| Magazine Feature |

Breath of Life

“On Rosh Hashanah, every Jew stands in the position I was in — and he gets an electric shock for life”

Photos: Matisyahu Goldberg

It was after midnight in the beginning of the summer in Bnei Brak, and hundreds of chassidim and admirers were gathered in the hall, waiting for the Kuzmirer Rebbe to take the gartel and begin the mitzvah tantz for his eldest granddaughter. Standing on a chair, the badchan regaled the crowd with Yiddish lyrics and poignant tunes. He sang about the holy forbears of the intertwined Kuzmir and Modzhitz dynasties, whose souls had descended to take part in the simchah of their children. It was during the few weeks when wedding restrictions where more relaxed, and the chassidim — many of them ovdim (seekers of elevated levels in avodas Hashem), as is their Rebbe — stood around, swaying in concentration as they watched the Rebbe prepare for this time-honored wedding finale.

The Kuzmirer Rebbe, Rav Pinchas Moshe Taub, is the second son of the previous Modzhitzer Rebbe, Rav Yisrael Dan Taub, while his older brother, Rav Chaim Shaul Taub, is the current Modzhitzer Rebbe. In fact, the two brothers look very much alike, and are often confused in photographs. (The Kuzmir connection comes fron the forerunner of the Modzhitzer dynasty, Rav Yechezkel Taub of Kuzmir. the great-grandfather of Rav Shaul Yedidya Taub, the first Modzhitzer Rebbe.) While Modzhitz is known for its music and singing (the first Rebbe, Rav Shaul Yedidya, composed over 1,000 niggunim), it’s more than just scales and notes, but rather a path to spiritual devotion and deep inner connection — and as a scion of the dynasty, the Kuzmirer Rebbe has expanded this to include a holy dance. At the wedding, those who have remained press forward to see the sight: the Rebbe’s hands raised heavenward, his eyes closed, and his entire being seemingly suspended between the two worlds.

The old chassidim of Tel Aviv still remember the Modzhitzer tishen conducted by the Rebbe’s grandfather, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu Taub, known as the Imrei Eish of Modzhitz. On occasion, the Imrei Eish would ask his little grandson, Pinchas Moshe, to be brought up front, where he’d motion to the child to climb up on the table and dance with all his energy in honor of Shabbos or Yom Tov. Since then, the Rebbe’s been dancing — to which the chassidim attribute esoteric kavanos and secrets. And now it was time for the Rebbe to dance with his granddaughter the kallah, as per the holy tradition.

The signal was given, the anticipation high. The Rebbe gripped the long gartel, as the musicians began to play the song that the Rebbe considers his life’s anthem: “Nor emunah, nor emunah in Borei Kol Olamim [only emunah in the Creator].” And then as his feet seemed to hover off the floor, his face luminous, hundreds of chassidim watched in horror as the Rebbe collapsed in a heap on the floor. Cardiac arrest.

While the rescue forces sped through the streets of Bnei Brak toward the hall, two medics were already next to the Rebbe administering CPR and essentially saving his life. One of them, Hatzolah member Reb Yitzchak Rose, attended the wedding because he is close to the court of the mechutan, the Rebbe of Shatz-Vizhnitz in Haifa. The second was Dr. Michoel Pectorovitz, a well-known chareidi pediatrician with a practice in Modiin Illit. Dr. Pectorovitz wasn’t even planning on staying for the mitzvah tantz, but someone whispered to him that it was worth staying a bit longer in order to see the dance of the Rebbe of Kuzmir.


While the Rebbe was being worked on, the atmosphere in the hall was charged with prayer and supplication (“It was hecher fun Ne’ilah,” said one chassid later), the relatives and guests gripped with fear. The Rebbe’s brother, the Modzhitzer Rebbe, began storming the Heavens. Others were on their phones, conveying developments in real time to the Rebbe’s brother-in-law, the Amshinover Rebbe (the Amshinover Rebbetzin’s sister, both of them daughters of the Lubliner Rebbe ztz”l, is married to the Kuzmirer Rebbe), who throughout the resuscitation sat in his room in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan whispering his own elevated tefillos while receiving constant updates.

