September 13, 2018
Beis Moshiach in #1135, Chabad History, Tishrei

Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah 5738 were the most tense holidays ever experienced by the Chassidim in 770, after the Rebbe experienced a severe heart attack the night of Shmini Atzeres in the middle of the hakafos.* Doctors were called to the Rebbe’s room but the Rebbe refused to go to the hospital. * The Rebbe continued to encourage the Chassidim and demanded that they increase the joy.


The night of Shmini Atzeres 5738 everything seemed as usual. Maariv began on time and the Rebbe came in for hakafos at 9:00. There were many more guests than in previous years; there were several thousand people. When the Rebbe entered, they sang and danced.

All the way to the bima, the Rebbe motioned with his hand to increase the singing and when he ascended the bima he turned to the crowd and clapped vigorously for a few minutes. Then they began saying the verses of Ata Horeisa and the Rebbe clapped vigorously a number of times to encourage the singing.


The Rebbe was honored with the first Torah scroll (the small one) for the first hakafa. He walked slowly, followed by his brother-in-law, Rashag (Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary) and elder Chassidim. Many stood near the path where the Rebbe walked and kissed the Torah that he held, as they wished “derlebin iber a yor” and the Rebbe responded, “gam atem.”

When Rashag arrived, the Rebbe stood in the center and waited until the Torah scroll of Moshiach arrived. When it arrived and was held near the shulchan, the Rebbe placed his right hand on Rashag’s shoulder, who in turn placed his hand on the Rebbe’s shoulder. The Rebbe held the Torah in his other hand and they began to dance as the crowd sang the Hakafos Niggun. They danced for some time and the Rebbe was more animated than usual until Rashag had to stop and the Rebbe supported him.


The second and third hakafos were as usual. It was only with the fourth hakafa that the Rebbe turned to the crowd and clapped weakly; his hands barely touched, and his left arm leaned on the lectern for a short while. The Rebbe’s face turned white and he said to Rabbi Leibel Groner, “Bring me my chair.”

The Rebbe sat down and brought the siddur toward himself. As he sat, he leaned on the arm of the chair and closed his eyes and looked as though he was in pain.


Rabbi Groner called one of the doctors standing near the bima and the doctor said to bring water. They yelled for water. The secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, held out a cup of water to the Rebbe, but the Rebbe did not want to drink and did not want the doctor to check his pulse.

The crowd went into a hysterical panic. They yelled to move away from the bima and leave the shul so there would be more air. Within minutes, nearly the entire shul emptied out. Fewer than 100 people remained. The women’s section emptied out too and windows were broken so fresh air could enter.


For the fifth hakafa the Rebbe got up from his seat and clapped for a short time (according to one version, this hakafa, like the sixth, was also conducted quickly, without singing and dancing) and then he sat down.

The sixth hakafa was conducted quietly, without singing and dancing, so the Rebbe would not need to get up.


The Rebbe stood up for the seventh hakafa. They suggested having the hakafa near his bima but the Rebbe refused. He took the small Torah from Rabbi Binyamin Altheus and walked with it, slowly, looking pale, to the place where hakafos are done, in the center of the shul.

Some wanted to kiss the Torah but R’ Groner, who walked in front of the Rebbe, prevented them so they would finish quicker. Rashag walked behind the Rebbe. The Rebbe began dancing with him a little but Rashag stopped immediately. When he stopped, the Rebbe smiled and made a motion indicating surprise. This hakafa lasted about a minute. It looked as though the Rebbe needed to be supported and R’ Groner tried to do so but the Rebbe did not allow it.


After the davening, the Rebbe said “gut yom tov” three times (in a weak voice) as he waved both hands and moved his entire body. Then he began singing “V’Samachta” and on his way out of the shul he motioned with his hand to sing louder.

When he reached the steps, they wanted to help him but he dismissed the help. When he entered his office, he suddenly leaned against the wall. R’ Chadakov, who was with him, was frightened by this, but the Rebbe told him to go to “Merkos” (the secretaries’ office) and not remain in his room.


After a while, the Rebbe’s sister-in-law, the wife of Rashag, came down from the third floor and knocked on the door. When the door was not opened right away, she knocked stronger and shouted the Rebbe’s (second) name two times, “… … open up!”

