As I reflect on the remarkable events that I am about to share with you, I realize now that this story actually begins four and a half months earlier, right after Lag Ba'omer.
B"H, a year ago, Lag Ba'omer, I merited to come again to Israel to participate in the third birthday celebration of my son Yechiel's second son, Dovid Matisyahu, by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. It so happened, that on the way to Israel, I read a remarkable book entitled, "Escape From India," which details the larger than life story of an unfortunate fellow who is caught with drugs in the Mumbai airport, the living hell of his imprisonment as well as his transformation in prison as a true Baal Teshuva (penitent) and his remarkable and quite supernatural escape from the inescapable, due to the pidyon nefesh (payment of ransom for his soul) that was accomplished through the efforts of a great Tzadik in Israel. (This idea that when one suffers, particularly in the case of illness, a redemption is necessary to sweeten and mitigate any harsh Heavenly judgment, is addressed by Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan Part II, lesson 3).
Quite intrigued by this concept of pidyon nefesh, when I arrived in Israel, I asked my son Yechiel if he knew who this tzadik was who accomplished this pidyon, and would I be able to meet him to perhaps accomplish a pidyon for my wife Chana--to which he smiled. When I asked him why he was smiling, he told me that his good friend was the brother of the chief gabbai (attendant) of the tzadik, Rav Eliezer Berland, and he would see what he could do, in the short time that I would be in Israel.
Truly guided by Hashem, doors opened seemingly by magic, and Monday after Lag Ba'omer, we were told to bring $1000 for the pidyon, and come to an address in Betar at a certain time to see Rav Berland. Upon coming into his room, Rav Berland took the pidyon, but instead of speaking of Chana or giving me instructions, immediately gave me a number of vials of medicines, and commented very matter of fact but in his usual enthusiastic way, "take these medicines for your liver and you'll be just fine. You see, when the blood vessels or the liver backs up, serious illness results. Notice how your veins are protruding. This is because your liver is not working as it should. But take the medicine and you'll be fine." With that, his gabayim (attendants) began to scoot us out of the room. "But wait,"
I said. "What about my wife and her seizures? That's the reason why we came!" To which Rav Berland took out four more medicines, quickly gave me specific instructions for her to take the medicines, and wished her a complete recovery. Like a whirlwind, we left in a daze. (I will say, by the way, that Chana is clearly better since taking Rav Berland's medicines, with her seizures now occurring, much, much less frequently than they had been for years previously.)
But what about me and what about my liver? I never thought twice about it except that interestingly, 8 years earlier, while being worked on during a CranioSacral seminar, a therapist remarked that he had never seen a liver so hard and so stuck.
I should also note that while waiting in Rav Berland's entry room, we struck up a conversation with a wonderful fellow who happened to be the grandson of one of the great Breslov tzadikim of the previous generation, Harav Shmuel Shapiro, ZT"L. Rav Yehuda Tzvi Shapiro mentioned that the previous week, the Spinker Rebbe from Brooklyn, happened to come to see Rav Berland. The Spinker commented to him that Rav Berland's medicine was nothing but a cloak, and the real power of the medicine came from combinations, permutations and meditations on Hashem's holy names that Rav Berland "injected" into the medicines!
Anyway, I took Rav Berland's medicine and really felt much clearer and stronger than before, but as I didn't change anything in my lifestyle, slowly, I returned to how things were before.
Fast forward again, to Erev Rosh Hashana in Uman
(When I saw the tzaddik some three months ago I asked him for a blessing for a safe and easy birth for my daughter in law, whose due date was June 6, and mentioned in passing that I would be coming to Eretz Yisrael for Lag Ba'omer again. He immediately told me to change my ticket to be there for the bris mila. As such, I changed it for the latest possible date, arriving in Israel right before Shavuos, and staying for 2 weeks, which should have given enough time for me to be there for a simcha. But more on that later!)
Finally Thursday morning, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport, rented a brand new Mazda, and headed straight to my children in Elad. I took my herbs, and then out of sheer exhaustion, collapsed, and slept all day. When I finally awoke, in the late afternoon, in addition to my stomach feeling queasy, the chills and my right leg being still quite red, though the swelling was significantly reduced, my lymph nodes were now swollen and in addition to all of the above, I now had lymphadenitis and sinusitis. So with the exception of Shabbos, most the next 4 days until Shavuos I spent in bed to the complete bewilderment of our little ones, ages 5, 3 3/4, and 2 1/2.