Initially, there was no pulse — the Rebbe wasn’t breathing. A few partitions were hastily dragged over from the corner of the hall to block the Rebbe off, as medical personnel battled for his life, aided by the fervent tefillos of the tzaddikim and of Klal Yisrael.

After 40 minutes of non-stop shocks and compressions, just before they gave up, the miracle occurred — there was a pulse. The Rebbe was whisked to Tel Hashomer medical center in critical condition, unconscious and on life support.

As the Rebbe himself acknowledged after receiving his life back — speaking at a seudas hoda’ah where he was flanked by chassidim and the two medical men who saved him — everything that happened that week was a string of miracles. It was, the Rebbe said, as though the Heavenly angels stood at attention to save him as he was suspended between two worlds.

And that’s why the Rebbe invited us in: Although still weak, the Rebbe is saturated with an overwhelming sense of obligation to express his gratitude and to publicize not only his personal miracle, but to emphasize how every Jew must constantly thank Hashem “for our lives that are entrusted in Your Hands.”

No Coincidences

The Rebbe collapsed on Monday night. All day Tuesday, while dozens of minyanim gathered around the Jewish world and delegations were sent to all the holy sites, the doctors had already warned the family of the worst-case scenario.

And then suddenly, with no advance warning, the Rebbe opened his eyes. He smiled, and asked to continue dancing for the chassan and kallah. When an excited family who couldn’t believe what he was seeing whispered that they were in Tel Hashomer, the Rebbe’s eyes closed again, and after a few seconds, the room filled with his weak, sweet voice: The Rebbe raised his eyes to Shamayim and whispered the perek of mizmor lesodah.

Now the Rebbe had just one request. Not water, no updates about what happened and how he had gotten here. Just a tallis and tefillin. So he could thank Hashem….

The recovery was rapid and the good news spread fast. But the Rebbe himself felt that he owed a tremendous debt of gratitude. “Especially now, when we hear so many difficult things,” he says, “when a Yid merits such Divine mercy, when you see clearly the Hashgachah pratis, we must praise and thank Him.”

The Rebbe initially asked his family members and chassidim to write down their impressions. “People have short memories. Life goes on. And if we don’t stop and introspect, then within a short time, all the chesed is forgotten.” The chassidim obeyed. Dozens of journals from those tense days were passed around and everyone wrote something, even his grandchildren. The Rebbe read the gratitude journals with special pleasure, explaining how writing extensively about the miracle, or any miracle, will generate even more gratitude, and more revealed chesed.

“We don’t know the reason,” the Rebbe tells us, “but it’s not just coincidence that a Yid just collapses in the middle of a simchah. And then, a few hours later a miracle happens and he returns to life as though nothing happened. True, it’s a bit hard to share inner emotions, but it’s the obligation of every creation to do so. From Above it was ordained that all this should happen in front of a crowd, which means there’s a message here for all of us.”

The Rebbe emphasizes that a person should always be modest and unassuming, “but when it comes to thanking Him for a miracle,” he says, “a person has an obligation to give it as much publicity as possible. And especially in these times, when the whole world is being managed with hester panim, and what is publicized is primarily tragedies and illness. So we have a special role now — to overpower all that negativity so that everyone should know and feel how HaKadosh Baruch Hu takes care of each and every individual, no matter how challenging these times feel. And this is especially vital in these days before Rosh Hashanah, where we recount, ‘Adam yesodo me’afar — a person is derived from earth and ends up in the earth, he is like broken pottery… like a fleeting shadow, like a cloud that dissipates, like a wind that blows and dust that flies.’ Because that’s exactly how it is. A moment before, I felt nothing. Suddenly, in a blink, it was all over.”

The Rebbe says that when he thinks back, he feels as though he went through the four types of deaths administered by beis din: “First there was the fall, which is similar to sekilah (stoning). They were working on me with electric shocks, which were like sreifah (burning). The loss of consciousness was like hereg (death by the sword) — they told me later that the doctors deliberated if they were allowed to touch me because perhaps I was already in a state of gesisah, the throes of death. Then there was the inability to breathe, which was like chenek (strangulation). Halevai, it should be a kapparah for me.”

