Rosh Chodesh Kislev: The Rebbe’s Doctors


    Rosh Chodesh Kislev: The Rebbe’s Doctors

    Presented in honor of Rosh Chodesh Kislev • They arrived pessimistic and pragmatic, but left charmed and inspired by the Rebbe’s personality. These were the doctors who were called to 770 after the Rebbe’s heart attack on that Shemini Atzeres night in 5738. Dr. Mordechai Menachem Mendel HaKohen (Max) Glassman a”h, Dr. Ira Weiss, and Dr. Yaakov (Larry) Resnick a”h soon learned that the Rebbe operates on a different plane than the common man • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    They arrived pessimistic and pragmatic, but left charmed and inspired by the Rebbe’s personality. These were the doctors who were called to 770 after the Rebbe’s heart attack on that Shemini Atzeres night in 5738.

    Dr. Mordechai Menachem Mendel HaKohen (Max) Glassman a”h, Dr. Ira Weiss, and Dr. Yaakov (Larry) Resnick a”h soon learned that the Rebbe operates on a different plane than the common man • Presented in honor of Rosh Chodesh Kislev.


    Dr. Glassman was at the Rebbe’s side from the beginning. The Rebbe said to him, regarding his room, “For me, this room is the Holy of Holies.”

    A few minutes after the Rebbe went up to his room the night of Shemini Atzeres, 5738 (1977), Dr. Mordechai Glassman was called. As he was staying close by, he was one of the first doctors to examine the Rebbe.

    “I went quickly to the Rebbe’s room. The Rebbe was pale and sweating. I saw that his condition was serious. I told the Rebbe: ‘Rebbe, I think you are having a heart attack.’ The Rebbe said that he had not eaten yet that day and he wanted to go make Kiddush in the sukka.”

    While the Rebbe made Kiddush and ate, Dr. Glassman saw that the Rebbe was in the midst of a severe heart attack. He asked the Rebbe for permission to hospitalize him, but the Rebbe wanted to go back to his room.

    Dr. Mordechai Glassman

    A dialogue ensued between the Rebbe and the doctor, and in the course of the conversation the Rebbe revealed a little of his feelings for that holy place:

    “I told the Rebbe that in matters of Torah and Judaism I listened to him but in medical matters I asked the Rebbe to listen to me and go to the hospital. The Rebbe said, ‘In principle you are right but in my special circumstances, you do not know all the facts and therefore you cannot decide.’

    “I asked, ‘What does that mean that I don’t know all the facts? What do I need to know? The Rebbe hasn’t taken medication till today. This happened suddenly.’

    “The Rebbe said, ‘No,’ decisively and added, ‘I prefer to remain here. Do you have any idea what took place in this room and on my desk?’

    “‘I don’t know, but I can imagine.’ I answered.

    “‘I cannot begin to tell you what occurred at this desk,’ said the Rebbe, ‘but to me, this room is the Holy of Holies – and you are telling me to leave the Holy of Holies for the hospital? The refuah will come from here.’”

    Beis Moshiach

    Unlike the rest of the doctors, Dr. Glassman had met the Rebbe long before this event, back in 5722 (1962), when one of his friends, R’ Yehuda Leib Meisel, had told him much about the Rebbe. The amazing stories about the Rebbe moved the doctor, though he sometimes wondered whether his friend was exaggerating.

    At a later point, when he had yechidus, he was astounded by the Rebbe’s medical knowledge. “The Rebbe discussed the most up-to-date research that had only recently been published in medical journals. I found this highly unusual – this was a tzaddik, not a doctor, and yet he knew the latest in medical information.”

    Dr. Glassman spent Shemini Atzeres, 5730, with the Rebbe. He was resting on a bench on Eastern Parkway when he was hurriedly summoned. The Rebbe wanted him on the second floor of 770. Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, the wife of the Rebbe Rayatz, wasn’t feeling well, and the Rebbe wanted him to examine her.

    “When I went to the second floor, the Rebbe was waiting for me, together with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. The Rebbe asked me to examine Rebbetzin Nechama Dina and give him my medical opinion. At first glance I could see the situation was not good. The Rebbetzin had difficulty breathing and her lips were blue. The Rebbe asked me what was happening. I replied that her situation was critical and every minute counted. The Rebbe told me that another doctor had given a different opinion. I answered that I could only say what I thought, and I could see the situation was critical. The Rebbe said that since one doctor said one thing and another doctor said something else, he had to ask a third doctor. I informed the Rebbe that I knew a doctor from Toronto who was downstairs in 770.

    “I called the third doctor, and after a brief examination he concurred that her condition was critical. Her lungs were not working properly and neither was her heart. I said that there was no time and an ambulance must be called. The Rebbe asked me what I meant when I said there was no time, and I replied that it was impossible to know where she would be in an hour, or even half an hour.