One small glimmer of light I would like to share with you in the midst of all this darkness: B"H, Erev Shabbos I was able to drag myself to mikvah, and then, to the delight of Shimmy and Dudy (Yechiel's first two boys: Shimon and Dovid Matisyahu), I drove them in my car to the Breslover Shteibel before Shabbos. And though I did drag myself to Shul Shabbos morning and again for Mincha/Shalosh Seudos, most of the time I was sitting with my head down on the table. After Shabbos, I was approached by one of the many holy Jews that daven at Breslov with Yechiel. A mekubal and a sofer (scribe) he gave me a holy Kamaiya (amulet) with many combinations and permutations of Hashem's holy names to wear, but to make sure to return it before I left Israel. I was also instructed to double wrap it in plastic and cover it to protect it from unholy influences. Interestingly, within a day after placing it in my pocket, the nose piece of my glasses broke. I don't think that this was just a coincidence. In retrospect, I truly believe that the Kamaiya also had a major influence in my recovery.
After Shabbos, though, I was back in bed where I pretty much remained, sweating, tossing and turning until Shavuos.
I really wanted to stay up all night Shavuous, and B"H, though my mind was foggy I did manage to go with my son, Yechiel, to the Breslover Shteibel to say the Tikkun Leil Shavuous. Around 3:30 am, Yechiel noticed that I was looking weak and dozing off, so he asked me if I'd like a cup of coffee. Mind you, I hadn't drunk coffee for well over 5 years, and though hesitant, (knowing that besides being a tonic and a stimulant, coffee is also a mild purgative and a diuretic) I agreed to a weak cup of coffee. Everything seemed OK for about a half hour, but then, as I went to the mikvah to immerse myself to connect the night to the day in purity, as I walked the 4 or so blocks to the mikvah horrible cramps got worse and worse until, by the time I reached the Mikvah, I was doubled over in pain desperately needing a bathroom. But this time, what came out was blood and pus mixed with stool--dysentery! Somehow, I managed to immerse and Hashem even provided me an unexpected shortcut back to Breslov (I mistakenly thought that Breslov was on Rechov Rabbi Akiva, and intuitively I followed that street which led me right to the shortcut--actually the Breslover steibel is on Rechov Hillel! Yet one more gesture of Hashem's amazing mercy!) I don't know how I did it, but I made it back to shul, davened shacharis at dawn and, doubled over in pain made it the 6 blocks back to Yechiel's apartment on Rechov Yehuda Hanasi. Arriving home, again, I took my herbs, went right to sleep, and woke up late afternoon, drenched in sweat and coughing spasmodically, bring up thick yellow phlegm, and almost aspirating my lungs from the intensity of the coughing. Pneumonia! Now, I could no longer lie down, for every time I would lie on my sides or back I would break into more spasmodic coughing, and so for the balance of the two weeks that I was in Israel, I slept sitting up on the living room couch, getting an average of 3 hours sleep a night, and a couple of more hours during the day. Yom tov Sheni (the 2nd day of the holiday celebrated by Jews living abroad) Friday and Shabbos, were spent pretty much in a daze, dozing on and off, and taking my herbs, and though I really tried to participate in the Shabbos meals, my appetite was poor.
I want to tell you two stories now: One from Rebbe Nachman and one that happened to me.
Rebbe Nachman begins his famous story of the Seven Beggars with the following introduction: "There once was a king who had an only son. The king wanted to give over his kingdom to his son during his lifetime. On the day of the coronation, the king made a great ball. Whenever the king makes a ball there is great rejoicing, but now, when the king was giving over the kingdom to his son during his lifetime, the rejoicing was immense. All the royal ministers, dukes, and officials were there and they rejoiced greatly at the feast. Everyone in the land was also pleased by this. It was a great historic event that the king was giving over his kingdom to his son during his lifetime, and there was great rejoicing. There were all sorts of entertainment at the ball, including bands, comedians and the like; everything to make people rejoice. When the rejoicing reached its peak the king stood up and said to his son: "I am an expert in astrology, and I see in the stars that you are destined to lose your kingdom. When you lose power be careful not to become depressed; you must remain joyful. If you are happy, then I will also be happy. But if you become sad, then I will still be happy--because you are no longer king. if you are not able to remain happy when you lose your royal power, then you are not fit to be a king. But if you remain happy, then I will be extremely happy."