On the other hand, says the Rebbe, there were so many chasadim that perhaps on the outside looked like a series of coincidences, but were obviously all part of the Hashgachah pratis. “Just like in the Haggadah, we detail every part of the miracles, here, too, every moment was a miracle. It happened in front of so many people. My children happened to be right next to me, grabbing me as I fell, so they were able to lay me down gently. There were two medical professionals there, both of them supposed to have left already. I wasn’t wearing a beketshe, but a tish chalat, which is made from much thinner fabric, so the doctors able to tear it right off and start working on me without losing precious time. And perhaps the greatest piece of Hashgachah is that usually, after 15 minutes of resuscitation efforts, the doctors call it quits. But here, HaKadosh Baruch Hu put it in their minds and hearts to continue for a full 40 minutes, which is generally unheard of.”

Our Moments of Truth

It’s true that all our struggles and challenges are actually infused with unlimited chasadim, but it’s not always easy to see them, especially during this time when so many are suffering and struggling because of the virus and its fallout. With all the difficulty, admits the Rebbe, “It’s hard to tell others how to ‘get chizuk.’ But these times are really just repeats of situations our forebears and ancestors have been in over the years. There are challenges and tests, and there are difficulties. But these moments are really our moments of truth.

“True, the last few decades were some of the best that Klal Yisrael has ever known. We had spiritual tranquility and material comforts. The Torah world thrived, there was material abundance, and Yidden managed. But we did not know how to appreciate all this chesed. We sat and learned b’chavrusa and davened in the shuls in huge crowds, but we basically took it for granted. Suddenly, HaKadosh Baruch Hu changed the order of the world. We’re starting to yearn for what until a few months ago was the norm to us. All we want to do is go back to schools, to daven, learn, and walk in the streets without fear. Now we have learned how much great chesed we experienced.”

The Rebbe has one quick solution in the meantime: “He should constantly repeat to himself, ‘This wasn’t an accident.’ A virus didn’t suddenly appear from a distant land by chance because some gentile ate some vermin. HaKadosh Baruch Hu did this with very precise intentions. We have a great mission here. Now we have a new opportunity to work to bond with HaKadosh Baruch Hu with love, in the way that He chooses for us. Now, our mission is to make our will the Will of Hashem. To learn and to daven in the way that He wants us to learn and daven.”

Yet, as the frameworks seem to be crumbling, the yeshivos and schools barely functioning, the Rebbe emphasized the power of the chaburah, of the group. A bochur, says the Rebbe, is drawn to his friends, even when the frameworks collapse. It’s the good friends who will protect them.

“Chassidim used to tell a story about a Yid who was on a nesiah to his rebbe. On the way,” the Rebbe recounts, “his yetzer hara tried to persuade him to sin. He berated himself by saying, ‘If I stumble, I won’t be able to show my face before the Rebbe.’ But the yetzer hara worked even harder and urged him to return home without going to the Rebbe. And then the man said to himself, ‘If I return home without going to the Rebbe, how will I be able to show my face to my friends?’ And that’s where the yetzer hara desisted, and the chassid continued on to the Rebbe. As soon as he entered, the Rebbe welcomed him and said, ‘Sometimes good friends can be more beneficial than a Rebbe.’

“I’m not discounting the challenges, but I believe that a bochur who survives this time without falling is a bochur who will succeed in life, both in gashmiyus and in ruchniyus. He has a spine to withstand sudden winds of change. He will always know, for himself, that if he survived this challenging time, with his spiritual stature intact, and perhaps even stronger, then surely he has remarkable fortitude and strengths. He is guaranteed, b’ezras Hashem, to grow to be someone who has the ability to overcome obstacles and transform difficulties into tools for elevation.

