The Lubavitcher (Chabad) Rebbe was undeniably a great man and arguably the greatest Jew of his generation. Many of his followers have done outstanding work around the globe. But sadly as with every large organization they have their crooks, their swindlers and their charlatans. Amongst their failings is an exaggerated tendency to maximize miracles the Rebbe performed (while ignoring his limitations) and inventing myths.
For many years there has been a story circulating that my father, who died in March 1962, was promised he would be cured by the Rebbe provided he did not tell anyone, but he did and that’s why he died. These stories caused my late mother a great deal of distress. Her very different record of the events was actually published in a Lubavitch book called Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad and at one stage she even toyed with legal action.
The facts of the situation are that in the autumn of 1961 my father was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukemia and he needed regular blood transfusions. The doctors described his condition as terminal. Initially he kept repeating that he was in the hands of God, not fallible human doctors. As he deteriorated, his initial optimism began to wane.
He went to see the Rebbe in New York and was tremendously impressed. The Rebbe encouraged him to devote his remaining time to preparing himself to meet his Maker. He suggested my father grow his beard full, wear a gartel when he prayed and study the Tanya daily. The visit certainly gave my father a lot of spiritual comfort. When he returned he wrote many letters to friends and pupils telling them that he was nearing his end but facing it with confidence. His health continued to deteriorate, of course, and in the winter he went to New York again for a final visit to the Rebbe. He kept very detailed notes of both visits, so we have written evidence apart from what he told us from memory.
The Rebbe reassured him that he would live to dance at his daughter’s wedding (she was two at the time), and that Purim would be a time of turning sadness into joy. One can argue whether this was honest or not. Let us assume he was just trying to give him courage or speaking mystically. But medically there was no chance of recovery. He died less than two months later, a week before Purim.
Although I have never joined Chabad, when I was a rabbi in Glasgow I helped Chabad establish itself there. The Rebbe was instrumental in my returning to Carmel as Headmaster, and I made several trips to New York to see the Rebbe and to get Chabad teachers to come to Carmel. But I was always a fellow traveler rather than a believer.
Recently this myth resurfaced in the rather sick variation excerpted below, written by a rabbi in Kfar Chabad in Israel. My comments are in brackets.
The scene is London 1963.I find it fascinating that the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament contains a similar story of a man being warned not to reveal a miraculous healing, but publicizing it anyway. It seems that it’s not just the Second Coming that some people in Chabad are borrowing from Christianity! If people can invent nonsense like this to bolster their belief systems, then every story they tell becomes suspect. Myths and lies certainly won’t help bring “Moshiach Now!”
[My father died in 1962.]
Three religious bearded Jews are sitting around a table and one, a noted rabbi and community leader by the name of Rabbi Koppel (sic) Rosen was weeping. Usually he was known almost as well for his disdain toward the Chabad Chassidim as he was for his erudition.
[Strange. He came to visit when I was in Beer Yaakov Yeshiva in 1957, and together we went to Kfar Chabad to meet some friends of his. He was responsible for getting Lord Wolfson to fund the building of Lubavitch House in Stamford Hill in the 1950’s, and he was a very old friend of Reb Laizer Spector, zl, one of the main early supporters of Chabad in London, who actually went with him to the Rebbe the first time. My father was in contact with the Rebbe long before his final illness, as letters exchanged between them in the fifties attest.]
Whenever there was an opportunity to belittle or even vilify Chabad he took it.
[It is true that he made fun of the credulous and superstitious, but neither I nor anyone else I know of ever heard him belittle Chabad.]
Several weeks later Rabbi Rosen was standing before the Rebbe. It had all come about so suddenly, he had always shuddered in repulsion at the name Chabad
[Oh no, not that lie again.]
and now it was so obvious that the Rebbe was unequalled in holiness and knowledge that he was actually shaking with excitement. But the Rebbe wasn't enthusiastic about his idea of becoming a Chassid. "Chassid?" he answered, "I am willing to accept you as a partner. But not a Chassid."
[The part about being accepted as a partner is the only element of this story that is mentioned in my father’s notes.]
Rabbi Rosen stayed for over a week in Brooklyn
[He has got the two visits confused and time scales wrong]
and every day he felt better and better, in some ways better than ever before in his life. For the first time the hatred he had always carried in his heart was gone.
[Hatred? Of whom, Chabad? Then why had he been helping them for so long?]
That Shabbat he attended the 'Farbrengen' (gathering) of the Rebbe. Rabbi Rosen was elated. After the Farbringen he told everyone he met of the amazing miracle that was happening to him;. how just reading the Tanya and seeing the Rebbe completely cured him of the worst disease and made him young again.
[There was no cure, no remission. But, yes, he did feel tremendous spiritual elation from being with the Rebbe.]
When the Shabbat was over he called home and told his wife to advertise the miracle until everyone knew.
[Rubbish, confirmed by my mother. In all he said to his wife and children, he never mentioned a cure.]
Rabbi Rosen never felt better in his life.
[He was on blood transfusions!]
He exclaimed that he was healthy and he felt it would last for ever. "I'll begin by telling everyone about my miraculous recovery!" He exclaimed enthusiastically.
[His letters, notes and conversations say nothing about this at all.]
But the Rebbe emphatically stopped him. "No! You must tell no one!” But it was too late. Rabbi Rosin (sic) had already advertised.
[Strange that none of his family had been told any of this.]
He returned home a different man, full of life and Chassidic joy and began several projects to spread and teach but after a few months he contracted a cold which developed complications
[He had leukemia!]
and, as the Rebbe foresaw, he passed away.
My mother’s Yahrzeit was this past week. Out of respect for her memory, let alone my father’s, zl, I hope someone in Chabad has the integrity and authority to put an end to this for the sake of its own good name.
As a result of my objections, the author of the piece quoted above apologized to me and promised to correct the story. However I notice that all he has done is to give a very qualified apology in his weekly mailing and simply taken out my father's name and substituted "Rabbi J" in the story that remains online. That's interesting. I wonder if in future years J will turn into Jeremy! But either way the "myth" is being perpetuated and told as fact. This is simply unacceptable, not to say dishonest.