Monday, September 24, 2007

The Rebbe “We Cannot Hurt our Own Bodies in Any Way”

"First, I was surprised that the Rebbe had the time. Even then, 770 was not as large a center as it later became, there were people waiting from all over the world. I was surprised the Rebbe had taken the time to learn about my own background, and to read stuff I had written, because I knew if he did this for me he did it for everybody. I wondered how he was able to do all that."

-Herbert Weiner

I would like to present a Yechidus of the Rebbe with Dr. Ruth Benjamin, From Johannesburg, S.A. The Yechidus took place in Sivan 1973. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (part 83 in the series).

"In Sivan 1972 I had my first yechidus (private audience) with the Rebbe. I took my daughter, Devorah Chana, with me. In advance, I had written the Rebbe a note, a somewhat lengthy note. Someone had told me I could only write one page so I had written everything on one legal-size page in tiny, block lettered printing so small that the Rebbe took a magnifying glass to read it.

There were many matters about which I wanted to ask the Rebbe. I was busy with my master's thesis on the psychology of Judaism and had sent to the Rebbe a copy of as far as I had gone. I also asked if I should continue, after completing this, with my doctorate. My husband was a psychiatrist and I am a clinical psychologist. We saw many non-Jewish patients. I asked the Rebbe if we should encourage them towards Christianity or should we let them build up their faith in G-d within themselves. I had also brought in a letter from someone who was questioning the value and meaning of life.

After the yechidus, I wrote down everything I could remember, almost in "play" form. This was a long time ago and today I would not address the Rebbe so casually. I am sure I have not recorded the Rebbe's exact words, or mine for that matter. However, this was written immediately afterwards (at around 5 a.m. after a night of not sleeping) and I have stuck with most of what I have put down as it is probably the most authentic.

Rebbe: Finish your thesis. It is 90% finished.

Ruth: Shall I do a doctorate? What about on Taharat Hamishpacha? It is psychologically brilliant, of course...

Rebbe: Do your doctorate, but not in religion and not in philosophy.

Ruth: Not in religion?

Rebbe: Neither in philosophy. Don't study apikorsis (heresy). Don't study apikorsis as it will lead others to study apikorsis. Do it in something else. You need it to help you in your work.

Ruth: I can still be a psychologist without a doctorate. It would just mean that I cannot call myself "Dr. Benjamin." Is that important?

Rebbe: It is important for prestige.

Ruth: Isn't prestige a bad sort of motivation?

Rebbe: I mean prestige for Yiddishkeit. If you have a doctorate and a woman comes to you and you tell her about Taharat Hamishpacha [Jewish laws of married life], she will listen to you.

On the question of non-Jewish patients, the Rebbe said something like:
"They have seven laws. Lead them to these laws, to all of them. This is part of our duty." The Rebbe then enumerated the Laws.

Ruth: These people need something. One man tried to commit suicide a couple of times and came to my office. I got him to the hospital in time. He then came to me and said: "You are responsible for my being alive. Now give me something to live for."

Rebbe: Tell him he is part of G-d's world and he has a responsibility to Him.

Ruth: Have we a responsibility to the non-Jew?

Rebbe: We have a responsibility to the Jew first and then to the non-Jew.

The Rebbe then picked up on the problem of suicide:

Suicide is exactly the same as murder. Our bodies do not belong to us. We cannot do what we like with them. They are not ours. Get them to understand this. We cannot even hurt our own bodies in any way. The Rebbe then spoke about the person [whose letter I had brought to him] who was questioning the worth of life. The Rebbe said that I should tell such people that they have a double duty to perform after the last war when so many Jews were murdered. They had to live not only for themselves but for all these. They must live to draw people to Judaism. In doing this they will find their own turmoil will pass away. The Rebbe made sure that I would convey this message. The Rebbe ended with a blessing saying that he was waiting for the rest of my thesis.

Good Yom Tov.

Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007