“It’s a tremendous power, especially in our times when the world is based on social pressures. A person needs to surround himself and his children with friends who will take him to good places. But the bottom line is that we really only have one weapon — emunah. Until today, we recited all the right words. Every Jew knows that there is something called Hashgachah pratis. But now is a time when HaKadosh Baruch Hu is proving this to us. We live in such a sophisticated world, with so many advanced technological and medical tools and unbelievable inventions that it looks as if human power has triumphed over everything. And HaKadosh Baruch Hu decided to stop it all to make us understand that there is a Leader in this world.

“True, these are not simple times. But on the other hand, hearts are open. And if you claim that many people don’t know how to speak the language of emunah, that’s a fundamental mistake. Emunah is not a madreigah. It’s the basic fundamental essence of every Jew. It’s part of his Divine inheritance.

Seeing Is Not Only Believing When the Kuzmirer Rebbe was admitted to Tel Hashomer, he was classified as “critical-stable.” Like everything in his life, this status became its own lesson for the Rebbe. “That’s really the state we’re all in,” the Rebbe says. “Critical and stable. In one moment, everything that is stable can become critical. But if he strengthens himself, critical can become stable again. In this generation, everything is about predictions and forecasts, based on statistics. But a Yid needs to know that he is above all that, that he’s in good Hands, no matter what’s happening around him, or even to him.

“And there’s something else,” the Rebbe continues. “It’s true that right now it’s a bit difficult and unpleasant. It’s not simple. But on the other hand, suddenly we learn to appreciate every single breath. When a person gets his life back, all the limitations suddenly seem easier.

“True, we’re asking that Hashem’s chesed should be overt and visible, so we shouldn’t just have to believe, we want to see it. But there are times when He needs us to believe despite all the hester, the concealment. True, the whole world is in the trouble right now. But we have a different mission — we’re not part of the global statistics. Our job is to stop and introspect, and when we look further into it, we can discover the chasadim that we find within the hester. On the one hand, people are dying from this pandemic. And on the other, the doctors are saying that the overall number of deaths is lower in Israel than in every other year. It is clearly all designed to give us a wake-up call.”

But these Yamim Noraim, the Rebbe says, no one even needs to be awakened. “Everything is screaming at us. Ess shreit zech alein. Everyone sees before their eyes the depths of the din, of the judgement. Words that seemed so removed, zachreinu l’chaim, being inscribed in the book of parnassah — it’s all become so tangible this year.”

The Rebbe reflects back to those desperate moments, when Hatzolah was battling to save his life and the Heavens was being stormed with prayers. But really, he says, “On Rosh Hashanah, every Jew faces this situation: the Book of Life and the Book of Death are open. He needs someone to work to resuscitate him. Another electric shock, another zetz, and another — and finally, we merit life, b’ezras Hashem.

“The truth is,” the Rebbe continues, “it’s not just on Rosh Hashanah. We know that each night, HaKadosh Baruch Hu takes our neshamos, and each morning, He resuscitates us. Suddenly, the Modeh Ani of a Yid is different. How much compassion HaKadosh Baruch Hu has for us, each night! It’s moiredig, it’s awesome. My great-grandfather, Rav Shaul Yedidya of Modzhitz zy”a, said a wonderful vort on the pasuk, ‘chadashim labekarim rabbah emunasecha.’ If a person has only a little bit of emunah and he worries about tomorrow, then when the morning comes, it is not new, because he has already worried about it yesterday. When are the mornings chadashim, like new? Only when, rabbah emunasecha, when a person has great emunah and he says, ‘Baruch Hashem yom yom.’ ”

And even if, this year, our davening will be different, not the way we want it — sadder, some people might even feel, pathetic. “It’s true,” says the Rebbe, “di heilige teig are coming, and people want to daven in their place, with their rebbe, in their daled amos. But Rosh Hashanah is exactly the time to instill in ourselves that HaKadosh Baruch Hu leads the world. That there is a Leader. Each year, we have lofty avodah on these days. This year, we have an even loftier avodah: to believe, to thank, and to daven wherever we are. And maybe we’ll make an even greater effort.

“B’ezras Hashem we should all merit to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, l’chaim tovim u’l’shalom, and may all the gates of revealed brachos be open for gezeiros tovos, yeshuos, and nechamos.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828)

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