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A Tale of Two Orphans:
The Limits of Categorisation

by Joseph H. Berke and Stanley Schneider

Stanley Schneider
5 Zvi Graetz
P.O. Box 8428
Jerusalem 91083, Israel

Joseph H. Berke
5 Shepherd's Close
N6 5AG


This paper describes an historical anecdote which occurred when Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Schneersohn, the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe (known as the RaShaB) visited Vienna in 1903, prior to his meetings with Sigmund Freud.

At the time the RaShaB was suffering from a certain 'lowness of spirits.' One afternoon he went into a trance-like state from which he seemed to emerge with difficulty. The next day he went shopping for women's clothes and then travelled to a distant city to arrange marriages for two recently bereaved girls.

Taken out of context, the behaviour of the RaSHaB could easily be viewed as indications of psychiatric or neurological pathology. But when the totality of the Rebbe's personality and work are taken into account as well as the context of the events, it can be appreciated that he had entered an altered state of consciousness (ASC) in order to effect healing on both personal and mystical planes.

The authors point out the dangers of overhasty diagnostic conclusions, for it is clear is that the RaSHaB transcended any attempt to categorise his actions. Indeed, they exist on planes which psychiatry has yet to recognise, and may never recognise. These are phenomena which have nothing to do with illness or pathology, rather with experiences which lie beyond the normal. They therefore denote the limits of categories and the limits of categorisation.

A Tale of Two Orphans:
The Limits of Categorisation

by Joseph H. Berke and Stanley Schneider 1


In a previous paper the authors have detailed the visit of Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Schneersohn, the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, to Vienna during the period January to April 1903 to consult with Sigmund Freud. (Schneider & Berke, 2000). The Rebbe, Known by the acronym RaSHaB, was the scion of a long line of outstanding Chassidic Rabbis. He was accompanied by his son, Rabbi Josef Yitzchak Schneersohn (known by the acronym RaYaTZ). At that time the Rebbe RaSHaB was 42 years old, and his son was 22 years old.

The RaSHaB had become the leader of Lubavitch Chassidim in 1882 at the age of twenty two, after the death of his father. He has been described as physically weak and frail throughout his life, a condition exacerbated, no doubt, because he took on the burden of communal leadership as a young man. He married at age fourteen to his first cousin, and was known for his devotion to self-sacrifice and striving for the truth, working long hours in study, teaching and service to his followers.

By the year 1902, it was noted that the RaSHaB was suffering from a certain malaise. In spite of his erudition and accomplishments as a Rebbe and founder of the Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch in 1897, he felt that he was nothing and had accomplished nothing in comparison to his father (the 4th Lubavitcher Rebbe, the MaHaRaSH) and his grandfather (the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek). He would often remark, "Where am I? Where do I turn? ( i.e. What have I accomplished?) What should I say?" (J. Y. Schneersohn, 1992, p. 42).

At that time the RaSHaB was under great pressure both externally and internally. The outside pressures were related to the many tangible dangers which the Rebbe and his followers faced. By the turn of the century the Lubavitch movement had been under threat from other Jews as well as from the Russian Government and the Czarist police. In addition to the vehement enmity of the Mitnagdim (religious Jews opposed to Chassidism), Lubavitch was also threatened by the Maskilim ('the enlightened ones'), militantly secular Jews who tried to spread modern European culture and secular knowledge. 2

As for the internal pressures: 1902 was the 20th anniversary of the RaSHaB's ascension to the mantle of leadership. (it was also the 20th anniversary of his fathers death). His son, the RaYaTZ, referred to his father as being very upset and low in spirits (quoted in M. M. Schneersohn, 1997). Around this period, the RaSHaB continuously complained to his wife that he was unable to study, that he was unworthy, and that he was deficient in his emotional attributes. By this the Rebbe meant that his love for his fellow man, and that his love and fear of God, were not as they should be.

