Notes From An English Farbrengen with Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg at the Hadar Hatorah Alumni Malve Malka, 19th of Kislev, 5770. Written by Rabbi Bentzion Elisha:
The speaker successfully managed to lose his entire audience with his well prepared speech.
Some people were sleeping, some were clearly daydreaming, and some were just uninterested .
All except for one individual who was paying close attention to every word.
He wasn’t just passively listening. Oh no. He was nodding his head up and down in agreement at times, and sometimes he was shaking his head left to right in disagreement.
This phenomenon excited the speaker to such an extent he continued his speech inspired solely by his avid listener, his only listener.
After the speech the speaker went to his listener and thanked him for listening to him so well. Without his attention, he admitted, he would have stopped the speech long ago.
However, he was wondering, what was the shaking of the head all about?
The member of the audience told him ‘I think you misunderstood me.
Let me tell you what happened…I’m a shepherd. I watch and take care of my goats.
Last week I lost one of my goat. I looked everywhere for this goat but I couldn’t find it. Then I saw that there will be a speech by you and I decided to come and maybe I’ll find my goat here. Because I was looking so hard for a while I decided I won’t give up so easily. As you started speaking I was struck by your appearance. You looked like my goat! I was so happy.
However I was thinking to my self, wait, I can’t be so hasty, I have been looking for a while now for my goat, I have to make sure. I studied your face and I thought yes you are my goat, so I shook my head up and down, but then I would think again, no, you’re not my goat… So this went on throughout your entire lecture, as you finished I made my final decision… You definitely are a goat! But, you are not my goat!
What is a Farbrengen?
A Farbrengen is not a speech!
What is a speech?
A speech, more often than not, is an exercise in disinterest.
The speaker, usually, isn’t truly interested in what he is saying and neither are the people present.
Why? It’s very simple.
The hearts of the people that are supposed to be listening aren’t into it since the heart of the speaker isn’t into what he is saying.
After the speech ‘Lo paga , Ve’Lo Naga‘, ’it didn’t’ hit and didn’t touch’.
The words, needless to say, didn’t effect the listeners or even touch them in the slightest.
A Farbrengen isn’t a prepared event.
It’s not about thinking of what to say, its about what comes out of your heart.
There’s an interesting old Chasidic saying that encapsulates this notion of how Chasidim loath speeches. It’s a play off of some Psokim that describe a situation of a Jew who is found to be worshipping idolatry and the punishment of which is to be stoned to death. ’ When you are told and you understand (that such an event has happened, that a Jew actually worshipped Idols) , you are to inquire thoroughly. If in fact the report is authenticated and accurate – Nachon Hadavar- (then ) this is an abomination that was committed within Israel.’ ( Shoftim 17:4 )
The saying goes like this:
If you are told and you inquired thoroughly, and it is true,’ Nachon Hadavar‘, that the talks in the Farbrengan were prepared, ‘Muchan Hadavar’, then this truly is an abomination that has transpired in Israel!
(The word play is off of the verses words Nachon Hadavar, which means that ‘it is accurate‘, however the word Nachon is close in spelling and root to the word Muchan which means prepared.)
The Rebbe Rashab would pray before a Farbrengen that the words he says will inspire both him and the listeners.
Why are we repeating the same stories everybody knows again and again? Especially now, everything is in English, you probably heard almost everything already, if not in Hebrew or Yiddish then in English, so what’s the point? Like Yetzias Mitzraim, the exodus from Egypt, every year there is a Mitzvah to retell the story, so it is on 19th Kislev and every other auspicious time. Sipur, the word story in Hebrew, comes from the word Sapir, sapphire. A shiny gem. This alludes to the act of making shine, referring to make revealed, to illuminate. We retell the stories that we all know to continue to shed light and to illuminate this very time we find ourselves in.
Like everything else there is a certain Seder, an order, in a Farbrengen, in which one speaks and others listens.
Even though sometimes it could be very hard to listen, nevertheless Halacha states that ‘Hashomea Ke’Omer Dami‘, ‘the one that hears is like the one that speaks‘, so really every body is speaking in a Farbrengen…
Interestingly enough, Hafatza and Shlichus aren’t just about somebody else; you have to start with yourself, ‘Mibsarcha Al Tisalem’, don’t ignore your own flesh.
