W hen our children were blessed with their first daughter they faced a dilemma. The baby’s great-grandmother had recently passed away and it was exciting to have the zechus to name a child in her memory. But there was reason for pause. The newborn had Down syndrome. Perhaps it would be a bigger zechus to wait for another child to carry the name?

I posed this question to Rav Moshe after our Friday-morning shiur. His response was unequivocal. Giving the newborn this name was “revach naki” an absolute gain for the nifteres. I understood from his words that naming a child after someone creates a real connection. If the namesake follows the Torah way it provides a spiritual benefit to the person after whom he is named.

A child with Down syndrome is revach naki. He or she is a generator of chesed in all directions and is not capable of sinful behavior. Rav Moshe preferred following normative minhag Yisrael in naming a child with Down syndrome rather than giving the child a name that hints at his or her physical condition.

I asked Rav Moshe if he’d give the young couple guidance on raising a child with special needs. Hashgachah pratis arranged that Reb Baruch Rabinowitz beloved menahel at Mesivta Torah Vodaath “happened” to be at that shiur. I had not seen him in years. Rav Moshe pointed to Reb Baruch and said “Everything you need to know you can ask him. He’s the expert.”

Twenty-seven years ago Nota Shlomo a child with Down syndrome was born to Reb Baruch and Miryam Rabinowitz. Reb Baruch will never forget when in his words “Rav Moshe’s beautifully handwritten letter arrived at our home on a cold February night. In it he gave us the key to recognize embrace and appreciate the matanah tovah we’d been granted. We began to understand why Shlomo had been given to us why we needed him and what our mission might be.

“Since then Rav Moshe graced us with hours upon hours of explanation and new depths of understanding of the many layers of meaning that lay hidden in that letter of chizuk. The letter is so extraordinary that Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky commented that had he not known it was written by Rav Moshe he may have guessed it was written by a Rishon! The Vizhnitzer Rebbe from Monsey agreed that it read like that of a Rishon.”

I asked Reb Baruch to share some of his insights into the letter.

Note: The following insights are snippets from eight recordings of Rav Baruch Rabinowitz shlita on Rav Moshe’s letter. I have not done them justice and I have certainly not conveyed the depths of Rav Moshe’s ideas on this complex and profound subject. The “kvad peh” concept was originated by Reb Baruch and Rav Moshe concurred that it was correct.

13 Shevat 5750

To my dear Reb Baruch

Shalom to you and your family.

I’d like to share with you some heartfelt thoughts. Since the birth of your son Nota Shlomo I have believed that if with Hashem’s help you rise to the task that was given to you you will have been presented with an incomparable gift.

This child has the capability to accomplish that which nothing else in the world can do — to actualize wondrous and powerful energy latent in the recesses of your heart.

Everyone has dreams and aspirations for their lives. When Hashem sends you a child with Down syndrome He’s redirecting you and showing you your true destiny. It’s not a nisayon a hurdle to overcome rather it’s your tafkid your purpose in life. The child is for you. Your path to sheleimus and Olam Haba. Every personal adjustment you make to accommodate your child brings you closer to your tafkid.

The gift of this child is like the gift the “matanah tovah” of Shabbos which originates in beis genizi the highest and hidden places of the Upper Realms. We know that Shabbos is mei’ein Olam Haba a taste of the World to Come. As such it can only be appreciated through the lens of the Next World.

Similarly through the false eyes of This World you have been burdened with a child with disabilities. But if you see your child with otherworldly eyes you realize that you have received an unfathomable gift.

You will become a better person in ways you never imagined. You will find kochos deep in your essence that you never knew you had. Your patience appreciation of the gifts of life your middos and tefillos all will be elevated to a totally different plane. Your other children will have a different quality than their peers. Your home will become more eidel more choshuv.

Primarily I wish to focus on one point understand it and master it (and would that all people comprehend this): the significance of each aspect of the human makeup even those that are indiscernible. Each iota of progress and achievement achieved by Nota Shlomo which with Hashem’s help will increase his human dignity and esteem; each additional step toward understanding independence cognitive skills deductive reasoning ability to draw conclusions and to relate to his environment — these are the equivalent of conquering an entire world. One who has been graced by Hashem with a clear mind and conscience will learn to appreciate the importance of every step of growth and improvement and the formidable value inherent in each facet of the human makeup.

