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Wednesday
May302018

SIXTY YEARS LEARNING CHITAS FOR A FRIEND

He wrote a letter describing the situation with the difficult decision facing them and he sent it to twenty-three leading rabbinical authorities across the globe, asking for their advice. He received only one reply – from the Rebbe. * From a recent farbrengen with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gordon, a Mashpia in Yeshivas Chabad in London.

A gentleman in his sixties who came to study with me recently explained why he has an interest in learning Tanya. His father was a Holocaust survivor, who went through terrible suffering for five years in the concentration camps during the Second World War. After the war, he came to England, met an English girl, who eventually became his wife – this gentleman’s mother, and they started a family.

Once this gentleman was born and the family got settled, it became clear that his father was having difficulty getting over the trauma of the war. It became too much for him to handle and he suffered a terrible nervous breakdown. My friend said that during the first five years of his life, he saw very little of his father, as he was hospitalized most of the time. It was a very heartbreaking situation for his young mother.

At a certain point, his mother received a letter from the hospital. In the letter the hospital administration wrote that they had done everything possible to try and cure her husband, but there’s nothing more that they can do. He cannot cope with his memories of the horrors that he went through and his mind is completely shattered. The only thing that they can possibly try and do is an operation on his brain to disconnect his memory. If the procedure would be successful, it would blot out everything he previously remembered and perhaps give him the opportunity to live a reasonably normal life. However, they warned that the operation was very risky and there was a chance that he’ll come out a vegetable. As a result, if she wants them to perform the operation, she has to sign a waiver form absolving the hospital of all responsibility in the event that the procedure fails.

The wife now finds herself in a very precarious position, forced to choose between her husband remaining in his current state of total psychiatric devastation or possibly becoming a zombie. At a loss over what to do, she went to speak to one of his closest friends in London, who had also gone through the Holocaust with him, and asked him for his advice. The friend told her that this was not a question for him; she needed to speak with prominent rabbanim and he offered to handle the matter for her.

This man then sat down and wrote twenty-three letters. Keep in mind that back in those days, you couldn’t press a button and make twenty-three copies – either you wrote the letter out twenty-three times or you took some carbon paper, which still meant writing the letter ten, twelve times. He wrote a letter describing the entire situation with the difficult conundrum facing them and he sent it to twenty-three leading rabbinical authorities across the globe, asking for their advice. I’m not sure why he sent it to twenty-three different rabbis, since he might have received twenty-three different answers, but that’s what he did. Ultimately, he received just one reply – from the Rebbe.

The content of the Rebbe’s reply was how he understood from his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, that learning Chitas every day is a fantastic project and if this man will start learning Chitas, everything will turn out all right.

When the friend received this letter and read the reply, he thought to himself that it doesn’t make any sense. The man is so broken, there simply isn’t anyone with whom to talk – how can he possibly learn Chitas?

On the other hand, the friend did take the Rebbe’s answer quite seriously and he arranged to make an international phone call to New York – a rather complicated procedure back in the fifties. He got through to the Rebbe’s office and told the secretary that the Rebbe’s suggestion is totally impractical and he needs to know what they should do. After a brief interval, the secretary came back on the line and said that the Rebbe replied that if the man can’t learn Chitas, a family member should do it for him. When the friend explained that the man is totally alone in the world as his entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust, the Rebbe then said that perhaps a friend should do it. This friend decided then and there that he would take upon himself the obligation of learning Chitas every single day, in the hope that this would help put an end to this man’s suffering and bring him a complete and speedy recovery.

After about six weeks, there was a marked improvement in this man’s condition, and three months later, he was released from the hospital. “I can’t say,” the man’s son said, “that my father was a completely normal person, but he lived a normal life. He raised a family, he made a parnasa, and he lived for many more years with no further hospitalizations.”

How did the story become known? Many years later, the father contracted a terminal illness and was transferred to a hospice in northern England. His brother was visiting him once and the friend also came to see him at the same time. When the friend saw that the man’s brother was very down over the whole situation, he shared the story with him. However, the friend asked the man’s brother to keep the story to himself, as he didn’t want to take any credit for what had happened back then.

When the father eventually passed away, the brothers were sitting ‘Shiva’ together. The brother who had heard the story felt that he could no longer restrain himself and he shared the story with the other brothers. A number of years later, the father’s friend also passed away, and the gentleman and his brothers went to pay a ‘Shiva’ call to console his father’s friend’s family. While they were at the friend’s house, they told the family this story.

When the friend’s children heard this, they said, “That’s very strange. We always saw our father doing this, and we never knew why as he wasn’t a Lubavitcher chassid. Now, it all makes sense.” It turned out that for sixty years, the friend learned Chitas every day in the merit of restoring his friend’s mental health…

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