The following article is being published in honor of the the Yohrtziet of Reb Avrohom HaRofe – Dr. Seligson on the 25th of Shavt (1989-2008).
Reb Avrohom HaRofe – Dr. Seligson Our Sages tell us (Tractate Shekalim chapter 5) that there were people who were responsible for certain daily functions in the Bais Hamikdosh. The Mishna gives us the names of those who held these positions. The Rebbe asks (Likutei Sichos vol.22 pg. 147) how is it possible that for 420 years, over the course of many different generations, all the appointed people had the same personal name? The Rebbe explains that the name they had was actually the title of their specific function.
Continued in the Extended Article!
The Chabad Rebbe’im, beginning with the Alter Rebbe, were served by physicians who shared the same personal name. A number of Rebbe’im had personal physicians called Reb Avrohom Horofe. For the Rebbe that was Dr. Seligson, his personal physician. He treated the Crown Heights community and had additional patients in other neighborhoods. Dr. Seligson was also the means through which the Rebbe drew down blessings of health for those who needed it.
During one of the early years of the Rebbe’s N’sius, throughout the winter, Dr. Seligson spent every Friday night in the Rebbe’s room. For approximately an hour and a half he discussed medicine and specific patients with the Rebbe.
On Simchas Torah 1957 (5718), Rabbi S.Z.G. was stricken with pneumonia. The Rebbe gave Rabbi S.Z.G.’s son a piece of cake at the farbrengen before Hakofos to give to his father. The Rebbe then stood up from his place, turned to Dr. Seligson, and gave him wine and a piece of cake as well saying, “When the Kohanim eat (of the sacrifice), the owner of the offering is forgiven. In the same way, you should eat the cake, and the one who is sick will recover.” The Rebbe continued, “Know that you are a great doctor and although others do not think so, the fact is you are. If other doctors do not agree with me [my directive in curing the patient], you should side with me, and I will have a medical authority that supports my position.” Indeed, patients with serious illnesses were referred by the Rebbe to Dr. Seligson and often on those occasions, he would prescribe solutions which seemed inappropriate to the severity of the illness. He would tell patients to eat an orange or complete a particular section of the Shulchan Aruch.
An incident which occurred in 1973 (5734) is told in the name of the late Rabbi Leibel Raskin, A’H, Shliach to Morocco. Rabbi Raskin’s young son was critically injured during the preparations for Hakofos in 770. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Rabbi Raskin approached Rabbi Hodokov, the Rebbe’s secretary, asking for a Brocho from the Rebbe. The Rebbe was inaccessible, and Rabbi Hodokov could not enter the Rebbe’s room. Hearing how severe the situation was, he finally agreed to do so. The Rebbe said that Dr. Seligson should be informed. Dr. Seligson saw the child and said that everything would work out and that he would recover completely. He then entered the Rebbe’s room for a few moments to brief the Rebbe about the boy. A short while later, Rabbi Raskin’s son regained consciousness.
Dr. Seligson later told Rabbi Raskin that the Rebbe had once told him that if he as a physician concluded that a patient could not be helped medically, he need only visit the patient and declare him well. The Rebbe would then do his part.
In another incident, in 1972 (5732) the family of a woman who suffered from heart problems wrote on her behalf to the Rebbe asking for a Brocho and advice. The Rebbe advised them to consult with Dr. Twersky who would refer people to specialists. The top cardiologist that he sent her to told the woman that she required surgery in order to survive more than six months. The woman wrote to the Rebbe saying that she did not want surgery and asked for the Rebbe’s advice and Brocho. The Rebbe advised her to consult Dr. Seligson.