It was at this point that the RaSHaB proposed to travel to Vienna to seek help for himself. This was a journey which he considered to be the equivalent of going into exile for the purpose of self-refinement or self-purification (J. Y Schneersohn, 1992, p.23).

In this paper we shall describe an historical anecdote which occurred before the RaSHaB met Freud. Taken out of context, the behaviour of the RaSHaB could easily be viewed as pathological. But when the totality of the Rebbe's personality are taken into account as well as the context of the events, we can appreciate that he had entered a profound meditative state. Consequently, we can vividly perceive the dangers of psychiatric categorisation.


But before continuing, let us provide some further details about Chassidic Judaism, in general, and Lubavitch Chassidism, in particular. Loewenthal (1990) points out that Chassidism is a system of radical mysticism as well as a popular social movement. It originally aimed to replace a restrictive structure of Torah study with a culture that was able to uplift the daily life of men and women in the mundane world. This could be accomplished by attending to the inner, hidden, essential aspects of Judaism and openly communicating esoteric wisdom through the person of an enlightened leader to whom everyone had potential access.

Initially these leaders were direct disciples of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), which means master of the good name. The Baal Shem Tov had a profound knowledge and understanding of the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. He also shared many characteristics of a shaman in that he was an expert in ecstatic healing practices. Later leaders were disciples of the disciples and so on. These leaders were called by the term Tzaddik ('the righteous one'), and also by the term Rebbe.

A Rebbe is far more than a Rabbi. The latter is a person who is knowledgeable about Jewish laws and practices. The Rebbe, on the other hand, not only possesses such revealed knowledge, but is also an expert on the inner essence of life, the concealed knowledge. The Rebbe is often described as a person touched by God, someone who possesses immense powers to sustain the lives of his followers, his Chassidim, on earthly and spiritual planes. The Chassidim, in turn, feel dependent on their Rebbe for guidance and help in accessing Divine grace about all matters -- spiritual and mundane.

A Rebbe may share some qualities with a psychotherapist. Both are experts about human nature as well as esoteric matters. For the Rebbe this includes spiritual or supraconscious realms, while for the psychotherapist this includes inner reality, or the unconscious. And both encourage intense real and transference relationships among their adherents.

The first Lubavitcher Rebbe and the founder of the Chassidic dynasty of Lubavitch was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812). He liked to refer to himself as the Baal Shem Tov's spiritual grandson. He was also known as the alter Rebbe (the old Rebbe). The term signifies his contribution as the father of Lubavitch Chassidism by his creation of a highly intellectual system of mystical contemplation. Lubavitch Chassidim are also known by the acronym, ChaBaD. This refers to the first letters of the Hebrew words, Chochmah, Binah and Daat, meaning Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. According to the Kabbalah, these represent the higher intellectual emanations or qualities of God.

The Tale of Two Orphans

When the RaSHaB asked his son, Rabbi Joseph Yitzchak, the RaYaTZ, to accompany him to Vienna, the young man initially demurred, saying he was 'deep into learning' and wanted to continue with his studies. But his father replied that if he came, he would teach him 'mysteries' that he would never otherwise get to know or experience. So his son, who was noted for his paternal devotion, agreed to come.

The reason for the trip was to see the famous Professor Freud.3 The RaSHaB and his son arrived on the sixth of January 1903 and stayed for three months through the 5th of April. But before meeting Freud, a strange, unsettling series of events began to unfold, the details of which were related by the RaYaTZ, who was well known in the Lubavitch community for his phenomenal memory.

The story begins at the hotel where they had checked in after arriving in Vienna. The RaYaTZ recounts:

"My father's way was that he used to take a rest on the sofa after lunch. He didn't lie down, and he didn't sit, but he would lean. He used to refer to this as valgerinzich, roaming around.

