On Monday, March 30th, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot as he left a reception at the Washington, D.C., Hilton. "I felt a blow in my upper back that was unbelievably painful," the president wrote in his personal diary.

Reagan thought that he had merely broken a rib when his bodyguards pushed him to the ground. It was in the hospital that he was given the news, "It was then we learned I'd been shot and had a bullet in my lung," he wrote.

President Reagan waves to crowd, as he leaves the Hilton Hotel, immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt. (The Reagan Library)
President Reagan waves to crowd, as he leaves the Hilton Hotel, immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt. (The Reagan Library)

The sixth bullet out of the gun of John Hinckley, Jr., entered the president's armpit and lodged in his lung, just an inch away from his heart. In fact, the bullet was also loaded with a fatal lead azide explosive that should have exploded on contact; it failed to do so.

"Whatever happens now, I owe my life to G‑d and will try to serve Him in every way I can," the president ended his entry that recounted the day's events.

The president returned to the White House on the twelfth of April. The next day he began to slowly return to work, starting with two-hour workdays.

President Reagan working in his residence study on April 15th, the day he wrote the letter to the Rebbe. (The Reagan Library)
President Reagan working in his residence study on April 15th, the day he wrote the letter to the Rebbe. (The Reagan Library)

On April 15th, the Chabad-Lubavitch community was celebrating the 79th birthday of the Rebbe, or righteous memory. The president participated in the celebrations by sending a telegram.1

April 15, 1981

Dear Rabbi Schneerson:

I am delighted to join with your many friends and followers in wishing you а very Happy Seventy-Ninth Birthday.

Your dedication and devotion to the spiritual and intellectual well-being of the Jewish people are an inspiration to all Americans.

For more than two centuries, the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement has been а vital force in Jewish life and culture and а source of hope and sustenance during many difficult and tragic moments in Jewish history.

With your emphasis on moral and ethical values and your interest in education, you have contributed greatly to both the intellectual and spiritual development of our nation.

You have my deep-felt respect and admiration.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,

Ronald Reagan

That evening the Rebbe spoke about the president's birthday wishes:

To all those who offered their birthday wishes and blessings, along with those who will yet send their blessings: may each and every one of you be blessed.

In addition, we "pray for the welfare of the State" where, by divine providence, we reside—its government and the individual elected to lead it. He represents the entire nation.

As such, in addition to the thank you extended to everyone, it is all the more so appropriate to reciprocate the blessings extended by the President of the United States. Especially considering his recent injury.

The Rebbe then spoke of the importance of the President of the United States and the significance of his well wishes:

He is a person upon whom the public relies, and because "the hearts of kings and princes are in the hands of G‑d," through him G‑d's will is fulfilled for the public good—the good of the country's Jewish citizens and all the others who live here. He therefore deserves – according to the teachings of the Torah of Truth, the Torah of Life – a special and personal blessing.

In truth, his blessing was intended for the entire movement that was brought here by my father-in-law, the Rebbe, known as Lubavitch, or Chabad. But practically, it was extended to an individual who represents the movement.

The Rebbe added:

The recent assassination attempt is incomprehensible... But this regretful event did occur, and due to the mercies of Heaven the injury is being treated, and the present recovery will be speedy and complete.

This part of the talk could be seen here.

The Rebbe's Response

By the Grace of G‑d
12 Nissan, 5741
(April 16, 1981)
Brooklyn, N.Y.

President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you very much, dear Mr. President, for your good wishes on the occasion of my birthday.

As I noted in my remarks at the annual celebration last night, your kind and thoughtful congratulatory message is doubly reassuring. While all of us are still under impact of the recent trying days for you and the Nation, in connection with the demented attempt on your life (Heaven forefend!), it is remarkable, and most gratifying, that the President has been able to give personal attention also to matters which, under the circumstances, might have justifiably been postponed, or overlooked.

Your message, particularly in reference to the importance of emphasizing moral and ethical values in education, is as meaningful as it is timely. It is heartening to know that you, Mr. President, and your administration are committed to upgrading the education of all the citizens of this country.

Please be assured that we in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, along with all good citizens of this country, continue to pray for your rapid and complete recovery, and for your robust health consistently thereafter, so that you can carry out the awesome responsibilities of the President of this great and leading Nation in the world. In keeping with our basic belief that everything is by Divine Providence, how much more so being elected to the highest office in the land, we are convinced that G‑d has endowed you with the capabilities and strength to carry out your G‑d-given responsibilities in the fullest measure, with joy and gladness of heart.

There is no better way in which I can reciprocate your good wishes than by reiterating the Divine promise to our Patriarch Abraham, "I will bless them that bless thee" (Gen. 12:3). May you and the First Lady and all your family be blessed with all good from the Source of all blessings.

With utmost esteem and blessing,

Cordially,

M. Schneerson