Raising a child with Down syndrome is a paradoxical task. On the one hand we know their neshamos come from a very high place. But in practice they must be raised as any other child. You need to invest all your strength into empowering them to live a full life.

Every child is created b’tzelem Elokim in the image of Hashem. We know that each person is obligated to say “bishvili nivra ha’olam — for me the world was created.” No exceptions made for those with Down syndrome or any other type of disability. The world was created for that child [Sanhedrin 4:5]. He or she contains within a complete universe.

If you could finish Shas wouldn’t you consider it as a conquest of an entire world? In exactly the same way every small achievement of your child whether it is the ability to turn over (which requires 38 muscle movements) or the capacity to initiate conversation each should be celebrated as a momentous achievement.

Each neshamah is sent to This World with the purpose of rectifying something specific and individual. For most people their primary task is to improve themselves; a secondary task is to affect their surroundings according to their abilities. There are some neshamos however that are sent to This World as people incapable of adequately rectifying themselves. In defining their existence then we must understand that these are especially exalted neshamos that in and of themselves need no tikkun. Their entire purpose in being sent to This World is to correct and better their surroundings.

A neshamah of this grand stature has been sent to your home. Accept it with much love and assist it in performing the function for which it was sent.

Hashem should help you to carry out your role — to enable this neshamah to suitably fulfill its role. I pray that you should merit assistance from Hashem and derive much nachas and blessing from all of your children.

With great affection


Rav Moshe gave an example to help us comprehend the concept of an exalted neshamah. Clearly we can only understand this from afar. The Maharal (Gevuras Hashem 28) explains why Moshe Rabbeinu was kvad peh endowed with a speech impediment. Speech is a fusion of our guf (physical body) and neshamah (spiritual soul). Moshe’s neshamah was so elevated that his speech — the translation of exalted thought into word — felt like “kvad ” a heaviness. On a physical level this was expressed as a speech impediment.

This idea is beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless we hear an echo of what a Down syndrome child truly is in the fact that many of them suffer from speech impediments.

The Dance of the Tzaddikim

Can we daven for our child with Down syndrome to be cured?

Absolutely declares Rav Moshe.

Firstly medical research is making new discoveries all the time. When Reb Baruch argued that a chromosomal disorder was fundamentally different from other illnesses Rav Moshe disagreed and offered an example of a theoretical treatment.

Fascinatingly a few days after this exchange the New York Times reported the beginning of the human genome project and gave as an example of a possible benefit the exact scenario painted by Rav Moshe!

Furthermore we are always waiting for the imminent arrival of Mashiach. Just as nationwide healing occurred before Matan Torah Mashiach will also pave the way for all sickness to be cured. A child with Down syndrome has nothing more than a bodily illness. Mashiach will give every illness a refuah sheleimah.

“Asid HaKadosh Baruch Hu la’asos machol l’tzadikkim — At the End of Days Hashem will initiate a dance for the righteous.” It will be the greatest holiest most exalted dance of all. We will discover an olam hafuch a topsy-turvy world. Many people who we thought were true tzaddikim will be exposed as being of a lower stature. Many people who we thought were simple Jews will be revealed as true tzaddikim. (Rav Moshe would use the pashuter baalei teshuvah as an example.)

But the first dance goes to the ones who have reached their tachlis. The ones who came down to This World to generate chesed. The first dance goes to people with Down syndrome autism and other developmental disabilities.

The child will then turn to Hashem and assert “HaKadosh Baruch Hu! The only reason I am here is because of the love and devotion of my parents!”

To which Hashem will respond “You are right!”

He will then turn to the parents and invite them into the circle in an explosion of sheer unmitigated joy.

In Real Life: Pure Chesed

Rav Moshe’s sensitivity to the pain of Yidden with challenges seemed boundless.

