How to describe the feeling of a parent who has just been told that a malignant tumor is destroying the brain of his ten-year-old child? The doctor had suggested several possible approaches to treatment, but had been brutally honest about the chances. All that Eli and Sharon (not their real names) could realistically expect was a few more painful months of life for their Menasheh.
And then, in the wee hours of a sleepless night, Eli thought of the Rebbe. Both he and Sharon were raised in non-observant homes, but in recent years they had found themselves becoming more involved in Torah learning and practice. It all began at a lecture they had attended at the Chabad House in their Paris neighborhood, where they had first been exposed to the Rebbe’s teachings. For the first time in their lives, the faith of their fathers was presented to them as a vibrant guide to a life of meaning and fulfillment. While Eli and Sharon would scarcely describe themselves as “religious,” much less as “Chassidim,” they developed a deep respect for the Rebbe and began keeping several basic mitzvot such as Shabbat, kashrut, and tefillin.
Eli had heard the stories of those who had been helped by the Rebbe’s blessing. Now he grasped at the idea of writing to the Rebbe as his only hope in a sea of despair. If only the Rebbe would promise a speedy recovery for Menasheh!
A few days later, the telephone rang in Eli’s home. It was Rabbi Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, who reported that the Rebbe’s reply to their note was, “I will mention it at the gravesite.”
“What does that mean?” asked Eli.
“It means that the Rebbe will pray for you at the gravesite of his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, where he prays for all of those who send in requests for a blessing.”
“But I wanted the Rebbe’s blessing… I wanted him to tell us that Menasheh will recover…”
“But the Rebbe has given you his blessing. This is his standard reply to such requests. Chassidim regard a promise from the Rebbe to pray for them as a guarantee that everything will be all right.”
Eli replaced the receiver somewhat reassured. Still, he had expected something more definitive, more committal. But if the Rebbe’s secretary says that he has received the Rebbe’s blessing…
Meanwhile, Menasheh’s condition continued to deteriorate. The treatments brought much pain and little relief. Soon he had to be hospitalized. Helplessly, the parents watched the life drain out of their child.
Eli called Rabbi Groner. “Look, I know that we already received the Rebbe’s blessing, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Menasheh has gone from bad to worse. The doctors say that every day is a miracle… Perhaps we can ask again? Maybe the Rebbe can say something more definite…” Rabbi Groner agreed to send in a note.
The reply came within an hour, but it was the same reply as before—“I will mention it at the gravesite.” And the doctors had nothing good to report.
The following evening, Eli entered his darkened apartment for two hours of fitful rest. Sharon was at the hospital. Soon he would replace her, so that she could catch some sleep. He sank into the sofa, kicked off his shoes, and scanned the disordered room. Medical papers on the table, clothes strewn about, half-finished meals. Then his eyes lighted on the Rebbe’s picture, hanging above the mantelpiece. The Rebbe was smiling.
A great tide of rage rose in him. Menasheh lies dying in the hospital, and you’re smiling! Unthinkingly, Eli reached for one of the shoes on the floor. There was a crash, a spray of shattering glass, and the picture tumbled to the floor…
Two years later, on a Sunday morning in Brooklyn, a father and son stood in line together with thousands of others who were waiting to see the Rebbe. As the long line snaked past the Rebbe, the Rebbe handed each a dollar bill to give in his name to charity, uttered a few words of blessing, and turned to the next in line. In this manner, the Rebbe devoted a second or two to each of the tens of thousands who came from all over the world to meet him.
The Rebbe gave the father a dollar, and then turned to the child. “So this is Menasheh,” he said with a smile. “How is he?” It took Eli several seconds to respond. How does the Rebbe know them? This was their first time in New York, and except for those two brief letters back then… “He is fine, thank G-d,” Eli finally managed, “a complete recovery. The doctors said it was a miracle. Thanks to the Rebbe’s blessing.”
“Thank G-d, thank G-d,” said the Rebbe, and then, quietly: “But I still feel the blow…”