The Rebbe opened the door and she asked, “What is doing?” The Rebbe told her that he hadn’t slept that week and that he had stood all day and given out lekach. “I didn’t eat all day and didn’t sleep,” but he would rest that night and with Hashem’s help, tomorrow would be the usual schedule.


The doctors wanted him to eat and drink in his room but the Rebbe negated this, saying he would not eat before kiddush nor outside the sukka. When one of the doctors said that going to the sukka would be difficult for him, the Rebbe said: How can I leave the Rebbetzin alone all night? If I don’t make kiddush for her, she won’t eat.

The Rebbe spent ten minutes in his room and then left, wearing a coat, for the sukka. The crowd stood at a distance, across the service lane. When the Rebbe was visible, they began singing. Then the Rebbetzin entered the sukka (she had been at home on President Street and during the hakafos they ran to inform her. She arrived at 770 through Union Street).


The doctors and one of the secretaries also entered the sukka. When the Rebbe walked in, he sat and leaned his head on his hand. They brought in food and grape juice but the Rebbe said, “Kiddush is made on wine, not on grape juice.” The Rebbe made kiddush on wine and then ate lekach. Then he washed his hands and ate challa which he dipped in salt that was on a spoon on the table. He ate a small meal and said the Birkas HaMazon. On his way out, he encouraged the crowd’s singing with his hand.


While the Rebbe sat in the sukka, they brought a bed into his room from the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment on the second floor. The Rebbe opened the door to his office and asked that the people be told to be calm and go and celebrate the joy of the holiday, and those who did not yet do hakafos, should do so joyously. R’ Groner went and told the people. The Rebbe also said he would not be going home that night.


At about one in the morning, the Rebbe said he had chest pains (he hadn’t said this until now). Cardiologists were called in and some said he should go to the hospital, but the Rebbe refused and asked what is done for someone who is somewhere where there is no hospital. The Rebbe told the doctors he was not going but would rest in his room.


Upon examining the Rebbe, the doctors saw he had undergone a severe heart attack. They say that one of the doctors asked the secretaries whether, during the heart attack, i.e., at hakafos, the Rebbe groaned in pain. When he was told no, that the Rebbe just sat down, the doctor said he was in this field for decades and had never heard of anything like this, for it was unendurable pain.


Dr. Mordechai Menachem Mendel Glassman repeated the dialogue that he had with the Rebbe:

I told the Rebbe that regarding Torah and Judaism, I obeyed the Rebbe, but in matters of medicine, I wanted the Rebbe to listen to me and go to the hospital.

The Rebbe said: In principle, you are right, but in my specific case, you do not know all the facts and therefore, you cannot make the decision.

I asked the Rebbe: What do you mean I don’t know all the facts? What do I need to know? The Rebbe did not take medication until now. This suddenly happened.

The Rebbe said: No! I prefer staying here. Do you have any idea what takes place in this room and on my desk?

I said: I don’t know but I can imagine.

“I cannot even begin to tell you what has transpired at this desk,” said the Rebbe. “But to me, this room is the holy of holies. And you are telling me to leave the holy of holies for the hospital? The refua will come from here.”


There were doctors who said to take the Rebbe to the hospital even without his consent, when he slept. They called for rabbanim to issue a ruling, but in the end, they could not render a decision. This was despite the fact that beforehand, the rabbanim had prepared themselves that if they’d be asked, they would say that it is necessary to listen to the doctors.


When the Rebbe woke up he said that he would absolutely not go to the hospital and the doctors should weigh the advantages of being in the hospital versus the negative impact of the unpleasantness that he would experience if he would go there against his will, and to come to a decision that it would be better to remain in his room.

According to one version, he also said that if he would be in the hospital, it would frighten the Chassidim. And here in his room he was in charge while in the hospital he would be one of many patients.

When the rabbanim wanted to enter his room, the Rebbe said to tell them: “Since I am a ‘frum Yid,’ and need to listen to the rabbanim, I request that they do not tell me any p’sak, so I will not be compelled to go, for there is no need for me to go.”


They tried to ask the Rebbetzin to get the Rebbe to agree to go but she said: He knows himself what to do.

She added that she never once said anything that went counter to the Rebbe’s wishes.


