Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Rebbe and Disabled Israeli War Veterans

In the summer of 1976," Joseph Cabiliv tells, "Zahal (the Israeli army) 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, at 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 prince.

"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.
"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 said, '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 nechei Yisrael ("the disabled of Israel," our designation in the Zahal bureaucracy), but rather Metzuyanei Yisrael ("the Exceptional 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 on 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."