Once after lunch when he was resting in this manner, he took a longer time than usual and I didn't know what to do. It looked like he was not in this world at all. He wasn't sleeping, he was lying on his side, his eyes appeared strange. I was afraid to wake him, but I was also afraid to leave him like this. So I started to pace back and forth in the room in a noisy manner, hoping that maybe this would alert him, but it didn't make a difference. Then I started shaking the table, but it still didn't help.

Suddenly he woke up and said, what day is it today? Which Sedra (weekly portion of the Torah) is it? (My father used to learn with me every week the Chassidic commentary from that weekly portion).

I answered him that it was Wednesday and also told him which portion of the Torah reading it was."

The account continues with the RaYaTZ describing what happened when his father woke up. The RaSHaB looked very confused. He prepared himself to 'davin Maariv' that is, pray the evening prayers, which he did for a very long time, like the evening service of Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year). Moreover, during the course of these prayers he sang a niggun (Chassidic melody) of the Alter Rebbe. All this left his son' wondering' (surprised, amazed).

On the next morning the Rebbe asked him if they had any money, because when they travelled, his son held their funds. The truth was that their finances were quite tight, but since his father obviously needed some money, he went to a pawn broker and raised a loan on his silver stick. (This was a walking cane, a present that the RaSHaB had given to his son and to which the the RaYaTZ was very attached). Having received a sum of money, he gave it over to his father. Afterwards the Rebbe told him that he wanted to go to a number of places. His son understood that he was not meant to go with him, so he stayed in the hotel and the RaSHaB went out alone.

Somewhat later a delivery man came with a package. He asked whether Schneersohn lived here, and I answered yes. He said he had a delivery for him and was instructed to bring it to the hotel. During the course of the next few hours, several more packages came from other shops. The RaYaTZ was surprised, for he saw that there were lady's garments. He surmised that his father had bought gifts for his wife and daughters.

Later in the evening, the RaSHaB returned to the hotel and told his son that he intended to make a trip, and that preparations should be made. Where to, he didn't say. So, the RaYaTZ paid the hotel bill, packed their bags, and they went to the train station where his father said to buy tickets to Pressburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia), which was some distance away. Then he relates:
"When we arrived at Pressburg, I wanted to hire a carriage at the train station, as we usually do, but my father said we would go by foot.

So I took our bags and we went. While we were walking down the street we met a young man, a yeshivah bochur (student) who was running and rushing.

My father stopped him and asked him directions to a particular hotel and restaurant.

But the young man said quickly, I have no time. Go straight ahead and you can ask over there

My father replied: "Is this the way to behave? Is this the way you perform the mitzvah (commandment) of hospitality? Don't you see that we are strangers, and that we are walking from the train station?

When the young man heard this, he understood that he had not conducted himself properly. So he stopped and showed us where to go. In addition he told us that the owner of this hotel had just passed away. My father thanked the young man and we walked further. Soon we came to the hotel and we saw that there was a woman and three daughters sitting shiva (ritual period of mourning). The servants at the hotel gave us a room, and we rested. Then my father said he would like to go and walk around the city a little bit.

We went outside and came to a Yeshiva (Jewish school) where there were a number of students sitting and learning. My father spoke to several of them, including the young man we had asked for directions. He was also there learning. Also my father got into a very entangled talmudic discussion (pilpul) with another bochur (student), and he praised him very much."

The next morning, the RaSHaB paid a condolence call to the widow and her daughters. The girls were sitting shiva on the floor. According to his son, he spoke to them and he comforted them. He added that he was just passing by and would be staying in town for one more day. He asked the widow if she should arrange for him to have kosher milk. So the two men remained in this town until the next evening, staying for a total of two whole days.

The RaSHaB visited the widow and her daughters a number of times. Once he went himself. When they asked who he was, he replied that he was a distant relative. When the girls asked him whether he knew their father, he answered that he issue was not important.

