Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nisan 5766 - April 4, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








An Interview in the home of the Bostoner Rebbe Shlita

"More than you are helping the patients — you are helping their families"

He was, apparently, a pioneer. Boston was one of the most significant and foremost medical centers in the world to which, in fact, many patients from Israel were flown for complex treatment. It was an alien, foreign city. But it had a house whose doors were wide open, like its heart. "Beis Pinchos" it was called. The Bostoner Rebbe, HaRav Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, was the overseer, the commander-in-chief of an empire of medicine and chessed. Maran the Chazon Ish was the first who referred a patient to him.


Several years ago, someone required medical treatment in Boston. When he had completed it satisfactorily and was healed, his family came to express their thanks to the hostel which extends such generous hospitality to the families of patients being treated in the Boston Medical Center.

At that time, huge demonstrations were being help to protest the desecration of Shabbos in Jerusalem along the Bar Ilan thoroughfare. It was most surprising to hear the patient's wife, a secular Jewess, declare, "Having been in Boston and seen what goes on there [in the chareidi community], my husband will never again harm a Shabbos demonstrator."

His family had found accommodations in Beis Pinchos and experienced chessed in action. "After such exposure, he will never be capable of touching someone who honors the Shabbos."

The name Boston, thank G-d, does not say much to most of us. But to people in medical circles, it means a lot. People who have had to undergo surgery in the famous Boston medical centers know the address: Beis Pinchos. Over five decades, many thousands of people have enjoyed the hospitality of this amazing house of chessed, of this empire of good deeds, under the active direction of HaRav Levi Yitzchok, the Bostoner Rebbe.

We asked for an interview within the precinct of this famous house in order to hear and see what goes on there steadily. The Admor was kind enough to concede to the request of Yated's Musaf Shabbos Kodesh [translated for the English Yated] and set aside his precious time to tell the readers about his life's project. The warmth and cordiality that permeated the room which we occupied added to our understanding of what was being accomplished in greater Boston. We listened, we were impressed, we recorded our impressions.

When did this chessed activity in Boston begin?

The first one to send us a patient was Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l. His referral was a Jew from Haifa by the name of Avigdor Bernstein z'l who needed to undergo heart surgery. This type of surgery, in those years, was not available in Eretz Yisroel, and was even very limited in scope in the rest of the world. The Boston Medical Center boasted a top cardiac surgeon — although I hadn't heard of him, which was not surprising, since over fifty years ago I had no connection to the world of medicine besides helping out individuals.

When R' Avigdor Bernstein came to me, I went with him to meet the doctor. I told the latter about the patient's condition and he concurred that according to the diagnosis, the patient would have to undergo heart surgery. R' Avigdor was very fearful since this was a pioneer field in surgery and he was one of the very first ones to agree to undergo open heart surgery. He also needed a go-between to communicate with the doctor, as well as kosher food. I made every effort to see that he was at ease and not frightened, and he truly needed every bit of encouragement and support which I provided in order to be fit for this risky procedure.

The surgeon scheduled the operation for the seventh of Av. R' Avigdor was apprehensive about this unpropitious date. How could an operation in the Nine Days be successful? I told him that the halochoh tells us not to go to court during this period with a gentile. "But you are going to court with Hashem," I said.

In any case, I spoke with the gentile doctor and asked if he could possibly postpone the surgery. He said that he had nothing against it but that the pressure for the operating theater was so great that it would be impossible. "I understand your reservations, but I believe that G-d will be with the patient on Monday, the same as on Thursday."

"If G-d is with you, I am serene," I said.

It was an amazing thing, but on the night preceding the surgery, we were unable to make any contact with Eretz Yisroel. They did not know any details about the operation or about my negotiations; all they knew was that it had been scheduled for Monday. And then, suddenly, we received a telegram from the Chazon Ish saying, "May the operation be successful."

That was the first patient with whom the Rebbe became involved. Afterwards, there were thousands more who enjoyed his generous hospitality.

How does an Admor who leads a chassidic community, come to be involved in medicine?

