Weekly Chasidic Story #872 (s5774-50 / 17 Menachem Av 5774)

An Eye for an Eye

"What won't a father do for his daughter? I jumped out in front of the Rebbe, blocking his path.

Connection: Weekly Reading: "Shma Yisrael...an ornament between your eyes."


An Eye for an Eye

[As heard personally from Rabbi Grossman last month (see credits below).]

This happened in 5745 (1985 C.E.), when Mrs. Chaya-Rivka Hoenig, the oldest daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak-Dovid Grossman, the famous chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek in northern Israel, was 16 1/2 years old. One Friday, when she returned home for Shabbat from Beit Chana High School in Tsfat, her parents noticed that her right eye was swollen. She told them it was also painful.

At first her parents didn't think this was something to particularly worry about. They assumed it was a minor infection that would soon go away. But the swelling continued to increase, and her eye started to drip blood and ooze pus.* They rushed her to the emergency room and subsequently to each of the local eye doctors, but none of them were able to diagnose the cause of the problem. Instead they referred them to more expert doctors in the nearest large city, Haifa. But the doctors there too were at a loss how to help her, and sent them onward to a medical center in Tel Aviv. Weeks after that they went to Israel's leading hospital, Hadassah in the Ein Kerem district of Jerusalem, but there too no solution was found. Meanwhile the condition of her eye steadily worsened.

Several of the specialists they visited proffered explanations, but they conflicted one with the other. One proposed that the root of the problem was a malfunction in the eye itself. Another thought it to be a form of skin disease, while a third claimed it must be the result of an allergy. All agreed that the damage was very serious and that she would probably lose all vision in that eye.

For seven months the girl suffered from severe pain, and the whole time her eye continued to deteriorate.

Soon thereafter Rabbi Grossman flew to the USA on behalf of his Migdal Ohr educational institutions and charitable organizations. When he shared the pain of his daughter's situation with one of his friends in New York, the latter recommended that he seek a consultation with Dr. Albert Hornblass, a Jewish doctor in New Jersey who was an internationally known ophthalmologist of good reputation, and chairman of the Ophthalmologic Surgery department at New York's Eye, Ear and Throat hospital.

Rabbi Grossman arranged an appointment. He related to the doctor the background of his daughter's eye problem, and showed him the copies of the medical records from Hadassah-Ein Kerem that he had brought from Israel. The specialist was warm towards him, but explained he couldn't possibly provide a diagnosis without seeing the eye itself. So the rabbi immediately purchased a ticket for his daughter, and by 6AM the next morning she had already landed at JFK International Airport.

When he met her, after they exchanged greetings, her next words were a request to go immediately to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Her father complied. As soon as they reached Brooklyn from the airport, they hurried over to 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch international headquarters and the location of its main synagogue and yeshiva, as well as the Rebbe's office, arriving there only a few minutes before the Rebbe was due to appear for the morning prayer service.

They were not the only ones. Both sides of the lane leading to the entrance were packed with people anticipating the opportunity to see the Rebbe at close range, and maybe even to be noticed by him. Rabbi Grossman and his daughter joined the crowd.

Finally the car chauffeurred by one of the secretariat parked in front, and the Rebbe stepped out from the back seat. At that moment Rabbi Grossman determined to request the Rebbe's blessing, even though this was not a time or occasion when the Rebbe interacted with his Chasidim or other visitors. As the Rebbe approached the entrance, Rabbi Grossman brazenly jumped in front of him and blocked the path! "What won't a father do for his daughter?" he shrugged in retrospect.

"Rebbe!" he cried out with great emotion. He gestured with his hand. "Here is my daughter. The one I wrote to you about with the eye problem. She very much needs the Rebbe's blessing for a complete healing."

The Rebbe already knew about the eye problem of Chaya-Rivka Grossman. He had received by mail several reports and requests for a blessing over the course of the year. He looked over to where she was standing and briefly glanced at her damaged eye. In less than a second he turned to Rabbi Grossman and said, "Immediately do a mezuzah check, and may she have an immediate complete recovery. And may you merit to raise her to a life of Torah, Jewish marriage and good deeds."

Rabbi Grossman called out "Amen v'Amen!" and ran for the nearest public telephone as soon as the Rebbe passed from sight. He told his wife what the Rebbe had said and that she should try to summon right away the expert sofer (scribe) whom they always use, and he should minutely examine all the mezuzahs in the house.

Rabbi Grossman returned to "770" to pray in the Rebbe's minyan. At the same time, his wife,succeeded to contact the sofer and explain to him the urgency of an immediate visit.