The conversations skirted around various subjects until the Rebbe spoke to the woman about arranging marriages (shiduchim) for her two unmarried daughters. The widow moaned about her desperate plight, especially now that her husband had passed away. She had little money and didn't think she could get appropriate matches. Clothes and other things were very expensive, and she didn't have the means to continue with the shiduchim that had already been proposed.

The RaSHaB comforted her and made suggestions. For the eldest daughter, Chayaleh Gela (in Hungarian: Katalin), he recommended the student with whom he had got into a very long, involved talmudic discussion.4 For the second daughter, Faiga (in Hungarian: Foge), he recommended the young man whom he had scolded in the street.5 As for clothes (trousseaus), he said the widow shouldn't worry, because he had already bought with him two sets of bridal clothes, as well as anything else that the orphans needed. All of this cost a few hundred rubles, which was a very large sum in those days. Having arranged the two marriages, the Rebbe and his son left Pressburg and returned anonymously to Vienna.
Five years later Yosef Yitzchak, recounted that he was travelling near Pressburg and decided to make a detour to the city, specifically to see how the two orphans, whose marriages his father had arranged, were doing. He recalled he could only find the third (youngest) daughter, Nachama. She told me that she too had married and was happy, but that her two older sisters were extremely happy. 6 Of the two husbands, one was a Rosh Yeshiva (Director of a Yeshiva, a very learned, prestigious position) and the other was a Rabbi in a certain city. Both families were living in very fortunate circumstances.

Yosef Yitzchak told this story at a farbrengen, or Chassidic gathering, some years after he had followed his father as Rebbe. Afterwards someone asked, Who was the hotel keeper who had passed away? The RaYaTZ answered: His name was Rav Avraham Bick.

Subsequently we ascertained that Rav Bick had been an eminent Talmid Hacham (Torah scholar) and was the author of many books on Talmud, Midrash and other exoteric and esoteric subjects. 7

As for Pressburg, it is also worth noting that the city was a renowned centre of Jewish Life. Indeed, at the that time, it was much more important than Vienna. The leading Torah scholar was the HaTam Sofer, and many learned men, Chassidic and non-Chassidic lived there.
It transpired that Avraham Bick died on the afternoon of 18 February 1903. He had been sick for at least a year, and we know from his letters that he was desperately worried about the shidduchim of his daughters and his lack of funds for dowries. 8

The events described in Vienna, when the RaShAb could not be woken by his son, also took place on 18 February 1903. The trip to Pressburg occurred a couple of days later, between the 20th and 22nd February. The persons and details we have documented come from Lubavitch sources as well as newly available accounts provided by direct descendants and relatives of the Bick family: Schneerson, M. M. (1997), Schneersohn J. Y. (1992), Marinowsky, (1991, pp142-144), Neumann, Y.Y. (1997, pp.17-18; 2000), Mundshein (1997, pp11-13), Kahn, (1997, pp.159-63) & Oberlander(1997, 1-3; 2000).


The extraordinary features of this entire story extend beyond the actions of the Rebbe to arrange marriages for two young girls in a far off city after the death of their father. The key issue is what happened when the RaSHaB lay down after lunch and went into a trance-like, somnambulistic state, out of contact with the outside world. Although his son did try to awaken him, it was clear that the RaSHaB was in a world of his own, and impelled by a strange concatenation of forces.

Let us begin by to considering the incidents of the story without taking into account the person involved or the circumstances in which the events took place. Then the primary focus would be on the symptoms, or the peculiar experience and behaviour, of a highly successful professional man undergoing a crisis in his life.

For some time the man appears to be suffering from depression. He disparages his work and relationships and complains about feelings of worthlessness. He finds it hard to think clearly or concentrate. Concomitantly he evinces a state of emotional detachment.

