#104 (s5760-#04 / 26 Tishrei 5760)
THE SMILE IN THE PICTURE
Elimelech and Tzivia were both astonished. How did the Lubavitcher Rebbe know who they were?
THE SMILE IN THE PICTURE
Elimelech and Tzivia had only one child at the time, but they were quite proud of him. Menashe was diligent in school and did very well. Therefore, when there was a sudden downturn in his efforts, they were taken by surprise. His teacher told them that Menashe wasn't paying attention or doing his assignments. At first they figured that all he needed was some rest, but after a short time they were informed by the school that Menashe's participation and performance had fallen off so drastically that there was a significant possibility that he would not be promoted at the end of the year.
Now the parents began to worry in earnest. They decided to take Menashe for a routine medical checkup, just in case. The doctor's serious visage after examining the boy gave them only a moment's warning before the bombshell.
"I detect a swelling inside his skull," he reported solemnly. "This may be an indication of a brain tumor. He must go for tests."
The frightened parents immediately made all the necessary arrangements with a good hospital. A battery of diagnostic tests followed with discouraging results, until finally the doctors required that Menashe be hospitalized.
Although Elimelech was from a traditional family, over the years he had strayed somewhat from mitzvah observance. Recently, however, even before the problems with Menashe, he had had a change of heart and was slowly climbing his way back. In the process, he had established a relationship with the rabbi of the local Chabad House, and it was to him that he now turned in this time of crisis, in order to enlist his help to ask the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The worried couple looked forward impatiently to the Rebbe's response. Thankfully, it came soon. "Azkir al hatziyon"- "I'll mention [his name in prayer] at the tomb." At least twice a week the Rebbe used to travel to the burial place of his predecessor and revered father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, where he would pray, often for many hours at a time, for all those people who had petitioned him for help.
The response wasn't at all what they expected. In fact, Elimelech was somewhat disappointed. He had looked forward to a specific guarantee, such as, "The child will get completely well soon; there is no need to worry." This three-word reply seemed vague and tepid, Elimelech thought. Still, as he assured Tzivia, the Rebbe had responded promptly and said he would pray for them, so that in itself was encouraging.
This new hope lasted only as long as it took to get the results of the latest tests. The doctors said it was now indisputable: Menashe had terminal cancer of the brain. Their final diagnosis was that there was no hope for recovery and that the boy had only a few more weeks to live.
The parents were stunned. They could barely function. A desperate Elimelech hurried to 770. He chokingly explained the situation to one of the Rebbe's secretaries, and pleaded and wept that he should please ask the Rebbe for a more explicit and positive answer-a promise, not just a prayer.
The secretary said he would relay the request. He came back soon with the Rebbe's response: "Azkir al hatzion." The same thing again. Elimelech could barely accept it. This time he complained about its vagueness to the secretary who had delivered it. The latter explained to the distraught father that it was just as if the Rebbe had said, "Everything will be all right." This made Elimelech feel much better, and he returned to the hospital with renewed hope.
His new feelings of optimism survived for only a few days. Menashe's condition did not improve. Instead, there were signs of significant deterioration. That night, after Tzivia came to relieve him, he went home discouraged and exhausted by the long hours and days of vigil at Menashe's bedside.
As soon as he came in the door, he threw himself down on the couch. He was so tired he didn't even bother to untie his shoes, impatiently forcing them off while still knotted. At that moment, his glance took in the large photo of the Rebbe, hanging on the wall facing him.
"Your blessings don't help at all!" he screamed towards the picture. "He is getting worse instead of better." Crying, his narrowed eyes focused on the Rebbe's broad smile, and he became even more frustrated. "Why can't I smile too, Rebbe?"
He balled his fists tightly. Then, suddenly, almost without thinking, he snatched up one of his shoes and flung it straight at the picture on the wall...!
More time went by. Miraculously, the doctors' dire predictions were not borne out, as Menashe's condition changed radically. He began getting better slowly, and then more quickly. Finally, he was healthy once again and their lives resumed their normal patterns: Elimelech and Tzivia returned to their jobs full-time, and Menashe to his classes.
Two years after that fateful first visit to the doctor, on a Sunday morning, the family was standing on the long line outside of 770, waiting to receive a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as well as a dollar to pass on to tzedakah.
Finally their turn came to pass in front of the Rebbe's table. Before they could say a word, the Rebbe looked up at them with a warm smile and said, "Nu, how is Menashe?"
Elimelech and Tzivia were both astonished. How did the Rebbe know who they were? Why should he remember that distant episode with their son?
Elimelech emerged from his shock first. "Boruch Hashem, thank G-d, Menashe is just fine-all in the merit of the Rebbe's holy blessing."
The Rebbe's smile broadened at hearing the good news. "Nu, boruch Hashem!" he confirmed.
Then, in a voice so low that only Elimelech could hear, he added, "But I still feel the blow."
[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Bedidi Hoveh Uvdah vol. II, pp.7-8. You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of
Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He
has hundreds of published stories to his credit.