When the family members approached Dr. Seligson, he asked them the precise wording of the Rebbe’s response: “Did the Rebbe say “Rofeh Yedid” (a doctor, a friend) or “Dr. Seligson?” The family answered that the Rebbe had stated “Dr. Seligson”. Upon hearing this, Dr. Seligson immediately gave his opinion, “There is no need for surgery”. Faced with two conflicting opinions, the family asked Dr. Seligson to discuss the matter with the cardiologist. He did not wish to do so. The family was insistent, so he agreed. The conversation between them lasted about 10 minutes. Dr. Seligson then told the family, “He has his opinion, and I have mine [there is no need for surgery]”. The family again wrote to the Rebbe regarding Dr. Seligson’s opinion. The Rebbe gave his Brocho. The woman chose not to have surgery, and her passing eighteen years later was unrelated to cardiac issues.
On different occasions over the years, some at public Farbrengens, the Rebbe would make mention of Dr. Seligson. When an individual asked the Rebbe who he should turn to with his medical problems, the Rebbe pointed to Dr. Seligson saying, “If there is someone who preoccupied his G-dly soul with the Shulchan Aruch and his natural soul with medicine, what more do we need?” To Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, the Rebbe once said, “When other physicians use strong medicines, Dr. Seligson manages and cures with an aspirin.
In one yechidus, Mrs. Seligson was discussing the difficulty of her husband’s schedule. In those pre-Hatzolo days, Dr. Seligson handled all emergencies, day and night, as well as reating the entire community. The Rebbe responded, “Did you know that your husband is a Lamed-vovnik?” (one of the hidden tzaddikim in every generation).
Dr. Seligson was born in Cracow, Poland, a fifth generation descendent of the Alter Rebbe. His father, Reb Michoel Aharon, was a dedicated Chossid of the Rebbe Rashab and the Frierdiker Rebbe. Lubavitch a rchiva l records find mention of him in a request from the Rebbe Rashab to organize communal meetings. In the early 1930’s, on the Frierdiker Rebbe instructions, a chassidus shiur was begun in Reb Michoel Aharon’s home. Rabbi Mentlik, later the dean of the Yeshiva at 770, gave the shiur on Shabbos mornings and Reb Michoel on other occasions.
There were twenty physicians specializing in different areas of medicine in Dr. Seligson’s maternal family. Dr. Seligson himself chose to study medicine out of a desire to help people. He studied in Paris and Strasbourg and received his diploma from the University of Vilna. When he completed his medical studies, he worked on his doctorate in Vienna, doing research in endocrinology and hypertension. At that time, Dr. Seligson was a pioneer in his field. Similar research was also being conducted by the illustrious scientist Dr. Cushing who invited Dr. Seligson to work with him in Boston. An interesting event took place during World War II. Dr. Seligson met a Japanese physician and asked him if there was anything new in endocrinology. The Japanese doctor showed Dr. Seligson his own article in the American Medical Association Journal.
In 1933, as an established physician, Dr. Seligson returned home and began working at the Cracow Jewish Hospital. He remained there until the outbreak of WWWWII, at which time his parents urged him to flee Poland. He ran to Lithuania, where the legendary Japanese Consul Chiune Sugi-Hara was issuing Japanese transit visas to Jews against his own government’s instructions. In the short window of opportunity that existed before he was recalled in disgrace, Sugi-Hara issued thousands of visas. Dr. Seligson was one of the fortunate recipients of the precious documents that would enable him to travel through Japan to any country allowing Jews safe entry.
Dr. Seligson traveled through Vladivostok to Kobe Japan, where he met with the bochurim of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva. Also attempting to escape the Nazis were entire yeshivos such as Mir and Chachmei Lublin. Since the United States would not accept anyone of German or Polish descent, they were all sent by the Japanese to Shanghai. Dr. Seligson and the twenty-nine bochurim of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva remained there for the duration of the war.
Dr. Seligson was the physician for all of the yeshivos and treated the Jewish residents in the Shanghai Ghetto. Amongst his patients were Buddhists who would respectfully wait until he finished davening. Conditions in the Shanghai Ghetto were poor, and all water had to be boiled. An outbreak of beriberi caused additional suffering for the yeshiva bochurim who were in great pain. Dr. Seligson researched this disease and discovered that the problem resulted from a lack of vitamin B. To get a supply of Vitamin B during wartime was not an easy task, and Dr. Seligson instructed all the students to eat special foods that will give them Vitamin B and thereby saved many lives.