    “After the third doctor confirmed what I said, the Rebbe agreed to call an ambulance and the Rebbetzin was taken to the hospital. Baruch Hashem, her condition improved, and she lived another year and a half.”

    * * *

    Throughout the night of Shemini Atzeres, Dr. Glassman stood near the Rebbe’s room.

    “I told the secretaries that they had to get a top cardiologist. It was nearly midnight when they were finally able to get a cardiologist who worked in a nearby hospital. He immediately saw that this was a heart attack and insisted the Rebbe must be taken to the hospital. The Rebbe refused to go and the doctor began arguing with him. As his voice rose, it became apparent that this doctor did not know with whom he was dealing and I had to get involved.

    “I informed him that this is the Rebbe, not an ordinary person, and he had to treat him accordingly. If he was unable to do so, he should leave. He left, and I remained alone.

    “I told the Rebbe that I wanted to make an agreement with him. I would spend the night there and keep tabs on the situation, but if the situation grew worse, heaven forbid, the Rebbe had to agree to go to the hospital. The Rebbe said, ‘We’ll see later.’ I wanted to believe that the Rebbe would agree.”


    In the middle of the night he was called from his home in Chigago, and just a few hours later he arrived in 770. He said to the Rebbe, “I’m not a big doctor but I know what a Rebbe is.” He was the first of the doctors to express even cautious optimism.

    It was a long night. The Rebbe had suffered a severe heart attack and an additional heart attack later that night. The Rebbe refused to go to the hospital and angry doctors left, one after the other. The secretaries were beside themselves with worry. They knew the Rebbe needed professional care, but what could they do? They wracked their brains for a plan.

    Those present, doctors and rabbanim, debated as to whether to take the Rebbe to the hospital against his will (after giving him a sedative). Some said yes, others said no. They were unable to arrive at a decision. It was Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka who finally declared that they could not do anything against the Rebbe’s will.

    Dr. Weiss was a cardiologist, and a mekurav of Chabad who had visited the Rebbe previously. Despite his youth, he had a reputation as a talented and supportive doctor. On Dr. Glassman’s recommendation, they called him up. Dr. Weiss, jolted awake by the phone call, assured them, “I’ll get on the first plane to New York.”

    Dr. Ira Weiss at dollars with The Rebbe

    A few hours later Dr. Weiss arrived at the airport. A police escort was waiting for him by the runway. The police commander seated him in one of their cars and within minutes, he was at 770. He had brought with him advanced equipment so that he could do the examination in the Rebbe’s office and send the results electronically to his office for analysis.

    Upon his arrival at 770, he burst into tears. “We always knew that the Rebbe did miracles for sick people. I myself know this because I treated people whom the Rebbe sent to me, and now I’m coming to heal the Rebbe himself …”

    When he entered the Rebbe’s room, his face paled. The situation was overwhelming. “I want you to treat me like any patient,” said the Rebbe.

    Dr. Weiss examined the Rebbe. “It is hard to treat a patient this way – hard but possible. I’m not a big doctor, but I know what a Rebbe is and so I hope that with G-d’s help I will be able to heal the Rebbe. I will remain here as long as it takes, until the Rebbe recovers, and the Rebbe will surely recover!”

    * * *

    One night, Dr. Weiss went in and said that he had seen a video of that Tishrei and now he understood, a little bit, the Rebbe’s great exertion. To this the Rebbe said, “There’s no proof from a video, because photographers focus on unusual things,” and he smiled broadly.

    Dr. Weiss remained throughout the Rebbe’s recovery, staying there day and night. He received urgent calls from his colleagues in Chicago beseeching him to return immediately because their practice was going under, but Dr. Weiss put all plans, meetings and lectures aside. “I won’t budge from here until the Rebbe recovers,” he said.

    Eventually, his wife also asked him to return home, but he was still unwilling to leave. The Rebbe, however, instructed him, “Listen to her because she is the akeres ha’bayis. I, too, listened to my wife, my akeres ha’bayis, about traveling to the Ohel. I wanted to go and she said not to, and I conceded to her.”

    So Dr. Weiss went back to Chicago on Sunday, 4 Cheshvan. For nearly two weeks he led the team of doctors who devotedly treated the Rebbe. He once said that he could not leave until he knew that he would no longer be needed. He added that in his opinion he could help the Rebbe more than any other doctor since, on many occasions, he had seen open miracles with patients who became better after receiving the Rebbe’s bracha.

    מרכז סת”ם 720

    Before he left, he told mekuravim in amazement what his impressions were of this visit. “I learned more than I gave,” he declared. He related that every day the Rebbe spoke to him about various medical issues and about up-to-date medical research. More than once, the Rebbe solved problems which had long disturbed him. “Now my work is cut out for me to plumb the depths of everything I heard and acquired here.”