The Rashbatz was the melamed of the Fridiker Rebbe when he was a young boy. He also used to help put him to sleep at night.
By the nightime Krias Shma , he taught him to declare and resolve that what was, was, but tomorrow it has to be completely different.
No matter what today’s accomplishments were, no matter what happened yesterday, tomorrow IT HAS TO BE, radically different, better!
How could someone proclaim that ‘I’m a Jew in my heart’ yet not want to touch a Mitzvah or learn Torah? How could that come to be?
There’s a story of the two Masmidim, great scholars, who lived in a certain town. One scholar used to hunch over his Gemara for so many years he was affectionately called ‘the hunchback‘, the other used to seat on a log and learn for around 18 hours a day for many years to the extent that he created a grove in the log he used to seat on. In the same town there was a grocery store owner who only used to come to Shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur .
One time, someone came up to the scholar who sat on a log studying and jokingly asked him why doesn’t he cut back on his learning a little. Instead of learning for 18 hours a day, since he already learned so much for so many years he could take it easy now in his old age and learn just 17 or 16 hours a day. The Rabbi got very serious and exclaimed that all Jews are interconnected. If he G-d forbid decreased his learning even one hour there will be a domino effect, a downward spiral effecting the Jews holding at lower levels of learning, and then, G-d forbid, the towns grocer will lose whatever connection he has to Judaism and he won’t even come to Shul Yom Kippur!
There was a guy who used to Daven really quickly.
One time, he Davened a ‘Hodu/ Alenu Davening‘.
He said Hodu and Alenu and not much in between…
As he came home his wife asks him why he came so soon from Shul.
In his defense he said he doesn’t know what she means since he Davened from Hodu to Alenu.
Later on at night he came home hungry expecting a delicious meal.
His wife was on to him, and she wanted to teach him a lesson.
She brought out a fish head, and a fish tail, without anything in between and placed the plate right in front of her fast Davening husband. The dinner and message were served.
When a person makes an internal gap, thinking this is how I am during Davening or learning Torah and this is me at business, he becomes like a split personality. You can’t even recognize on the person at work that he was the one Davening for an hour or studied Torah for an hour etc.
This kind of split personality behavior on whatever level effects a Yid on a lower level of observance. So much so that it creates a reality where there could be a Jew to whom it suffices to be just Jewish in their heart without having it manifest in DOING a mitzvah or learning Torah.
When going to the Mikvah even though you are completely submerged except for one hair, the Halacha is that the Tvila doesn’t count!
The person has to be completely 100% under the water, immersed in it..
The fact that he has even one hair above water proves that he has thoughts somewhere else, he isn’t completely ‘there‘.
In learning Torah, Davening and just every day living of a Torah life, a person has to be completely immersed, completely drenched in it. Otherwise, its proof he isn’t really there, fully.
It’s absolutely not about Davening quickly, while keeping the phone on, so you can speak to someone else, with very important business or social matters …
Nine months before going into the prison we find ourselves in, the Rebbe requested and demanded from all of us to ‘DO ALL YOU CAN TO BRING MASHIACH!’. We simply have to accept all that has been given to us, and just complete the job.
If you look at the first Maamar of the Rebbe he clearly declared his mission, to bring Mashiach. He tried in every which way, through sending Shluchim all over the world, saying Sichos and Maamarim dedicated to this goal, unlike any other Rebbe in history. All the Rebbeims work he wanted to actually manifest, by bringing Mashiach and the Geula Hashlemah.
There was a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe who had a dream while his Rebbe was in prison. He dreamt that the Magid of Mezrich was at the head of a table surrounded by great Tzadikim, and the Magid was distressed, saying to the Tzadikim present that his favorite Talmid is in trouble , he is in prison and Chasidus itself is in danger.
Immediately the Rashbi created a Beis Din, and they Paskened that the Alter Rebbe should be set free. Since he started revealing Chasidus in the revolutionary way of comprehending the inner aspects of Torah with the Chochmah, Binah and Daas of person, when he leaves prison he should spread it even more than before; and that Chasidim should and will always have the upper hand. When the Chasid awoke, he realized that this dream was no simple dream. That day the Alter Rebbe was set free…
Even though it’s difficult to say, this story very easily connects with our time now where we unfortunately don’t hear the Rebbe say Maamarim or Sichos, we don’t see the Rebbe give dollars etc. ‘The Rebbe is in prison‘. However there was a Psak Din that the Rebbe will be set free and Chasidus will be spread out much more then before.
