An eye that sees

Monday, 16 November, 2020 - 6:41 am


Though I [Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin] was just a teenager, I'll never forget the day I was sitting at ULY (United Lubavitch Yeshiva, in Brooklyn) when my English teacher, George Landberg, put down his chalk and interrupted the lecture. He was a fine teacher. Usually he liked to talk to us about literary things like onomatopoeia in poems or characters in fiction. But that day he told us an amazing story that was not fiction, but pure fact. A real miracle of tefillin had occurred to real people…him and his tragically blind son, Daniel.
Daniel Landberg was born in 1973 with normal eyesight. New York State law at that time required the eyes of all newborns to be treated, as a prophylactic measure against infection, with a one percent silver nitrate solution while still in the hospital. An inexperienced nurse's assistant, on duty in the delivery room that day, picked up a stick of silver nitrate intended for cleaning the area of the umbilical cord, a medication seventy times stronger than the one percent intended for ophthalmologic use and highly corrosive, and tragically used it on Daniel's eyes. As a result, both the infant's eyes were burned by the chemical solution, his skin scarred, and his eyelashes gone. Worst of all, he was blinded.


For three weeks, Daniel remained in the hospital, receiving antibiotic treatments and getting tests from one specialist after another in an attempt to cure him. None of the doctors believed Daniel's sight would return. To make matters worse, each was more callous than the next in their treatment of the frantic parents. Why was this couple even bothering? It was clear their child would forever e blind.


A window of hope opened when Dr. Albert Hornblass took up their case, though not quite in the way the Landbergs expected. Dr. Hornblass was an ophthalmologist who, two years earlier, had returned from Vietnam, was an expert in chemical burns and, importantly, an observant Jew.(1) Hornblass applied himself to Daniel's case with a prognosis for healing that others had ignored. He wrote to the Center for Disease Control in Washington and obtained their permission to treat Daniel with steroids that had not yet been approved.(2)


He also took a more personal interest in Daniel's healing, suggesting more spiritual, Jewish channels of healing. In particular, he shared with the couple how a healing from G-d had occurred for him, personally. His own father had suffered a heart attack, and the prognosis was very, very bad. A religious man, he wrote to the Lubvitcher Rebbe asking for a berachah. He received one, and within a week, his father was cured. Might not the Landbergs do the same?


Fortunately, the means to implement the doctor's suggestion were close at hand. George already had a connection to Lubavitch, having worked at ULY for ten years, and his bosf and principal, Rabbi Tenenbaum, had personal access to the Rebbe. Landberg asked Tenenbaum to approach the Rebbe. Tenenbaum agreed and in no time was face-to-face with the Rebbe in private audience, beseeching him on Daniel's behalf.


The Rebbe gave his blessing


One week later, the Landbergs got a call from Dr. Hornblass in the hospital, "I'm witnessing a miracle," he told them, "I'm watching all the conjunctiva and stain ooze out of Daniel's eyes. I dare say I'm confident his vision will return!" Indeed, within a short time, Daniel was no longer blind.


The Rebbe didn't exact any payment or thanks, but Rabbi Tenenbaum pursued Landberg. "Since the Rebbe won't take money, you can show your gratitude by committing to do a major mitzvah on a regular basis, " he asserted. " I suggest that you wrap tefillin every day!"


A first, Landberg was stunned; he didn't have the mitzvah of tefillin anywhere on his personal spiritual radar, so it was unfamiliar to him.
But he was a good father, and he saw an inkling of what Tenenbaum was after. No matter how skeptical he was, he observed. The road to medically ensure Daniel's newfound sight was a long and often hard one, but through it all, every day, George Landberg laid tefillin.


Daniel was only six months old when he developed cysts on his cornea, a condition that would require surgery. But Dr. Hornblass had strong feelings against it. The child had so many steroids in his system, anesthesia would be risky. He delayed the surgery. Then one night, little Daniel rubbed his eyes in his sleep and broke the cysts. NO surgery was necessary.


As a preschooler, Daniel, like all small children, touched everything around him, including the floor and his eyes. As a result, the Landbergs were constantly at the eye doctor for treatment of eye infections, some so severe they oozed pus.


When Daniel was ten, a different sort of cyst developed on his eyelid that would affect the shape of his cornea. Surgery was required. When the surgeons went to remove the cyst, they also removed a great deal of scar tissue on the underside of his eyelid, further relieving the pressure on his cornea and improving his vision.


Years passed. Today Daniel is in his forties. His vision isn't perfect, but it is amazingly good, and the only physical damage remaining is a scar on the cornea of his right eye. He drives a car, coaches high school football, and has a child of his own. What's more, Daniel lays tefillin every day and is passing his connection to the mitzvah to his young son. He knows, without questions, that health and tefillin go together.


"We do feel it was all miraculous," Rita Landberg, Daniel's mother, concludes. There was this special berachah. It was miraculous that we found Dr. Hornblass and had a connection to Rabbi Tenenbaum, and that he, in turn, got a private audience with the Rebbe. Tefillin will always be intertwined with Daniel's wellbeing. There is no doubt his health is directly connected to the mitzvah."


I can attest that what Rita Landberg says is true. The mitzvah of tefillin is directly caught up with her family's health and wellbeing. I heard at school one day that George Landberg had fallen down the stairs at home and injured himself. Had he put on tefillin that day? No. He'd skipped it! He went right back up the stairs and put it on. Never again did he miss a day.


Thus, it was my English fiction teacher who taught me a Torah fact. When we observe the mtizvos assiduously, carefully, and without fail, we ourselves bring down enough power to transform darkness, quite literally, into light.


1. For another story in this email series with Dr Hornglass that occurred several decades later, click here.
2. The entire story of Daniel's amazing recovery wad documented by Dr. Hornglass in 1976 in the New York State Journal of Medicine; it is archived only at the NYU Health Sciences Library, reference cited as: New York State Journal of Medicine. Hornblass; October, 1976; Issue II;"Sever silver nitrate ocular damage: in newborn nursery"; pp. I,875-8. [Many state statutes requiring treating newborns' eyes with 1% silver nitrate have been changed in favor of less caustic treatments with fewer chances for error. Silver nitrate as treatment was a law in place for a century prior; cases like Daniel's over the course of many years influenced this change in medical policy.]




Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Guardian of Israel: Miracle Stories of Tefillin and Mezuzah" by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin
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