What can you say to someone who has suffered a
casualty, who has lost a close one, who is anguishing in face
of all the senseless violence unleashed in Israel and in America
against so many innocent lives? What can you say?!
Below is a powerful and moving story about soldiers wounded
in the wars in Israel and how a great Rebbe addressed them.
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. Mother would come and cry, and it was I, who so desperately
needed consolation, who had to do the consoling. Father would
come and sit by my bedside in silence—I don’t know which was
worse, Mother’s tears or 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
“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 n’chei 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.”