The Rebbe smiles warmly. "A specialist once asked me that very question: How does a chassidic rabbi, who is concerned with matters of the soul and spirit, come to the subject of medicine? I replied that when we pray for a sick man, we ask for `Healing of the spirit and healing of the body.' A sound soul must repose in a sound body and actually, it is one entity."

Today it is very common that when a person requires medical attention, he consults with a rabbinical authority; he seeks daas Torah regarding the treatment he requires and the doctor who should administer it. But decades ago, this was unheard of. If one had an audience with a rebbe or a rabbi, it was concerning spiritual matters.

But a spiritual leader is also there to give advice on day-to- day matters. And this is exactly what has evolved; people come and tell him everything and if the Rebbe feels that someone needs medical attention, he advises him to whom to go. The Rebbe hears the doctor's opinion and then may seek the services of a specialist in the field and tell him to which hospital to go for his specific problem. In this manner, a Rebbe acquires expertise and experience in medical matters.

The diagnosis is one step, followed when necessary by surgery. When patients reach Boston or Houston, they need accommodations for the family member who accompanies the sick person. And this is no simple matter. Some medical centers are in cities that have no Jews at all . . .

Do the non-Jewish doctors cooperate?

We have connections with the biggest doctors, Jewish and non- Jewish. It is not easy to make contact with the big doctors; the lines are very long. But whenever a doctor hears that the Bostoner Rebbe is calling, he immediately makes room on his waiting list for the patient in question. The door is almost instantly opened with a call from the Rebbe.

Sometimes there are differences of opinion between doctors. We must tell the patient whom to choose and help him make important decisions. It is no simple matter but over the many years, we have accumulated a great deal of experience.


The Rebbe goes from one subject to another and now tells about the Beis Pinchos hostel:

When a family comes to us, they have a choice of seven luxurious apartments at their disposal. Each includes everything one needs. We see to it that at least during the time that the family member is not by the bedside of the patient, that he will be able to relax and not have to worry about technical matters — or to worry unnecessarily for any reason, for that matter. They have enough dealing with the patient and all that involves.

I would like to tell about the time I visited the Steipler Rov ztvk'l. He used to send many patients to Boston. When I introduced myself, he immediately knew who I was and said, "You should know that more than you are doing for the patient, you are doing for his family!"

At first, I didn't grasp what he meant. Wasn't the family accompanying the patient for his sake, not theirs? I asked him to explain and he said with brilliant insight, "What you are accomplishing for the patient is indefinite. Hopefully, be'ezras Hashem, he will be healed and cured. But who knows? Regarding what you are doing for the family, no matter what the outcome — that is a definite, concrete act of chessed!"

Were there other Gedolim who sent patients to you?

Certainly! But not only did they send patients, sometimes they even had to come themselves for treatment. HaRav Schneur Kotler zt'l was by us. Even his father, Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l was treated by a physician sent to him from Boston. HaRav Moshe Feinstein and HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztvk'l were here, as was the Klausenberger Rebbe and many, many more, including gedolim of this generation.

I recall a major conference of the top specialists that took place in Miami Beach. HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky addressed them and quoted the gemora in Megilloh: "Why was the blessing of refo'einu established as the eighth one in Shemoneh Esrei? Because circumcision takes place on the eighth day and that is a form of medical procedure. Just imagine," R' Yaakov said, "that a person stands in prayer in one corner of the world, and in a distant place there is an eight-day-old infant who has just been circumcised and who needs healing. The man must bear this child in mind as he prays. How important is the role of one who is instrumental in healing and curing the sick." He gave them something to ponder upon, to be attuned to the needs of those who need a refuah!

How, in real terms, did Beis Pinchos become a permanent fixture, an ongoing hostel accommodating the needs of the sick?

Theoretically, the relatives of the patient could have gone to a hotel. Aside from funding, this would have posed many problems, including kosher food and a shul conveniently located. Who could provide a solution? The need itself brought about the establishment of Beis Pinchos where every Torah-observant Jew would find all of his needs addressed.

When we provide a private apartment, it is not only the four walls. It is a certain reality, a setting, a circumstance. It is a completely different experience than being stationed anywhere else. A person accompanying a patient cannot have his mind on this problem all the time. It is vital that he be among other people and receive encouragement and moral support from them. This uplifts his spirit and provides him with a measure of peace-of-mind, which is vital for his situation. A roof and shelter is not sufficient; he needs that spiritual sustenance, that empathy.