Yet he retains a careful awareness of his condition and travels to a distant city with his son to seek help from a distinguished secular professor. Then, while waiting in the hotel before the appointment with Freud, he falls into a deep trance for several hours. Soon after waking up, he is confused about time and place. Later his condition changes. A prior lethargy turns into intense activity. He asks for sums of money beyond his means, goes on a shopping spree, and buys large quantities of ostensibly inappropriate woman's clothing. The following day he suddenly travels to another city whereupon he takes upon himself to arrange marriages for girls he has never previously met and gives them the clothes he had previously bought.

From the narrow perspective of contemporary symptomology and classification, this person could be seen as suffering from a bipolar affective state. This nosology would note a depressive phase of this condition, followed by a hypomanic episode. Nowadays the term hypo-manic would be used, rather than manic because, although agitated and driven,í the man had not totally lost touch with reality and was not psychotic. Certainly, one can discern a flight of ideas, disorientation and an inability to know basic status information (time, place, person). And the whole episode seemed to manifest a vague delusional quality. However, since it was of extremely short duration, it would be difficult to diagnose a hypomanic or manic episode, which require from 4-7 days of symptoms.

Another possibility was that the person concerned had suffered an organic, neurological event. Although we do not know fo sure, the apparent 'strangeness of his eyes' could have been due to fixed dilated pupils, which accompanied by a semi-conscious period of confusion, would points in the direction of a temporal lobe epilepsy. This is a disorder characterised by periodic motor or sensory seizures and sometimes accompanied by a loss of consciousness (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, p.38). Since this episode is a one-time occurrence, it would be hard to postulate a grand mal seizure. With regards to a petit mal seizure, the RaSHaB didn't remain in a confused state. In fact he accurately completed the evening prayers and sing a niggun of considerable complexity. This feat of memory, and prosody, alone totally argues against an organic component. So an epileptic episode seems very remote.

It is much more plausible that the RaSHaB went into an altered state of consciousness (ASC). Much has been written in the literature (Dennett, 1991, Tart, 1972) regarding the definition of an altered state of consciousness. The person who has experienced an altered state is unaware of his surroundings during the trance-like state. Afterwards, the person feels confused, is disorientated and is unable to recall details of the surrounding environment that were prominent during the altered state. Questions addressed to the person during his/her altered state will not be remembered. This seems to be the most logical possibility that describes the RaSHaB's condition. 9

The RaSHaB was able to enter into a deep, meditative space in order to communicate with a spiritual wellspring. In religious terms we can talk of communicating with a Deity in order to seek His Divine intervention. In Kabbalistic-mystical terms, this is communication with the upper worlds. George Klein (1959) explained this state as the artist who is able to enter an emotional state that transcends consciousness because there has been a departure from mundane awareness that allows for an emotional, latent unification with the hidden. We can utilise the term 'mysticism' to describe the altered state of consciousness of the RaSHaB.

James (1901/1958) attempted to define four characteristics of mystical states of consciousness:

.....It defies expression...no adequate report of its contents can be given in words...its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others
.....Mystical states ...(are) also states of knowledge. They are states of insight...they are illuminations, revelations...
.....Mystical states cannot be sustained for long.
.....The mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power (p.293).

Underhill (1912) in a classic definition of mysticism wrote that: mysticism (is) the art of establishing one ís conscious relation with the Absolute...(p.97). Here we have the juxtaposition of mysticism, altered state of consciousness and a Higher Authority.

It is difficult to attempt to understand a mystical experience or altered state of consciousness because it is not scientifically quantifiable. This was one of the problems facing Freud (1933) when he was asked regarding his understanding of paranormal phenomenon. He wrote: "When they first came into my range of vision more than ten years ago, I too felt a dread of a threat against our scientific Weltanschaung, which, I feared, was bound to give place to spiritualism or mysticism if portions of occultism was proved true. Today I think otherwise." (p.54)

As we have already noted, the RaSHaB was great spiritual leader who possessed immense powers to affect the lives both of his followers, and others. From the standpoint of the Kabbalah, or Jewish mystical tradition, he was a Mekubal, a person who could directly receive the Ruach HaKodesh, the Godly forces which sustain the world. So his experiences and actions occur on a multitude of levels, earthly as well as spiritual. Thus, as we have shown in our previous paper (Schneider & Berke, 2000, pp 15-16), his lowness and sadness were preludes to a self-refinement that led to a tremendous creative upsurge in the last two decades of his life. Similarly the events that surrounded his trip to Pressburg are a remarkable attempt to renew the lives of two girls who might otherwise have been irreparably damaged by the death of their father.