Dr. Seligson was a particularly devoted physician to his patients, fellow refugees. The Joint Distribution Committee would issue special rations of vitamins for children. Dr. Seligson would walk a long distance every morning in torn shoes to deliver the vitamins to one particular child. Many such stories were shared by his patients in later years.
The Frierdiker Rebbe requested that efforts should be made on Dr. Seligson’s behalf to procure him a visa to the U.S., and in 1947, Dr. Seligson reached the United States with Hashem’s help. In order to practice medicine in the United States, he needed to take all the medical exams which would entitle him to a medical license. After successfully receiving his medical license, Dr. Seligson notified the Frierdiker Rebbe of the good news. In his letter, the Rebbe blessed him with much success, a good shiduch, and concluded with the unusual expression “M’chabdo um’vorcho” (the one that respects and blesses him).
Dr. Seligson became one of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s physicians. The Rebbe would frequently call on him to evaluate his father-in-law’s health. Dr. Seligson was present on the morning of Yud Shvat 5710 (1950). Chassidim comment that at the Frierdiker Rebbe’s histalkus, there was a Kohen (Reb SB Eichorn), a Levi (Reb Shmuel Levitin), and a Yisroel (Dr. Seligson).
Dr. Seligson merited to serve as the personal physician of the Rebbe, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, and the Rebbetzin Nechama Dina. When the Rebbe suffered a heart attack in late 1977, on numerous occasions the Rebbe instructed Dr. Weiss, who led the medical team to consult with Dr. Seligson. When the Rebbe was asked who would monitor his medical care (after the heart attack), he chose to continue with Dr. Seligson as his physician.
A very private person, Dr. Seligson did not share any information with anyone regarding his many visits with the Rebbe and the Rebbe’s family members. Once, a suggestion was made that Dr. Seligson should ride with the Rebbe from his house back to 770. The Rebbe commented, “I would prefer that you travel separately, in order that people should not know you are coming from me.”
Dr. Seligson studied Torah three to four hours a night after a full day of seeing patients. Before his wedding, someone inquired about Dr. Seligson’s Torah knowledge, and the Rebbe responded, “If he would be amongst them [Litvishe circles], he would be revered as a Gaon”. Over the years, Dr. Seligson’s knowledge in Torah was discovered by people whom he would engage in a Torah conversation. Dr. Seligson wrote comments on the Tanya, filling the margins of the pages with writing. The Rebbe asked Dr. Seligson for his Tanya, and today it is archived in the Rebbe’s library. In similar fashion, he wrote comments on the Chumash and on tractates of the Talmud.
Dr. Seligson was married on the 5th lichtel of Chanukah in 1951 in Manhattan. The Rebbe came to the Kabbolas Ponim, spoke a Sicha and then was Msader Kidushim. In the course of the next forty years, Dr. Seligson dedicated his life to his patients. He could have a full waiting room but would sit with a patient and spend as much time as needed. Finding out a patient’s background, he would offer medical as well as psychological advice. Dr. Seligson was known to be an excellent diagnostician and the Rebbe considered him, “One of the greatest doctors we have today”. Some people would visit specialists in Manhattan, pay a hefty fee, leave with an unsatisfactory solution, and then come to Dr. Seligson. He would diagnose their problem, prescribe a remedy and charge a few dollars. Although unwell at times, his first priority was always his patients. Nothing would stop him from grabbing his medical bag and running to a patient as soon as he received a call.
Yehi Zichro Boruch! May his memory serve as a merit for good health, and a complete and speedy recovery for all who are ill in the Lubavitch community worldwide, and the ultimate Geula, together with the Rebbe leading us, when “The ones who are resting in the dust will awaken and rejoice” and Dr. Seligson will be amongst them.