Shortly after Lag Baomer, I was scheduled to see a patient on a Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 pm. As the patient hadn't yet arrived, I went to the hall outside of my office to get something. There, in front of me were two distinguished looking chasidic Jews who asked if I could give them a few minutes. I told them that it was impossible, as I had a patient arriving any moment for an appointment. During this interaction, suddenly the phone rang, and it was my patient running about 20 minutes late. There are no coincidences, right? Obviously, Hashem was guiding things and wanted me to welcome these guests, so I escorted them into my office and it turned out that they were the principal and spiritual guide of the Breslover Cheder in Jerusalem. Clearly, Rebbe Nachman was speaking to me again. Seeing the obvious Divine involvement, I arranged some connections for them, introducing them to members of the community, as well as Shabbos and a parlor meeting.
When they came to LA, they knew almost no one, but now, B"H, Breslov Yerushalayim had a toe-hold.
This set the stage for my trip to Israel: When they heard I was coming to Israel, they went out of their way to meet me at the airport (at 6 am!) and invited me to come see the Breslover Cheder as well as Rebbe Nachman's chair which was smuggled into Israel and reassembled there. Finally, Sunday afternoon, still doubled over in pain, Yechiel and I drove to Meah Shearim. Limping from our parked car on Rechov Shomrei Emunim to Breslov, the two blocks felt like ten miles. Someone seeing me might have thought that I was in my 80s! But like balm for the neshama (soul) we had the opportunity to view three classes in the Breslover Cheder. In each class, I was given a mesechta (tractate) of the mishnayos they were learning and told to choose an arbitrary perek (chapter) and mishna. To my surprise, in each class, in beautiful harmony, the boys would sing the words of the mishna flawlessly (and with complete understanding) to different Breslover niggunim. The intensity and love that was invested into their chinuch (education) was obvious.
After mincha which I davened next door, at Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, I went back to the Breslover Bais Hamidrash, set up a chair and table, and sat in front of Rebbe Nachman's chair, saying vidui (confession). I was told that the great Lelover Rebbe, Reb Moshe Mordechai, used to daily come by and kiss the chair. Our sages tell us that objects merely used by Tzadikim a quality of holiness which the great can discern. Certainly, that would be the case with the very chair used by Rebbe Nachman, himself. Though different than the sensations that I felt in Uman, putting my head down in front of the Rebbe's chair, I certainly felt its impact.
Still very weak and very much in pain, we next drove to Gush Shmonim, to the Bais Hamidrash of the great mekubal and tzadik Rav Itche Meir Morganstern. Rav Morganstern has written extensively about the halachic ramifications of alternative medicine, and I was fortunately able to ask him a specific question about my practice. Those interested in finding out more should definitely purchase his annual voluminous text of issues and questions both in revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah entitled "Yam Hachochma".