An extension of this understanding of the RaSHaB's trance state will take us to explore the subject of the Tzaddik (righteous person). This is an honorific title earned by very unusually gifted people who are extremely close to God and can intercede in trying to changing the fate of the world.

The concept of the tzaddik as the righteous one appears only once in the Bible as an appellation for God: He is a faithful God, never unfair; righteous and moral is He (Deuteronomy 32:4). On the other hand, a righteous person as opposed to a wicked person appears numerous times in the Bible. The righteous live by proper conduct, obey God's precepts and have a positive interaction with God in that their prayers are answered.

The idea of the tzaddik as a interlocutor, acting as an active agent mediating between man and God, is a concept unique to the Hassidic movement of the 18th century. The tzaddik would have a following of people who would ask advice from the tzaddik, request prayers of intercession to be recited, request for healing of bodily illnesses, and ask for blessings. The followers of the tzaddik were fanatical in their devotion to him, which only exacerbated the reactions of the mitnagdim (the oppositioners --those who opposed Hassidism). From the beginning of the Hassidic movement, emphasis was now placed on the saintliness of the Rabbi, referred to as the Rebbe, and not only on his scholarship. As the verse in Proverbs states: The tzaddik is the foundation of the world (10:25).

The extreme mystical role that the tzaddik would be taking upon himself would, oftentimes, render him unresponsive to the outside, mundane environment. After all, how could a saintly tzaddik who is communicating with the upper worlds, be both in this world as well as in upper spheres? Idel (1995) quoting from various references, tells the story of the Great Maggid, Rabbi Dov- Ber of Miedzyrec, who used to drift off into extreme concentration, and also must have induced the Divine Spirit, by holding his hand upon his brow (p.198). We also have records of Rabbi Joseph Karo, the ARI (Rabbi Isaac Luria), the RaMCHaL (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) and the GRîA (The Gaon of Vilna) , who entered into ecstatic meditative states and communicated with spirits while in this holy state.

Scholem (1991) tried to explain this phenomenon which he called Tselem: The Concept of the Astral Body. What is the nature of this element, which apparently not participate in the soul's wanderings, and is referred to in the Zohar and other writings as man's Tselem? Is this a Kabbalistic version of the doctrine of the self as the deepest spiritual essence within man, or is it a version of the idea of an astral body or psychic body within man, which constitutes a third, independent entity mediating between body and soul? (p.252). The tzaddik projects himself out in order to communicate with God on behalf of his followers. This somewhat dissociative experience renders the tzaddik detached momentarily from the mundane world in order to communicate with the upper spirits and upper worlds -- communication with God.

The transcendent powers of the RaSHaB were well known, although in practice he used them very sparingly. (Schneider & Berke, 2000, pp 4 &19). In current usage, his mystical abilities can be subsumed under the rubric of paranormal powers. This is a general term which includes telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, astral projection and psychokinesis. From this standpoint we can assume that the trance the Rebbe manifested soon after his arrival in Vienna, was related to events that had occurred or were about to occur in Pressburg, and about which he was able to foretell, In fact, when the young student told the Rebbe that the owner of the inn had just passed away, his son, the RaYaTZ, commented that: "This worked out to be exactly the time that my father was resting that afternoon, when he went into a trance."

Perhaps the RaSHaB experienced the death of the inn keeper directly during the course of this episode. This would account for what his son observed. He certainly seemed to be aware of what had happened, an awareness which led him to urgently purchase two trousseaus prior to leaving for Pressburg. It would also be consistent with the Rebbe's capacity as a Mekubal, a person who possesses a unique sensitivity to receive spiritual or paranormal inflows.

