Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Modzitzer Rebbe's Inspiration Under the Surgeon's Knife

This is the very famous story of the "ezkarah gedolah" by the first Modzitzer Rebbe, Reb Yisroel Taub zt'l. The Modzitzer dynasty has its roots in Kuzmir and Zvolin. Reb Yechezkal of Kuzmir had at least one new niggun composed weekly for his shabbos table. His son, the Zvoliner Rebbe, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu, was known as a musical wonder. When he davened for the amud in his father's beis midrash people were known to have said that they now experienced the meaning of "ve'chol ha'am ro'im es hakolos" "and the entire nation SAW the voices (a verse from the giving of the Torah)." Reb Shmuel's attitude toward negina was that the singer was standing in the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), and the Leviim were accompanying him. His second son was Reb Yisroel, who began the dynasty of Modzitz.

The year was 1913. The Rebbe's leg had become severely infected, and it was recommended that he take a trip to Berlin to visit a specialist, Dr. Israel. Upon arrival and inspection of the leg Dr. Israel saw no recourse save for amputation. At this point it was a matter of saving the Rebbe's life. They had to amputate, lest the infection spread. He told this to the Rebbe, but it was not a simple matter. The matter of anesthesia was questionable in those days. Many believed that it caused one to lose one's mind, and so there were those who opted for simple surgeries without the use of anesthesia at all. But this was a completely different matter. This was an amputation, the sawing off of a leg. This was physical pain in its most extreme form. The Rebbe thought long and hard, and presented his decision to the doctor. He was going to brave it. Because despite the most severe physical pain conceivable he was a leader to chassidim. They relied on him, and he couldn't take a chance and forget his Torah, and his niggunim too for that matter. He had composed upwards of 300! Dr. Israel agreed that the amputation would be done without the use of anesthesia, and the surgery was to take place immediately.

While under the knife the Rebbe knew well that his only way to get by was through his deep and limitless spiritual connection. A little while into the amputation the Rebbe turned his head and peered out the window. He saw the architecture of the city of Berlin in all its splendor. Colors, edifices, that actually reminded him of Jerusalem! He thought of the contrast between the beautifully built city of Berlin and the destruction of Jerusalem. His mind quickly began to meditate on the words recited during the closing ne'ilah service of Yom Kippur, "ezkerah Elokim ve'ehemaya, bir'osi kol iyr al tiyah be'nuyah..." "I shall remember oh G-d, and I shall moan, when I see every city built on its hilltop, while the city of G-d is degraded to the utmost depth. But despite all this, we are G-d's and our eyes look to G-d...." The Rebbe, after some meditation, reached a high point of dveikus (attachment to the Divine), and began to compose a niggun on these words. He lost himself in negina (song). While the saw was penetrating the skin, and the veins and the arteries, and finally the bone, the Rebbe was experiencing the situation from a completely different realm, pouring his talent of song into the heavenly and otherworldly chambers l'sheim shamayim (for the sake of heaven). It was this faith in and connection to the heavens that he was able to link up with during the procedure that saved the Rebbe from what would have been for most a truly impossible situation to withstand. By the end of the amputation the Rebbe had composed a niggun in 36 parts on the four stanzas of "ezkerah." It was a story that all in the operating room and all those who knew the Rebbe would be telling for years, and are telling to this day. The Rebbe finalized the composition during his recuperation. The composition lasts approximately twenty-five minutes, and is sung on the Yahretzeit (day of passing) of Reb Yisroel in Modzitzer centers every year to this day.

In another medical related incident, Reb Moshe Goldman, the famous composer of Bobover niggunim, had to undergo surgery after some health-related complications. While lying on the table, he composed a niggun in his head. He was not able to use his voice, but said it was his heart that was singing. It took two months to properly fit the niggun to words, and the final result was "vayizaku el Hashem Batzar Lahem." It was released on his next album.

In another medical-related incident, Reb Dovid'l Skverer was once cutting a loaf of bread when he mistakenly cut into his finger. He was well known for his limited attachment to earthly things, but in this case he had hardly realized that his finger needed immediate medical attention. When someone in the house noticed the stream of blood dripping down onto the floor, a doctor was called. While the doctor stiched up the finger, Reb Dovid'l sat, and immersed himself in his learning, seemingly oblivious to the situation.

In yet another medical related incident, the previous Lelover Rebbe, Rav Shimon Nasan Nata Biderman, who passed away last year, was involved in a serious accident involving his fingers. He met with a Dr. Teppler of Brooklyn, and it was decided that a few fingernails would have to be removed in order to stitch the wounds properly. Dr. Teppler was about to administer the anesthesia when the Rebbe asked what was in the syringe. Upon hearing that it was a numbing agent he adamantly refused to have it injected into his body. Dr. Teppler explained the nature of the hyper-sensitive nerves under the fingernails, and explained that it was essential for the patient to keep his hand perfectly still for such a procedure. And that would not be possible without the hand being numbed. But the Rebbe still refused. The procedure was begun, and the Rebbe began humming a niggun and falling into deep thoughts. The Rebbe did not move his hand. When the procedure was complete, the doctor ran out of the room, and brought in a kvittel (a note) to the Rebbe with the names of his close and extended family. He wanted a bracha (blessing) from this Rebbe who exuded saintliness. Doctor Teppler told the Rebbe's gabbai outside that if he had told another doctor what had just transpired, he would not have believed him. He explained that what the Rebbe just experienced is not humanly possible.

Why did the Rebbe refuse to be anesthetized? It is unlikely that it was the same reason that the Modzitzer Rebbe refused. This was many years later. Was it a medical reason? A spiritual reason?

Clip of a recent simcha in Modzitz with the current Rebbe sitting in the middle. They are singing "libi u'vesori," recently composed by the Rebbe.

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