At a certain point, the Rebbetzin asked one of the secretaries to go upstairs and ask Rashag’s opinion. As he went up to the third floor, the Rebbetzin went up after him and when Rashag heard the question, he wanted to know what the Rebbe himself said. Upon hearing that the Rebbe refused to go to the hospital, he said: If the Rebbe doesn’t want, that’s the way it should be!


On Shmini Atzeres morning, the Rebbe davened Shacharis in a small minyan in Gan Eden HaTachton (the hallway outside the Rebbe’s room). The Torah reading took place in the Rebbe’s room on the Rebbe’s lectern. The Rebbe had an aliya and said the haftorah while sitting. They could hear the Haftora out in Gan Eden HaTachton where they davened Musaf. The door to the room remained ajar.

After the haftorah, he lay down again in bed. At “Hu Elokeinu” and “Ata Vechartanu” he motioned with his hand for them to sing by tapping lightly on the bed. After the davening, he began to sing “V’Samachta B’Chagecha” and then asked that all those who davened there should pass before him and he blessed them all with “gut yom tov.” To the kohanim he said, “yeyasher ko’ach.” To Rabbi Shmerel Gurary (of Tel Aviv) he said he should talk to the gabbaim about selling the mitzvos on Shabbos B’Reishis.


During the davening, Dr. Weiss arrived from Chicago, bringing some equipment from his hospital by means of which they would be able to examine the results of the tests they would do. They say that when he arrived at 770 he burst into tears and said: We always knew that the Rebbe does miracles and wonders for the sick, and I myself witnessed this when I treated a number of patients that the Rebbe sent to me, but now I need to come and heal the Rebbe.

When he entered the room, the Rebbe said he wanted Dr. Weiss to treat him like any other patient.

They say that Dr. Weiss’ coming elevated the Rebbe’s spirits. Dr. Weiss said that although it was hard to treat someone not in the hospital, it was possible. Regarding himself, he said he was not a big doctor but he knows what a Rebbe is, and therefore he hoped that he would be able to provide the best care. He said he would remain at the Rebbe’s side until he recovered. He even said the Rebbe had to be obeyed and enabled to remain in his room and he enumerated several advantages to this: the care would be with a doctor on site at all times, and the Rebbe would be able to express his opinion about the care and would not be anguished by being distant from the Chassidim.


Dr. Weiss later said that when he landed at the airport in New York, he had no idea where Crown Heights is. He was wandering around the airport when an NYPD policeman came over to him and asked him whether he is Dr. Ira Weiss from Chicago. When he said yes and that he needed help, the officer said that the police were asked to find him. They had been approaching the passengers from every flight from Chicago and looking for someone who might be Dr. Weiss. The Deputy Chief of Police drove along with him in a police convoy to Crown Heights and he arrived at 770 at top speed.


Regarding his meeting with the Rebbetzin, Dr. Weiss related:

I cut through the sea of people and went inside, but then I was stopped by Rebbetzin Schneersohn, a very refined and courteous woman. A simply amazing woman. I didn’t want to be impolite, but I said: Rebbetzin, I am happy to meet you, but I just came from Chicago and I want to rush in [to the Rebbe] right away.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Weiss,” she said. “Your friend, Dr. Teicholz, came here immediately and he arranged things. My husband is talking, his blood pressure stabilized, and he appears to be in a new condition.”


Dr. Teicholz, who had many connections in New York, including with the NASA space agency, managed to have them send a wireless heart monitor for the Rebbe. Back then, someone who needed heart monitoring was stuck in bed and attached to a complex machine with many wires, but he was able to get this new cutting-edge machine from NASA.


One of the doctors was Dr. Bernard Lown. Dr. Weiss later said that Lown was involved at that time in a government project with China and the State Department brought him back specially to care for the Rebbe. State Department officials knew the Rebbe as an expert in national security and consulted with him. It was important to them that the Rebbe be well.


In the afternoon, an instruction from the Rebbe was received which said they should all go to shuls and bring joy to Jews, “mit a shturem.” The Rebbe said that those who wanted to do something for his health should go bring joy to Jews.

In the afternoon, Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky (together with R’ Groner) entered the Rebbe’s room. He wished the Rebbe a refua shleima and burst into tears.