Dr. Peter Fenwick, a leading expert on paranormal and near-death experiences, with whom we have discussed this episode, has suggested that the Rebbe's trance state may not have been a simple example of his receiving or tuning-in to the passing of Rav Bick. (Fenwick & Fenwick, 1995; Fenwick, 2000) On the contrary it may represent a much more active attempt on the part of Rav Bick to reach the Rebbe by projecting his Tselem or astral body to get help for his daughters. As we have previously pointed out, in the year before his death Rav Bick was preoccupied with arranging marriages for them. He also must have known about the Rebbe, although we have no direct evidence that he had been in contact with him. However we do know that he had been in communication with other Chassidic leaders, in particular, the Sadeh Ger Rebbe and the Sanzer Rebbe. (Neumann, 1997; 4th article) This not uncommon form of paranormal event has been termed 'a death-bed coincidence,' and can involve a prolonged altered state of consciousness on the part of both sender (projector) and receiver. (Osis & Haraldsson, 1997)

Whether the episode represents such a near-to-death phenomenon, or not, the Rebbe's refusal to take a carriage at the train station and his meeting with the two bochurim (students) all seem part of an unfolding of relationships which he had foreseen and which would lead to two successful marriages.

Like a chess grandmaster, we can speculate that the RaSHaB was able to see five, ten, fifteen, sequences in advance, spiritually and temporarily, all of which leads to further questions. Why was the deceased father, Rabbi Abraham Bick, special, so that the Rebbe felt his passing and intervened in his future? What happened to his daughters, and sons-in-law, and their families? Did they survive the Holocaust? What influence have they had on the world, on history, on the Jewish people? Was all this connected with the Rebbe's decision to consult Freud? 10

In personal correspondence with Rabbi Yaacov Yitzchak Neumann, the son of one of Chaya Gela, one of the orphans whose marriage was arranged by the RaSHaB, Rabbi Neumann writes: "We don't know what connection the RaSHaB had with my grandfather (Rabbi Avraham Bick). But I do know that my grandfather came from Russia to Pressburg and was a famous man who visited many Torah giants and published several books.11 He must have met the tzaddik, the RaSHaB, and from Heaven it was shown to him (i.e. the RaSHaB) that there were orphans." ( Neumann, 2000)

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel, has discerned the deepest mystical meaning of the RaShaB's visit to Pressburg during a farbrengen in 1962. (addendum to the Rishimos, 1997) For him it was akin to of the mysterious trips that the founder of Chasidism, the Baal Shem Tov used to make to help Jews throughout Europe. He refers to the Book of Lamentations, where it says when the 2nd Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled, "We were orphans from our Father's, and our Mother's were like widows." (ref) 12

Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century the time, Jews were living in Golus (exile, darkness). It was a time of great conflict between the Chassidim and Mitnagdim (non-Chassids) and the religious and non-religious Jews. The work (avodah) of the RaSHaB had to do comforting the mourners (the disconnected) and with arranging the marriage of the orphans (the Jewish people) with their divine source. For Rav Menachem Mendel, the whole episode was a metaphor for, as well as the concrete embodiment of, this process. Thus the fact that the RaSHaB went into a trance during the evening, Maariv prayer, had to do with a going into to the darkness of exile. When he emerged it was to buy fine clothes, representing the adorning of the Jewish people with beauty and bringing out 'their true essence.' And the marriage did not just have to do with two girls, but with the need for all Jews to connect with their divine root.