We generally allow a stay of two weeks to a month but when it is necessary, we provide more. We have had talmidei chachomim staying by us for close to two years!

What kind of a feeling does the Rebbe experience when a family leaves Boston after successful treatment of their loved one?

There is no greater or deeper sense of satisfaction than knowing that you have done all you could while they were under your roof, and that the difficulty with which they came has been reduced or eliminated.

I must note that whoever stayed in Boston will remember the experience forever after. People feel at home in Boston. Chazal urge us to "have the poor become like members of the family." This means that they must come to feel as if they were the baalebatim of those homes. And truly, in Beis Pinchos they feel as heimish as if they were at home!

How can you keep such a major enterprise going?

It is truly very difficult, but we have even introduced a new feature in our hospitality. It concerns donors of bone marrow. They first give a specimen for testing and once these are found to be good matches, they must be kept in prime health since if they harbor any bacteria, they cannot donate the bone marrow.

We have prepared lodgings that are completely sterile. This involved elaborate and costly preparation but it has been made possible. Boruch Hashem, we have seen great Providence in the financial upkeep of our endeavor. To be sure, when we first began, we never dreamed that the hostel would reach such proportions, but we have been very fortunate in maintaining it to date.

Can the Rebbe recall any particularly moving incident?

I remember the case of an infant who needed open heart surgery. It was a mere 63 hours after his birth and they wanted to perform the surgery in the Boston Children's Hospital, which is the very best in the entire world. One top surgeon was supposed to do the operation. When I called him, he was in the middle of a very urgent meeting. Notwithstanding, his secretary notified him that the Bostoner Rebbe was on the phone, if he could take the call. And he did.

I spoke with him and he agreed to operate immediately. This was a rare situation — operating on an infant right after birth! It is a very complicated and delicate operation, and risky as well, requiring great skill and a great measure of siyata deShmaya. Thank G-d, it was successful! You cannot imagine to what extent lives can be saved through the right connections to the right doctors at the right time.

The Rebbe volunteers another story:

Two mothers came with their child for treatment, also for open heart surgery. The first in line received great encouragement from the mother whose operation was scheduled afterwards.

Suddenly I received a call from the hospital. The nurse was on the line, her voice quavering. One of the children had died. She added that the mother wanted the child buried in Eretz Yisroel. We were faced with the twofold task of comforting the bereaved mother and encouraging the mother whose child was scheduled to undergo surgery in a few days.

Then there came a call that the first mother was on her way to me, to take leave before she returned to Eretz Yisroel. I was very confused; what could I say to this broken woman? She had come to Boston with such high hopes that her young son would be healed and now she had to return home with his coffin . . . How could I comfort her and relieve her pain? What could I say to her?

Before I even had time to arrange my thoughts, I was informed that she was waiting outside the door. She was shown in, but before I could say anything, she began to speak. "I want to thank you for all you did for me and for making it possible for me to bring my child here for heart surgery. We thought our stay here would end differently but we have, nevertheless, been fortunate to receive the best care from the best doctors in the field, thanks to your help and guidance. We did not merit to have our child cured; this is what Hashem decreed. But we know that we received the best treatment possible, in the best hospital and with the best doctors."

These were her words and I will never forget them. I will never forget that moment. The trust of a Jewish mother, the sublimely noble character of a Jewish mother.


We would have loved to continue this fascinating interview but the hands of the clock were moving inexorably forward and would not allow it. The Admor of Boston shlita parted from us most warmly and cordially. We were reminded of the gemora in Kesuvos: "Our brethren who do chessed, sons of gomlei chassodim who carry on the covenant of Avrohom Ovinu, our brother: May Hashem repay you in kind."

An empire of chessed for many decades, maintained and operated on a high standard through extreme modesty and reticence, with warmth and devotion, by the Admor shlita and his dedicated family.

How can we bless them? That ultimately, in the area of accommodating the Jewish sick and their families — they be put out of business!


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