sat me down and told me the facts of life. Everyone else had been telling me, “No, it’ll be good; it’ll be good.” The Rebbe looked at me and told me how to be prepared for it.

I had times when things got tough. I left my studies for a while and wandered away. But then I remembered what the Rebbe taught me. Through those years, I probably learned that piece of the Talmud thirty times, and it got me back on track.

The fact that I am an observant Jew and that I raised a beautiful family is because of that day when the Rebbe spent so much time with me and explained to me: When you have a problem and are feeling that you’ve hit rock bottom, remember never to give up, because G‑d is there. Open your heart to Him, and He will help you.1

The knowledge that there is a constant Higher force in our lives that is intimately involved in and deeply concerned with our well-being enables us to overcome our darkest moments. When we encounter low points in life, reflecting on G‑d’s continuous presence in our lives helps provide us with the comfort and confidence it takes to replace despair with hope and empowers us to look forward to and prepare for a better tomorrow.