The Rebbe said: This is in contradiction to “V’Samachta b’chagecha.” If people want to add to my health, that is specifically by increasing joy. Crying is not what I want.

The Rebbe gave him two bottles of mashke (that had been brought in before Yom Tov) and instructed that the night farbrengen should be held as usual, and that surely it would not be lacking in divrei Torah, inspiration and simcha, and that afterward, they should have hakafos and be happy and not diminish from the joy of the holiday.


When one of the doctors came to take blood, the Rebbe asked him what causes the blood to come out, whether it’s the piercing of the needle or the vacuum created by the injection. The doctor said it’s the vacuum and the Rebbe told him that one time, someone came to him who claimed he was empty and not suited to anything holy. The Rebbe told him, on the contrary, the vacuum has the ability to draw in with greater force and consequently, he was a vessel for all good and holy things.

The Rebbe concluded: On Shmini Atzeres the rabbis deliver “sermons,” and since I am not presently allowed to speak to an audience, I said what I said to you and you give it over.


The Rebbe told Rashag, through R’ Groner, that the verses of “Ata Horeisa” should be sold that evening for the benefit of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim, like every year, without changes. The Rebbe would participate by providing several dollar bills and those who bought a verse would get one dollar.


At 9:00 there was a Chassidishe farbrengen that was attended by senior Anash and mashpiim. R’ Mordechai Mentlick reviewed a sicha from 13 Tishrei and R’ Yoel Kahn taught a Simchas Torah sicha. At this farbrengen, the mashke that the Rebbe gave R’ Kazarnovsky was given out. The Rebbe’s chair was put in its place near the farbrengen table.

In the middle, Dr. Weiss came down, wanting to say a few words in Yiddish. He blessed the Rebbe and told the crowd that the situation was better.


The Rebbe asked R’ Groner whether the people had gone to bring joy to the shuls, and R’ Groner said yes. The Rebbe asked what was going on downstairs in the shul and was told they had started farbrenging at 9:00. The Rebbe asked, “With a shturem?” And he added that they should tell people that the Rebbe said to farbreng “with a big commotion.”


After the farbrengen, they began selling and reciting the verses of “Ata Horeisa.” Generally, on this night, the Rebbe is honored with saying all the verses the first time, and the first and last verses the second and third times.

They did so this time too, and the crowd said the verses. The T’mimim bought “U’faratzta” for $770.


Each time they finished “Ata Horeisa,” they sang and danced with no ulterior motives except to carry out the Rebbe’s instruction that everything should be conducted as usual, without changes. They sang the niggun, “Zol shoin zayn di Geula” but changed the words to “Der Rebbe zol gezunt zayn,” and then changed the words again to, “Der Rebbe iz gezunt.” They sang it with these words for an hour and danced.

Their eyes were reddened from crying; they wanted to put their heads down and sob. But the Rebbe said to dance and they all danced and cried, danced and cried. Some held onto the table and made themselves jump, the main thing being to dance …


The Rebbe got out of bed and said that he was doing this so that R’ Groner could tell the crowd that he felt better and it was apparent. One of the doctors said that if the crowd knew how much nachas this niggun gave to the Rebbe, they would sing it all the time.

When he heard this niggun, the Rebbe said to the doctor: That’s Chassidim.

When the Rebbe was asked whether the noise of the singing bothered him, he said: It’s delightful music.

In shul, the hakafos lasted until dawn. They heard that the Rebbe davened Maariv, made kiddush, and ate something.


About one or two in the morning, the Rebbe said a short sicha to R’ Groner and asked him to repeat it at the farbrengen the next day (it was about what he had discussed with the doctor about a vacuum, that when there is an absence of something, it can be manifested in two ways: 1) the entire matter is lacking, or 2) not that the entire matter is missing, but there is an element that is lacking, and this actually forces an increase and with more power. An example being like the act of drawing blood. And the lesson to be learned from this which he told someone in yechidus is that if someone is an empty vessel, he draws more powers from his neshama and is able to receive. Likewise with the tzimtzum for the purpose of creating worlds, the tzimtzum itself forces the existence of the kav; and he added, since there is the matter of “your absence from your place will be noted” (i.e., the Rebbe would not be at the farbrengen), this need not lead to any diminution, but on the contrary). The Rebbe then said to R’ Groner that he should discuss this with R’ Yoel Kahn and that he should add sources etc.


