Weekly Chasidic Story #1310 (5783-17) 23 Tevet 5783 (Jan.16, 2023)

"A Rabbi's Chemical Cure for Insanity"

Shortly before his Bar Mitzvah, the boy suddenly stopped eating and drinking, and began wandering aimlessly around the house, mumbling incoherently to himself like a madman.

Connection: Tuesday of this week, Tevet 24, is the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe of Chabad.


Story in PDF format for more convenient printing.


A Rabbi's Chemical Cure for Insanity

Once, a religious Jewish man, whom we will call Reb Yona, had a son who became seriously mentally ill. Shortly before his Bar Mitzvah, the boy suddenly stopped eating and drinking, and began wandering aimlessly around the house, mumbling incoherently to himself like a madman.

The father spared no money or time searching for a cure. But after all his savings were gone and he had exhausted all sources of charity with no results, he, like all the best doctors and professors he had seen, gave up.

Then he heard about the Alter Rebbe. Thousands sought the help of Rebbe Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, nicknamed the "Alter (elder) Rebbe'", also in mundane as well as spiritual matters. He, however, would have no part of it - who ever heard of asking a human being for a blessing? G-d is the one who cures!

But, as the man's wife pointed out to him, if it is permissible to ask doctors for help and throw away hundreds of rubles on them to boot, then why should it be forbidden to ask the help of a tzadik? Besides, there are myriads of stories in Judaism about people requesting blessings from Moses, Elijah and even from the holy scholars of the Talmud.

Yona tried to resist, but he finally gave in to his wife's tears and repeated urgings and agreed to travel to Laidi. A few days later he was standing with his son before the Rebbe, gazing into the Rebbe's infinitely deep eyes.

"Your son will be healthy, G-d willing," the Rebbe said. "He needs just one small treatment. You have to mix a small potion of two grams of silver nitrate in a tablespoon of olive oil and have him swallow it. This will heal him completely, G-d willing."

Yona was overjoyed! The Rebbe was a completely different person from anyone he had ever seen. There was truth and certainty in the Rebbe's eyes that the man had never dreamed existed in this world. Finally, there was hope! He immediately set out to find someone to fill the prescription.

It so happened that, in the town of the Alter Rebbe, also lived a highly esteemed doctor. So, when Yona began asking around for someone to make this concoction, he was directed to his house. But when he asked the doctor for help, he was shocked by the doctor's response.

"What! Silver nitrate?" the doctor almost screamed. "What in the world would anyone need that for? Who told you to take this?"

Yona tried to explain, but it didn't help. "Deranged son?" the doctor exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders in disbelief. "What has silver nitrate got to do with mental illness? The opposite is true; it could be dangerous!"

Nevertheless, Yona insisted. He put money on the table. He told the doctor that he trusted the Rebbe and in moments was exiting with the elixir in hand. Full of hope and anticipation, he speeded home and gave it to his son...but, nothing happened.

True, nothing bad happened. But nothing good happened, either. Perhaps he had misunderstood what the Rebbe said. He decided to ask again.

The next day he was again standing before the Rebbe explaining what had happened. The Rebbe smiled momentarily, and then replied, "Ah, whoever mixed the medicine must have made a mistake in measuring. Go back and ask him if he measured exactly as I told you. It has to be exact!"

"Mistake?" the doctor replied later, "I didn't make any mistake. As a matter of fact, I didn't measure at all! I just put in the smallest amount of silver nitrate possible. Why waste time measuring something that is useless?"

But Yona pleaded again, and finally the doctor softened. He even agreed to measure and mix it all in front of Reb Yona.

Sure enough, this time when the man administered the mixture to his son, the boy's entire complexion and composure changed almost immediately. As though he had just woken from a dream, he began to ask for food to eat and books to study.

Yona returned to the doctor with his son, and the doctor could not believe his eyes. "It simply makes no sense!" he exclaimed. "I suppose you want to say it was a miracle. But, if it was a miracle, then why did the measure have to be exact? Anyway, silver nitrate has nothing to do with mental illness. I simply can't understand it! Still," he concluded in an abashed tone, "I'm afraid that I must admit that what happened here was a miracle."

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the free translation of Rabbi Tuvia Bolton from one of the most authoritative collections of Chasidic stories, "Sipurim Nora'im" (pg. 130) by Rabbi Yaakov Kaidener.

Rabbi Bolton's conclusion:
There is a deep lesson here. All life is a process. Often we want results without a process: to get rich (thin, successful etc.) 'quick.' From the Rebbe in our story, we learn not to be disappointed if it doesn't happen that way. Despite the delays, disappointments, and setbacks it might contain, the process itself is also holy, and it is our job to treat it that way. Then we will all see... Moshiach NOW!

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shneur Zalman [18 Elul 5505 - 24 Tevet 5573 (1745 - Dec. 1812)] was one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. He is the founder of the Chabad-Chassidic movement and the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya and the "Nusach Ari Siddur with Kabbalah Explanations,"as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

Connection: Tuesday of this week, Tevet 24 (Jan.17), is the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe of Chabad.

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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