What was the trance state the RaShaB entered? Why did he go to Pressburg and arrange marriages for two bereaved girls? In this paper we have considered the pathological, the paranormal and the mystical dimensions of these events. Yet, there are questions which are still awaiting answers, and perhaps, more questions. What is clear is that the RaSHaB transcended any attempt to categorise his actions, for they exist on planes which psychiatry has yet to recognise, and which psychiatry may never recognise. Why? Because there are phenomena which have nothing to do with illness or pathology, rather with experiences which lie beyond the normal. This denotes the limits of categories and the limits of categorisation, all of which depends on limiting perception and narrowing reality.

It is very hard to grasp transcendental phenomena, such as the RaSHaB experienced, or ultramundane revelations, such as Rav Menachem Mendel expounded. The urge to classify, control and pathologise, seem to express the fear of the unknown, a fear which psychiatry tries to contain. Too often this leads psychiatry and psychology to become victims of the metaphors they have created, and the conceptual worlds in which they operate.

Perhaps the reasons for this situation have to do with the metaphysical foundations of our science, which determines that there is no consciousness beyond the brain. As Rick Tarnas points out in, Passion of the Western Mind (1991), we continue to live by the primary quality beliefs refined by Galileo in the 17th century. Here 'reality' consists of an outside 'objective' world' comprised of matter and energy and delineated by mathematics. To really understand "A Tale of Two Orphans," we need a 'post modern metaphysics' where consciousness is not constricted by matter, subjectivity is not secondary, and 'meaning' means more than the manipulation of molecules.


American Psychiatric Association, A Psychiatric Glossary. Washington, D.C., 1980, p.38.

Dennett, D.C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Fenwick, P. & Fenwick, E. (1995) The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of over 300 Near-Death Experiences, London: Headline Books.

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1) The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of Peter Fenwick, Mendel Gordon, Simon Jacobson, Yehuda Kanar, Shmuel Lew, Tali Loewenthal, Yaacov Yitzhak Neumann, Baruch Oberlander & Morton Schatzman in the preparation of this paper.

2) Both groups regularly informed on the Lubavitcher Chassidim to the Czarist police. The RaSHaB and his son had been arrested and jailed on several occasions. In addition, the secularists brought about temporary closures of the Yeshivas in Lubavitch and were proponents of the emerging Zionist movement which attempted to replace religion with nationalism.

3) A further reason was to get medical help for a disturbing loss of sensation on the back of his left hand, which had been bothering him for some months. Mundshein (2000, pp. 47-49)

4) The name of the Chayaleh Gela's husband was Joseph Neumann. Their marriage took place on 15 June 1903, after the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, possibly in Pressburg.

5) The name of Faiga's husband was Yaisef Lefkowitch. Their marriage took place in Vienna before the Rebbe and his son returned to Russia. it is possible that the Rebbe attended, although there is no record of this happening.

6) The younger daughter married Zev Wolf Neumann of Pressburg, 'a God-fearing Jew, but simple man.'

7) These studies included, Foundations of the Meeting Tent (several volumes), Ripe Fruits of Spring, Known to Understanding, Fruits of the Earth, Triple Blessings, I Take my Work upon Myself and The Right Arm of Moses.
Rav Bick also worked as a buyer and seller of Jewish books and manuscripts and, for many years, had his own printing press.
The name of Rav Bick's widow was Miriam. Her maiden name was Reiness. She too was part of a distinguished family. Her brother, Yitzchak Yaacov Reiness, was the head of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionism) Movement. Under his influence the Bick family had moved to Palestine, but they returned because of Miriam's ill health. The Bicks also had six sons, one of whom predeceased his father.

8) He was born in Moholov-Podolyin, about 25-30 miles from Uman, in the Ukraine. He died at the age of 65 and was buried in the local cemetery in Pressburg near his father, Yaacov.

9) Other Rebbes have demonstrated trance-like states, in particular, R. Dov Ber Schneersohn, the son of the Alter Rebbe, who became the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, also known as the Mitteler Rebbe. In one such incident it was observed that the Rebbe stood "like a stick, without any movement or feeling" for several hours. Loewenthal (1990) pp.114-116.