Just like with the Alter Rebbe whose writings and Hafatza of Chasidus Chabad, after the 19th Kislev freedom, dramatically increased in multiple ways.
The Alter Rebbe was in prison for 53 days. Corresponding to the 53 chapters of the Tanya. It was said that it was a Mesiras Nefesh for him to be imprisoned. But why?
The Alter Rebbes whole Etzem, essence, was to spread Chasidus, and in prison he could not.
For someone whose whole life is Chasidus, and living out the Baal Shem Tovs vision of spreading Chasidus outwards, therefore hastening the coming of Mashiach, and not being able to do that, is very painful, its Mesiras Nefesh.
Who did the Alter Rebbe write the Tanya for?
The Alter Rebbe wrote the Tanya because there were thousands of Chasidim needing guidance and there was a limitation of time.
He said he wrote it for people he knew, to answer their questions.
Why are the people that are here in Lubavitch here?
There are thousands of people that were not in Lubavitch Yeshivas or knew of the Rebbe.
However all that are Shyach to the Alter Rebbe ‘he saw’ and ‘he knew’ before hand.
He ‘knew me’ and he ‘knew you‘, and he foresaw that this Tanya is the prescription for our problems….
The Chasidim when they first came about had no name, but people used to call them the Freileche Chevre, the happy folk. Nevertheless the Alter Rebbe dedicated 3 chapters of the Tanya about Atzvos, sadness, chapters 26, 27, and 28.
The Alter Rebbe debated with himself regarding the inclusion of one letter in a word in the Tanya, the Vav in Vecholo or just leave it without the Vav, Cholo, for several weeks…Only over the inclusion of one letter in a word! However he wrote 3 whole chapters about sadness. Why?
Because no Avera, transgression, could lead a person to so much damage then sadness…The Rebbe said it’s Makas Hamedina, the plague of the nation is sadness. Driving many people to be addicted to therapists…
A person has to be happy, not Hololos, frivolousness , but real Simcha.
The Lashon said about 19 Kislev ,which ‘gave’ us Chasidus, is that it gives Chayos, livliness, Chayos in Avodas Hashem is vital.
The difference between a living body or the opposite.
When a person does a Mitzvah they should be really excited about it, not excited to get it over with…
People, essentially, want 2 things, truth and life. Imagine the following scenario.
A person is offered that whatever he wishes for will be granted on the condition that he will be put into a coma state, and through injections, his fantasy life will be fulfilled. What would you answer such a proposition? Surely, no one wants such a thing.
People want life, real life, and truth, not make belief, but real truth. Chasidus brings life , Chayos, to Avodas Hashem, and of course it’s the completeness of truth, the truth in it‘s entirety. Torah Tmima, the complete Torah both Nigla, the revealed, and Nistar, the hidden.
Life can be difficult, with many things that require our attention. However its very important not to get confused, and materialize what the Rebbe, the Rebbeim, have entrusted us within our every day life.
Don’t lose focus!
Lets immerse ourselves completely into Torah as it is illuminated by it’s inner light, Chasidus and Darchey HaChasidus, the ways of Chasidus.
Hopefully today will be the auspicious day that the Rebbe will come out of this prison that is Galus together with all of us, and we will be set free in the complete redemption with the coming of Mashiach now.
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Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg is an admired and beloved educator who merited to be called a Lamdan, a diligent scholar, by the Rebbe. He is the Rosh Yeshivah of Hadar Hatorah and a Meshiv in Tomchey Tmimim in 770 where he answers questions on all Shas and Halacha.
Hadar Hatorah is the world’s first Baal Teshuvah Yeshivah (for Jewish men with little or no formal background in Jewish knowledge or practice) literally transforming thousands of lives since its founding in 1963.
It offers full time and part time curriculums as well as shorter learning retreats such as Yeshivah Shabbos and the ten day Yeshivacation, both in Brooklyn (winter) and their Catskill Mountains campgrounds(summer). Telephone (718) 735-0250 HadarHatorah.org
Rabbi Bentzion Elisha is an award winning photographer (ElishaArt.Com) and writer based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.