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Letters for Life: Book Explores the Rebbe’s Insights on Emotional Health

In 1970, during the War of Attrition with Egypt, Menachem Eini strapped into the back seat of an Israeli Air Force F-4 Phantom fighter jet piloted by Shmuel Hetz. Their mission was one of the riskiest assigned to fighter pilots: to seek out and destroy batteries of anti-aircraft missiles before the missiles destroyed them.

They never reached the missile batteries.

A Soviet-made SA-3 missile struck their Phantom. The pilot labored mightily to nurse the wounded jet back to Israel, but seconds before they could reach the border they were forced to eject. Hetz died in the crash, and Eini, severely injured, was captured by Egyptian soldiers. He would endure 40 months of captivity before he came back home.

Menachem Eini with family after his return from Egyptian captivity

More than three years in Egyptian captivity left Eini with severe emotional scars. “I would look around and see people at ease with themselves, while I felt profoundly restless. Any noise would irritate me. Even music became an intolerable clamor. I could find no peace.” Several months later, after a friend advised him to visit the Rebbe, Eini unburdened himself in the Rebbe’s study.

“I told the Rebbe that one of my challenges while in captivity was the pressure from the incessant togetherness. Even as I engaged in personal work, like drawing or writing poetry or journaling, I knew I wasn’t alone and others could always look at what I was doing. ‘It was always crowded in the room,’ I said, ‘being together all the time, without even a minute to yourself…’

“After a moment of silence, the Rebbe remarked: ‘And yet, despite the togetherness, everyone was left with their own loneliness.’

Lt. Col Menachem Eini

“I looked at him for a moment and thought: How does he know that?! But I knew he was right.  And I also realized that he had insight into how a person could overcome this universal loneliness.

The Rebbe listened to Eini and counseled the young fighter pilot who would go on to spearhead Israel’s Lavi fighter jet program. One of the things that the Rebbe told Eini resonates for him to this day. He told him to write a memoir about his time in Egyptian captivity.

“Unfortunately,” he explained, “you will probably not be Israel’s last prisoner of war, and others who will be taken captive will benefit from reading about your experience.”

Letters for Life, which is Shmotkin’s first book, is organized in two sections. The first, Essentials for a Healthy Life, focuses on preventative emotional care, exploring the mindsets and habits that keep us strong, preventing unwellness and suffering from taking place. The second, Overcoming Darkness, addresses the darker side of the emotional experience: worry, despondency, self criticism, and more.

Shmotkin himself never met the Rebbe. But as a teenager, he struggled with feelings of apathy and cynicism. 

“It was then that I discovered the Rebbe’s letters,” he writes. 

The counsel the Rebbe gave to others helped the young teenager into an emotionally healthy place. “I never met the Rebbe, nor received a letter from him. Yet I am a direct beneficiary of his timeless guidance.” Shmotkin was moved to pay it forward with this book that he hopes will do the same for others.

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