From there, as it turned out, the great self-effacing Tzadik, Rav Nissan Dovid Kivak was making a bar mitzva for his grandson in Brachfeld (near Modi'in). A little background about Rav Kivak:(Unlike other prominent figures in the Breslov movement, very little has been written about Rav Kivak, so what follows is based upon my experiences or what I've heard from others. A native New Yorker, from what I understand, Rav Kivak learned in Yeshivos Tiferes Yerushalayim and Torah V'da'as, and received smicha (ordination) at age 16. Harav Moshe Feinstein was has mesader kiddushin. As a young man he was the chavrusa of the present Skverer Rebbe, Shlit"a. But drawn to the the writings of Rebbe Nachman and the charismatic leadership of Rav Eliezer Shlomo Schick, at age 19, Rav Kivak moved to Israel. Rav Schick recognized Rav Kivak's greatness, and groomed him to be his right-hand man, but for whatever reason, they had a falling out, and Rav Kivak quietly moved to the new community of Kiryat Belz in Jerusalem. As the story has it, as the Belzer Rebbe, shlit"a was building his magnificent community, he ran out of money and get extremely depressed. One of his Chasidim knew of Rav Kivak, and convinced the Rebbe to speak with him. In the Breslov tradition, Rav Kivak encouraged the Belzer to not give up, and it was this strengthening which provided the boost to allow the Belzer Rebbe to complete Kiryat Belz. Slowly and gradually Rav Kivak has develop quite a large following. My first experience with him was 5 or so years ago, on Rebbe Nachman's yahrtzeit. Quite in a state of ecstasy,my son Yechiel encouraged me to approach Rav Kivak to give him "Sholom," but warned me that he probably would not engage me in conversation, and that under no circumstances should I refer to him with any title of honor. To my surprise, Rav Kivak started asking me all about my medicine, and for a half hour, with people dancing all around, we engaged each other in conversation--until I made the mistake, when he asked me if I could treat back problems, of answering, "it would be my pleasure to treat the Rov"--to which he bolted away from me, screaming, "what's this talk about rabbis?" and that was it. Subsequent to that, on multiple occasions, I have attended his shiurim, which are magnificent, and reach straight to the heart or each listener. Rav Kivak as part of his presentation, actually makes fun of "Rebbes," mimicking their aristocratic and regal mores, promoting humility, honesty and optimism. Yet, on Rosh Hashana night, in Uman, well over an hour after davening was finished in the large Kloiz, Rav Kivak was still immersed in prayer, like nothing I'd ever seen before.
So now, at his grandson's bar mitzva, all of a sudden Rav Kivak called me over and had me sit next to him. After a while, he said, "let's go outside and talk," and for a good half hour, I gave over to him all that I had gone through since Uman. All the while he listened quietly. After I finished, in classic New York English, Rav Kivak told me, "Forget about it, man, and don't think about it any more. You've go so much! You've got Shabbos. You've got the Rebbe. You've got your beautiful family. Just forget about what happened and focus on all that you have. Be happy and grateful, and just move on." With that we returned upstairs and still in pain, but slightly less, I davened with Rav Kivak and his followers ma'ariv, finally arriving home at around 1:30 am.
The next day, Monday I woke up late, moving very slowly--coughing, weak, and very much still feeling under attack. I didn't have the time or strength to go to the Kosel (western wall), I had very much wanted to visit my elderly cousin who lived in the south, but I just didn't have the strength, but before I left, I knew that I needed to go to Meron and the shrine of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as well as to go to Tzfas, visit my granddaughter Rochel who was learning there, and go into the mikva of the Holy Arizal as well as daven by his and his rebbe the Ramak's graves. On the way, I intuitively thought it wise to add Yechiel as an additional driver on my rental car, a decision which turned out to be quite wise. But once we got to Tzfat, I just didn't have the strength to go down the stairs to the cemetery and the mikva, so Yechiel acted as my emissary After waiting for him, we proceeded to Meron.
Meron felt very different, and after Davening Ma'ariv by Rebbe Shimon, I put the need to put my head down, and close my eyes. I suddenly broke into a deep sweat, and again, heard that voice that I had heard originally in Uman which told me, "You can have it, but you have to pay the price!" This time though, the message was different: "All that you suffered until now is your tikkun. You've learned your lesson, and now you will get better and will have a healthy and vigorous life. But don't repeat the mistakes of your last 40 years. Don't stay up so late. You know what you've done, and you know that each aveira creates a prosecuting, malevolent angel. I've waited patiently for you to get it, but you haven't gotten it. So now they are cleansing you, and if you're smart, that will be the end of your suffering. But be happy and know that this is for your benefit. The proof will be that no one in your family will get sick despite all the coughing, and phlegm and sickness. This is your personal tikkun." So I left Rabbi Shimon, and had much to think about as I drove home.
The next day with my daughter in law, Rivka, still not having given birth, I took the family to Ikea in Natanya, where they had a lovely amusement park inside the store which the boys loved. At Ikea, the very expectant mom, was able to buy all kinds of different odds and ends to help feather her nest in anticipation of the coming event.
It was wise indeed, that I added Yechiel as an additional driver, and the wisdom become more apparent with the days. I don't think I would have made my flight, had he not driven me, but I did. Again, I thought that I had everything well planned out: and I flew business class direct from Berlin to LA. But what a flight--the whole 16 hours for the most part, I was coughing, hacking and miserable, able to sleep very little.
