Weekly Chasidic Story #791 (s5773-20 / 10 Shevat 5773)

The Panicked Nurse

Once, while sick, Rabbi Yosef-Yitzchak Schneersohn had the look of someone who was not in this world altogether. His son-in-law came close to hear what he was mumbling and realized that he was reciting by heart and with the Torah melody the words of the Song by the Sea.

Connection: Seasonal–63rd yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rayatz


In 1947, only a few years before Rabbi Yosef-Yitzchak Schneersohn (the “Rayatz”), sixth Rebbe in the Lubavitch/Chabad dynasty, passed away, his son-in-law and eventual successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, traveled to Paris. His mother had made it out of communist Russia. The Rebbe, who had escaped from Europe to the United States in 1941, arrived in Paris to greet his mother whom he had not seen for more than 15 years and escort her back to the United States.

In Paris, he met a group of Lubavitch chassidim who had survived the Holocaust and very much wanted to immigrate to the Unites States but could not get visas. They asked him that upon his return he tell the Rebbe Rayatz of their plight and ask him to awaken compassion and mercy upon them from Heaven. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained to them that they must be a little naïve to think that the Rayatz needs to be directly informed in order to be made aware of their problems. In order to make his point he told them the following story.

At the time, the Rayatz was ill and required a certain injection of drugs every day. A private nurse would come to his study at 770 at a set time to administer the injection. One day the nurse was a few minutes late. When she knocked on the door of his study there was no answer. Usually, there were Rabbis from the Rayatz’s secretariat around, but this time there was no one there. So she slowly opened the door to his study. When she walked in she saw him sitting at his desk, his eyes gazing off into the distance, obviously unaware that she had entered. He had the look of someone who was not in this world altogether. She had never seen anything like this and was certain that something had happened to him, perhaps he had even lost consciousness.

She ran out looking for someone from the family or the staff. She encountered the “Ramash” (as the Rebbe-to-be was known in those days), who quickly came into the room and approached near to his father-in-law’s mouth to hear what he was mumbling. He heard that the Rebbe Rayatz was reciting by heart and with the Torah melody the words of the Song of the Sea, Az Yashir. It was as if the Rayatz was praying. So, immediately he realized that the Rayatz was in a state of communion (with G-d) and not that he was sick. This state is known as disembodiment and the person seems to have lost touch with reality (the truth is very much the opposite, as we will see in a moment). Indeed, after a few minutes the Rayatz seemed to snap out of it.

But, the Rebbe sensed that there was a reason for all this. He decided to do some research and learnt that during those very moments that the Rayatz was in a state of communion and disembodiment, thousands of miles away, a small group of chassidim had tried to illegally make it across the Russian-Polish border. If they had been caught, they would have been summarily executed. During those critical moments, the Rebbe Rayatz had awakened the mercy of Heaven that they be successful.

So, the Rebbe-to-be told the chassidim in Paris that after this story they should understand that the Rebbe Rayatz does not need anyone to tell him when to awaken mercy on his disciples. Every chassid is always on his mind. He sees and knows exactly what is happening with him, and continually sacrifices himself and prays for each and every one of them.

This is an important story to make us reflect that the Rebbe is indeed thinking of each and every one of us, and continually awakening the mercy of Heaven upon us.

One more point that we can take with us from this story is that there is a powerful connection between saying the Song of the Sea and awakening mercy from Heaven. If the Rebbe noted this (he could have told the story without noting what the Rayatz had been saying during his disembodiment), it means that we should be aware of this. If you think about someone who needs Heavenly mercy and recite the Song of the Sea with sincerity and the proper intent, you will be awakening the Heavens to be merciful with him. This is true both for an individual and for the entire Jewish people.
The Song of the Sea appears in parshat Beshalach, the Torah reading of the week during which the tenth of Shevat-the Rayatz’s yahrzeit-usually falls. So this story and its teaching are particularly suited to the tenth of Shevat.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation/rendition on, which is based on a talk byRabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh at a children’s gathering in Ramat Aviv, six years ago. (Actually, he told there two stories. For the other, here is the link:

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (12 Tammuz 1880-10 Shvat 1950), known as the Rebbe Rayatz, was the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, from 1920 to 1950. The only son of his predecessor, the Rebbe Reshab, he established a network of Jewish educational institutions and Chassidim that was the single most significant factor for the preservation of Judaism during the dread reign of the communist Soviets. In 1940 he moved to the USA, established Chabad world-wide headquarters in Brooklyn and launched the global campaign to renew and spread Judaism in all languages and in every corner of the world, the campaign continued and expanded so remarkably successfully by his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.



Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.