On Simchas Torah, Shacharis took place in a small minyan in Gan Eden HaTachton. The Rebbe then closed the door of his room and said: I am downstairs (with the minyan of the entire congregation).

For “Ata Horeisa,” a few people entered the room and the Rebbe said the first and last verses the three times “Ata Horeisa” was said. During the hakafos he sat on his bed and held a Torah in his arm and during the actual hakafos he encircled the siddur in front of him on the table with the Torah. The other people present circled the lectern with the other two sifrei Torah. They did not sing. At the Torah reading, the Rebbe had the aliya of Chassan B’Reishis.

During Kaddish, Dr. Weiss came in and suggested that the Rebbe sit. The Rebbe answered with a smile: After hagba.

And he remained standing until after the lifting of the Torah.


At about 5:00, the Rebbe asked R’ Groner what was going on downstairs (in shul) and he said the crowd is very joyous.

The Rebbe said: Tell the people that from now on, it should be with a bigger “shturem.”


At the farbrengen, most of Anash and the elders of Anash were present, and women and children. They farbrenged before sunset and R’ Groner repeated what the Rebbe said. At the end of the farbrengen, about 11pm, R’ Groner came with the Rebbe’s cup (which had some wine in it) and a bottle of wine and said that the Rebbe said to give it to R’ Chadakov to give out to the participants of the farbrengen.

The Rebbe had also said to make an announcement, but told him, “Say it after Maariv, before Havdala.”


After Maariv, R’ Groner announced that the Rebbe would say a sicha in his room that night, over the sound system, so the people could hear it downstairs in the shul.

The doctors gave the Rebbe permission to speak for five minutes but the sicha actually began at 12:00 and lasted 22 minutes (a sicha and maamer [said like a sicha] “L’Havin Inyan Simchas Torah”).

At the end, when he said the blessings, he cried. When the doctors (who did not understand Yiddish) asked him what he said when he cried, the Rebbe said that he blessed the Chassidim and spoke about Moshiach.

The Rebbe also cried after the sicha. The doctors said the status of his heart did not change as a result of talking.

The doctors also asked whether he had said everything he wanted to say and he answered that if it depended on what he wanted to say, there would be no end to the speaking.

The Rebbe said that in the merit of speaking he felt improved, and he thanked the doctors for not stopping him in the middle. The sicha was transmitted by telephone hook-up to many places around the world.



A few months before the heart attack, at the farbrengen for Shabbos Parshas Eikev 5737/1977, the Rebbe used unusual wording that was not understood at the time. It was only after the heart attack that people understood the hint.

In the sicha, the Rebbe spoke about Yechezkel the Prophet who had to lie on his side for 390 days and another 40 days, and on 22 Av, the day the Rebbe said the sicha, he completed the days that he was forced to remain lying down. The Rebbe quoted the commentaries that say this caused Yechezkel to suffer to atone for the Jewish people. Said the Rebbe, with this we see the greatness of the g’dolei Yisroel in every generation that they accept suffering upon themselves etc., in order to atone for and save the Jews from undesirable things.


At the 13 Tishrei 5738 farbrengen, the Rebbe said it is known that the doctors told the Rebbe Rayatz in 5692-3 that they despaired of his life, but he lived another 18 years in a supernatural manner. The Rebbe said not to listen to doctors who say to limit joy, etc.

The night of Shmini Atzeres, when the heart attack occurred and the best doctors were called in, they began to understand what the Rebbe meant when he said not to listen to doctors who can despair about the life of the Nasi Ha’dor.


At that 13 Tishrei farbrengen, the Rebbe spoke about a letter that the Rebbe Rayatz wrote for Yom Kippur 5689/1928, the first year that he was free from Russia, in which he asked that they be especially joyous during the “days of joy” of Sukkos. The Rebbe said that this letter is in force today too, and said to print the letter and publicize it.

Later, the Yom Tov of Sukkos began with unusual joy, far beyond what was the standard for those days. Years later, intense joy became the norm, but back then, the Rebbe sufficed with encouraging with his hand. That year, when the Rebbe would reach the lectern, he would put down his siddur and turn to encourage the crowd very energetically, which was not the norm. Nobody understood the Rebbe’s great joy.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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