Monday, June 19, 2017

Can't Sleep

Late one evening in 5714 (1954), a Lubavitch woman arrived in the obstetrics ward of an out-of-town hospital. There had been complications throughout her pregnancy, and now her contractions had started.

After examining her, the obstetrician called in her husband. “I did not want to alarm your wife,” he told him, “but the situation is very grave. The fetus is being carried breech, and birth could endanger the life of either the mother or the child. I might not be able to save both. Give me permission to choose which life to save. For legal reasons, it is customary that the husband sign a waiver, freeing the doctor of liability in the event of death.”

The husband was shocked. He told the doctor that he would have to consult his Rabbi, and rushed to call 770. He described the situation to Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe’s personal secretary, who brought the matter to the Rebbe’s attention.

The Rebbe told Rabbi Chodakov to tell the husband not to sign any waiver, and to insist that the doctor try to save both the mother and the child. He concluded with a blessing.

When the husband conveyed this message to the doctor, the doctor reiterated his warning, adding that he had not explained the full seriousness of the situation. If he tried to save the mother and the child, he said, he might lose them both. “It is best,” he said, “if you sign the waiver.”

The husband called Rabbi Chodakov again to relay the new information. Rabbi Chodakov informed the Rebbe, but the Rebbe’s answer remained the same: Insist that he save both the mother and the child.

The husband informed the doctor that the Rebbe had instructed him to save both the mother and the child. The doctor then explained that the delivery was very complicated and the process could be lengthy. Since it was already late, he advised the husband to go home, and he would inform him as soon as there was any news.

The husband returned home, said several chapters of Tehillim in earnest prayer, and lay down to rest. Despite his weariness, he could not sleep, and lay in bed waiting for the doctor’s call.

Shortly after four in the morning, the phone rang. “Mazel tov, ” the doctor told him, “at four o’clock your wife gave birth to a healthy girl. Both your wife and the baby are safe.”

Unable to contain his excitement, the chassid called Rabbi Groner, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, and asked him to inform the Rebbe.

At 7 a.m., the phone rang again. It was Rabbi Chodakov. He told the husband that the Rebbe wanted to know whether his wife had in fact given birth at four, or whether the birth had taken place at 3:30.

The husband went to the hospital to see his wife shortly afterwards. When he asked to see the doctor, the nurse told him that the doctor had been up all night and would not return until 11 o’clock. The chassid went home and returned at 11.

He thanked the doctor profusely for his efforts, and then asked when the birth had taken place. Was it 4, or 3:30? The doctor explained that the delivery had been very trying, and that he had not noticed the exact time. On the baby’s crib, however, it clearly said 4 AM.

The husband called the nurse over. “Four o’clock,” the nurse explained, “was when the baby was brought into the nursery. If we consider the time it took to wash the baby, give it its initial tests and the like, it is quite possible that the actual birth took place at 3:30.”

The doctor was curious. “Your wife and daughter are both healthy,” he reminded the chassid, “so what difference does it make what time the birth took place?”

The husband explained that the Rebbe had asked. The doctor repeated his question: “What difference does it make?”

When the chassid conveyed the information to Rabbi Chodakov, he respectfully added that the doctor was curious as to why the time was so important.

“Out of concern,” Rabbi Chodakov replied in the name of the Rebbe, “the Rebbe did not go to sleep the entire night. At 3:30 in the morning, when he knew that both the mother and daughter were safe, he finally laid down to rest.”

Rabbi Nissan Mangel heard this story from the husband. To him, Rabbi Chodakov’s closing remarks suggest an allegory:

The Rebbe will not lie down to rest until the mother (in Kabbalah, an analogy for the source of the Jewish people in the spiritual realms) and the daughter (the Jews in this material world) are both safe. If the Rebbe could not sleep when one mother and one child were in danger, surely he will not rest until the people as a whole are secure.

The above story has a sequel:

Coming back to yourself physically after childbirth can be trying for any woman. In addition to the difficulties most women face, one Lubavitch woman had problems with bleeding. It wasn’t a heavy flow, but it caused worry, and concern that perhaps there was a more serious problem.

She consulted medical authorities, who declared that the spotting indicated a malignant tumor.

The doctor who had delivered the baby in the previous story was a renowned obstetrician, and the woman approached him for consultation. After an examination, he also diagnosed the difficulty as cancer. Somberly, he told the woman that there were several options, but that the situation was very serious.

The couple hurried to New York to seek the Rebbe’s advice and blessing. After hearing the couple out, the Rebbe told the woman: “No, it is not cancer. After the birth, the doctors erred and did not complete the process necessary at that time. There is a simple medical procedure which they can perform the Rebbe outlined this to the couple and the staining will stop.”

The couple returned to the doctor and asked him to perform this procedure.

The doctor was dumbfounded. “From a medical perspective,” he told them, “it is absolutely absurd to think that this is the problem. Moreover, taking this step could be very dangerous. If the problem is cancer, such a procedure could prove fatal.”

When the couple insisted, the doctor asked on what basis were they requesting such treatment; they were not physicians, and should not insist on treatment that ran contrary to medical norms. The couple replied that they had received this advice from their rabbi, and that this is what they wanted to do.

On hearing this, the doctor relaxed. “Is your rabbi, by any chance, Rabbi Schneerson of Lubavitch?” he asked. The couple replied that he was. The doctor told them that he had already had experience with Rabbi Schneerson, and therefore would be willing to follow his suggestion. Had the suggestion come from any another person, he explained, he would have refused; the danger was simply too great.

The doctor performed the procedure, and shortly afterwards, the woman stopped spotting. Afterwards, she gave birth to several other children with no complications.

[To Know And To Care]