    “He’s a very nice guy,” wrote R’ Yitzchok Meir Sassover, a tamim in 770, in his diary. “Everyone who asked him about the Rebbe’s condition was answered with a smile and with outstanding courtesy. For the period of time that he remained here, he was given various gifts in appreciation for his incredible devotion.”

    Dr. Weiss’ departure from the secretaries, the bachurim, and the new friends he made was in Chassidic fashion. They all danced together and kissed warmly. Sassover concluded, “There aren’t words to thank him for the great privilege that became his lot, to be the shliach of Divine Providence to help bring about the recovery of our king, the Rebbe.”

    In a letter that Dr. Weiss wrote twenty-nine years later, he noted the significance of Rosh Chodesh Kislev as follows, “An under emphasized perspective of Rosh Chodesh Kislev is the perspective of Rebbetzin Schneerson, who joyously saw the ‘return home’ of her dear husband. To the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, their limited but very precious moments together constituted the high point of their day. As the Rebbe explained to me, setting aside time for a daily tea with his wife was as important to him as setting aside time to observe the mitzva of tefillin.”


    Dr. Resnick enjoyed special attention from the Rebbe. One day, the Rebbe said to him, “Although they say you are the Chassid and I am the Rebbe, now you have to be the doctor and I am the patient.”

    When Dr. Weiss had to leave 770 for his home and practice in Chicago, Dr. Larry Resnick’s name was recommended as a replacement. Dr. Resnick worked in the US military at the time and was in town to take care of some business. He spent a Shabbos in Crown Heights and someone suggested that he take over. Dr. Resnick, realizing that this was a highly significant assignment, agreed on condition that the army would grant him official leave. In the meantime, he stayed in a small room on the first floor of 770 and followed the monitor that measured the Rebbe’s heart function.

    “One day, my beeper went off and I was told that I had a phone call in the secretaries’ office. It was a call from the White House! I was greeted by the angry voice of Hamilton Jordan, President Carter’s Secretary of State. ‘Why do you think we have to allow you to do this?’ I couldn’t understand why I was being spoken to in this way; nobody had prepared me for this conversation.

    Dr. Larry Resnick

    “I answered him [Secretary of State Hamilton Jordan] in the same irate tone, ‘If the Pope was sick and he wanted a doctor from the American military to treat him, you would hold a press conference and proclaim your wholehearted agreement to his request. You surely wouldn’t be annoyed with a doctor who wanted to help him!’

    “I could hear a clearing of the throat on the line and then he said, ‘Fine, we’ll get back to you.’ The result of that conversation was that I got an official order from the Pentagon transferring me from Honolulu to Brooklyn, and my new job was in 770 Eastern Parkway.”

    From the time he came to Crown Heights until Rosh Chodesh Kislev, Dr. Resnick stayed with the Rebbe. He treated the Rebbe with the utmost devotion, and he was absolutely astounded away by the Rebbe’s supernatural behavior. He enjoyed special attention from the Rebbe. One day, the Rebbe told him, “Although they say you are the Chassid and I am the Rebbe, now you have to be the doctor and I am the patient.”

    Dr. Resnick related, “If you are familiar with the building of 770 you know that as soon as you enter the main door, there is an office on the right side. That was the office where they placed sacks of mail every day with letters for the Rebbe. There were two phones in that office. One phone was very heavy and ancient – seventy years old, in fact – and was used by those who worked in the office. The other, more modern, telephone was on the wall. When this yellow phone rang, they knew that the Rebbetzin was calling. At that time, the Rebbetzin would call often for updates on the Rebbe’s condition, and I would give her a report.”

    During those five weeks, Dr. Resnick entered the Rebbe’s room countless times. He would often speak to the Rebbe about various topics, sometimes in learning. When he had questions in Likutei Sichos, he would go to the “source” himself, and the Rebbe would answer him with great affection.

    Dr. Resnick once asked the Rebbe an interesting question after he learned a sicha on Rashi’s commentary, “an analogy to a sick person whose doctor told him, don’t eat cold food and don’t sleep where it’s damp.” From the Rebbe’s sicha he understood that it was worse to eat cold food than to sleep where it was damp, which surprised him because according to medicine, sleeping in a damp place is more detrimental than eating cold food.

    The Rebbe said that to a certain extent, eating cold things was worse. When sleeping in a damp place, the person can get up and move to a dry place at any time, but after eating cold food, there is nothing one can do about it. Dr. Resnik was impressed by this perspective.

    It is also told that once, Dr. Resnick was conversing with the Rebbe about the newly published book, On the Essence of Chassidus. The doctor remarked that it contained very little text while the rest were copious footnotes. The Rebbe’s insightful and powerful response was that all of Chassidus was essentially that: “one nekudah, one core point; the rest is footnote.”

    In his free time, Dr. Resnick went to the zal and learned with the bachurim. The hanhala of the yeshiva provided him with suitable chavrusas, from the best bachurim, who considered it an honor to learn with the Rebbe’s doctor.


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