It did not take long to discover the problem. An entire word was blotted out from one of the mezuzahs! Which word? "Ainecha"-"your eyes," in the verse, "and they [the words in the head-tefilin] should be for an ornament between your eyes (Deut. 6:8, 11:18). The scribe immediately replaced the defective mezuzah with a high-quality one that he had brought with him, just in case.

After the prayers, Rabbi Grossman went to meet his daughter at the "Ess 'n Bentch" restaurant across Kingston Avenue. "Abba ('Dad')," she said excitedly; "what is going on with my eye?"

"What do you mean?" he worried.

"I sense that something is happening. It feels like it doesn't hurt as much."

Rabbi Grossman, who did not yet know the results of the scribal inspection, looked at her eye, but couldn't see any change. He suggested to her that she go back to the apartment where they were staying and rest from her long all-night journey. "In the afternoon," he added, "we have an appointment with the doctor."

After a long nap, she reported happily that her eye didn't hurt any more. Rabbi Grossman looked, and indeed the swelling was almost entirely gone. Chaya-Rivka suggested they not bother traveling to the doctor, but her father insisted they should still go.

In the doctor's office, Rabbi Grossman presented Chaya-Rivka to Dr. Ornblatt and handed to him the folder of her medical records, which now included the results of the most recent examinations which she had brought with her. The doctor looked at her eye and at the X-rays and the charts of examinations and test results in her thick folder. Then he looked at both again, even more carefully. "I can't understand this," he said wonderingly. The condition of her eye as I see it now is pretty much normal. It does not match at all the descriptions in this folder. Yet there are CAT scan results here that are dated just a few days ago, showing swelling, bleeding and pus. How can that be?"

Rabbi Grossman, who by then had heard about the invalid mezuzah in Migdal HaEmek, told the doctor the whole story about the Rebbe's blessing and the mezuzah checking. The doctor's eyes bulged. "We have witnessed an actual miracle!" he exclaimed.

Day by day her eye continued to improve. She returned to Israel, while Rabbi Grossman remained in USA.

Weeks passed. At a major Chasidic farbrengen (gathering) with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, during an intermission between talks while the crowd was singing soulful Chasidic tunes with great passion, Rabbi Grossman approached the dais and asked the Rebbe for a blessing that he should be successful in his mission in America.

"Amen!" said the Rebbe. And then immediately added, "Is your daughter alright?"

"Much much better," said the happy father, and asked for a blessing for her too.

"She should get even better," responded the Rebbe. "Completely better."

And, of course, that is exactly what happened.

Eighteen years later, in 2003, Rabbi Grossman was in New Jersey as the Guest of Honor at a local Jewish community event. When he entered the synagogue on Shabbat Day, a congregant wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) jumped from his seat, ran to him, hugged and kissed him with enthusiasm and then started crying. Rabbi Grossman felt a bit embarrassed because as hard as he tried, he couldn't place who this man was, although he did seem a bit familiar.

The man noticed his confusion and announced, "I am Dr. Hornblass, the eye doctor who saw with my own eyes the miracle that occurred for your daughter through the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Since then I am continually aware with clear knowledge that there is G-D."

Transcribed and adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a speech by Rabbi Y. D. Grossman at a dinner in the Emperion Hall in Tsfat on the eve of Gimmel Tammuz 5774 (June 30,2014 C.E.) in honor of the 20th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (n.d., z.y.a). Supplemented with a few details from an 8-minute JEM video of Rabbi Grossman telling the story (in Hebrew, with English subtitles) a few years ago -- http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/livingtorah/player_cdo/aid/2111305/jewish/Seeing-is-Believing.htm .

* Editor's note:
Other renditions of the story contain a quite different and more frightening description of the eye problem, based on details supplied by other family members, but I thought it appropriate to stick with what I heard with my own ears from Rabbi Grossman himself.

Connection: Weekly Readings (both last week and this): "Shma Yisrael...an ornament between your eyes."

Biographical notes (in order of appearance):
Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, chief rabbi of Migdal Ha'Emek since 1969 at age 23, is a sixth generation Jerusalemite. He is a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council and a recipient of the Israel Prize and many other prestigious government awards for his successful efforts to bridge the gap between the religious and secular populations in Israel (thus his nickname from 40 years ago, the Disco Rabbi). His Migdal Ohr educational institutions and charitable organizations in Migdal Emek service thousands of underprivileged and at-risk children and teenagers.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe: [11 Nissan 5662 - 3 Tammuz 5754 (April 1902 - June 1994 C.E.)], became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law's passing on 10 Shvat 5710 (1950 C.E.). He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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