Ten hours after arriving home in LA, Yechiel called to tell me that they were on the way to Maayonei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, and two hours later he again called me to daven as the labor was seemingly stuck. As I have done before, I enlisted the help of the Ramak who speaks about Bina giving birth to Tiferes, but the importance of involving Chesed to transform any harsh Judgments (Gevura). B"H within 15 minutes, I again received the wonderful news that we had a new baby boy!
Over the next week, the car was indispensable, allowing Rivka to comfortably get to the hospital, for Yechiel to buy all the necessities for the Shalom Zocher in Bnei Brak by the Biala Rebbe, Shlit"a, to bring Rivka home with their new package, and of course to plan the bris.
B"H I was able to participate at the bris nonetheless, as my granddaughter Rochel, my grandson Dovid and my daughter Ariella all have I-phones. Preparing myself, I learned the passages from the Zohar, just as if I were there, and orally invited Eliyahu Hanavi (the Prophet Elijah), the angel of the Bris to join us in Elad, as well as here in Southern California to heal all the members of our family. (Our wonderful assistant, Connie Wiggins, tells me that though Chana Slept through the Bris, nonetheless, this morning, my Chana seemed different, like she'd gone through some kind of medical procedure!
At 2:30 in the morning, not knowing even if the mikvah had water in it, I went to the shul down the alley from me. Not only was the mikvah full, but the water was warm and inviting, and I felt my prayers connected on high with each immersion, as I invited the many tzadikim who I had connected with to join us for the bris.
The bris began a little after 3:00 am, and Rav Morganstern was the Sandek (godfather), who held the baby, gave the blessings and announced the name. Our new grandson's name? Aharon Nosson, named for two great self-effacing tzadikim: Rav Aharon Strashelye, the main student of the Baal Hatanya (the Alter Rebbe of Chabad), and, of course, Rav Nosson of Breslov.
The bris took place Thursday afternoon in Israel (Early Friday morning here) and now, Motzei Shabbos, I feel like a different person. I absolutely believe that Eliyahu Hanavi was present at the bris as well as here, at 321 1/2 N. Genesee, in LA. I am much, much better now. I feel that the illness is about 90% gone and I'm close to 80% back to my full strength. During this process I lost 16 lbs, but over Shabbos, gained back two lbs and now weigh what I did when I graduated high school. But more importantly, my neshama (soul) feel clean. Though I was too weak and tired to go to Shul this morning, I went for Mincha this afternoon, and merited to go to Mikvah before Davening, as well as getting an aliya and making a misheberach (a blessing) for my daughter-in-law Rivka as well as for Aharon Nosson that they should have speedy and complete healings. (Our sages tell us that the third day after a bris is the most difficult, so the timing was definitely opportune).
When I went to Israel I thought that I knew what Malchus (Royalty) was, but what I really learned and integrated is that Malchus is not about me or my plans, but rather it is about feeling the absolute joy of being the King's son, constantly being honest with myself and judging myself carefully each day, seeing the good in all that befalls me, and knowing that everything that happens to me is a loving gift and reminder of what I need to know and reflect on, and even more importantly, what I need to do.
B"H, I continue to get stronger. This amazing experience has enabled me to better understand the Chinese concepts of Wei Qi (superficial or defensive vitality) and Ying Qi (nutritive vitality). I find that I now feel stronger than I have in many, maybe perhaps 30 years, and for the most part, that which attacked me is for the most part gone. Nonetheless, the process of filling in the vacuity, and strengthening me from within I see as a much slower process. During this process, when I have stayed up later, I've felt it quite dramatically the next day. Yet, when I've acted prudently, I've felt remarkably stronger from deep inside. Saturday evening, June 8, I celebrated a Seudas Hoda'ah (meal of Thanksgiving), to express my gratitude to Hashem and the tzadikim for giving me a second chance to live. It was especially auspicious in that it also coincided with Seudas Malava Malka (The mystical meal of King David escorting out Shabbos) as well as a Seudas Rosh Chodesh (A meal honoring the beginning of the Lunar month of Tamuz, my birthday month 61 years ago).
With Hashem's help, I pray that I have the wisdom to have learned from my mistakes, and make the most of this second chance.