Reb Dovid Orlofsky describes how a rav from South America came to Rav Moshe with a question about an adrogynus. The case was halachically fascinating and many a posek would relish having to deal with its intricacies. But Rav Moshe’s first reaction was to burst into tears. Here was a Jew with a life of suffering.

First he cried. Then he paskened.

When Rav Moshe was asked to speak to a gathering of parents of special-needs children his reaction was true to style. He walked into the room looked at the parents his eyes welled with tears and he let out a deep sigh. He turned to the coordinator of the evening and whispered “Oy what will I tell them?”

“They came especially to hear you maybe you could just say a few words?” responded the coordinator.

Rav Moshe proceeded to relate a story about an avreich whose wife was away. He had assumed the honorable role of Mr. Mom. With awkward and loving devotion he ran after his many loud and leibedig children feeding them changing diapers playing with them and solving the high drama of toddler disputes.

His elderly uncle was watching the whole scene with bemused admiration. “When will they repay you for all you have done for them?” he wondered aloud.

The overwhelmed father was taken aback by the question and paused for thought. “I guess they’ll pay me back by passing it on to the next generation. They’ll pay me back with nachas.”

Later after reflection the avreich was troubled by the exchange. It was before Yom Tov and he decided to go to Yerushalayim and discuss the conversation with the Brisker Rav. Had he given the correct answer?

The Brisker Rav’s response shook him to the core. He declared that the question was wrong — and his answer was “zehr krum ” totally off the mark.

Ki amarti olam chesed yibaneh. HaKadosh Baruch Hu created a world of chesed. He expects us to continue the purity and selflessness of the original chesed of Creation when we raise our children. Anyone who raises a child anticipating nachas is “pogei’a b’ikar shel olam chesed yibaneh.” He undermines the principle that a home is a continuation of the chesed of Creation.

Rav Moshe then looked at the precious audience who had come to hear him.

Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu built a home of pure chesed. Most parents are incapable of imitating the quintessential Jewish home. They are always looking for the payback. That moment of nachas.

But you the parents of special-needs children are building a home of pure chesed. You are not waiting to see how it is passed on to the next generation. You have accepted on yourselves the full responsibility of olam chesed yibaneh.

You are the true continuation of the home of Avraham and Sarah.

And you should know that Hashem always gives “b’ayin yafah ” with a benevolent eye. Therefore you are guaranteed that “b’ofo shel davar ” in the long run you will indeed receive nachas “b’kefel kiflayim ” in unbounded measure.

In Real Life: Special — and Typical

In Mishpacha (Issue 668) we were treated to the delightful story of Yedidya Cohen and his relationship with his rebbi Yehoshua Fulda. Yedidya has Down syndrome and is the firstborn son of Reb Dovid Cohen (incoming rav of Ohr Torah in North Woodmere).

Yedidya’s sandek was Rav Moshe. Reb Dovid had studied Rav Moshe’s letter on Down syndrome and was fully aware of Rav Moshe’s extreme sensitivity to children with special needs. So when it came to choosing a sandek in Reb Dovid’s words “It had to be Rav Moshe.”

I asked Reb Dovid for his memories of that bris.

“Two things still stand out. The first was the embrace Rav Moshe gave me when he arrived at the simchah with his comment ‘I promise you he will be a typical child.’

The second was Rav Moshe accenting and highlighting Yedidya’s immense potential by proclaiming quite loudly “gadol” when my rosh yeshivah Rav Yaakov Friedman read the words “Zeh hakatan gadol yihiyeh” during the krias hasheim.

“Almost a year later I went to the Brisker kollel to ask Rav Moshe for advice. We sat quietly in his office for about 20 minutes. The conversation then turned to Yedidya and I took out a picture of our son. Rav Moshe looked at it and commented that he looked like a typical child.

“It’s beautiful to see on how many levels Rav Moshe’s brachah has come true.

“For example in one of my conversations with his amazing rebbi he shared how often Yedidya will intentionally answer wrongly to a question in a most playful manner. Rabbi Fulda was proud of this chicanery and cunning. It shows him that Yedidya is ‘typical ’ since he obviously knows the correct answer but wants to keep his rebbi on his toes!” (Originally featured in Family First Issue 557)