It was late in November, 1974. Outside of 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad headquarters crowds milled about, buzzing with casual conversation after the completion of the morning service, The synagogue attendant arose to make the usual announcements. The congregation at 770 waited perfunctorily, already expecting what to hear.
According to system, the attendant would look to the Rebbe while making the announcements. If the Rebbe walked away before the time for mincha, the afternoon prayer, was announced, it was understood that a farbrengen would take place, with mincha following afterward. If the Rebbe remained in his place, there would be no farbrengen that afternoon and the usual time for mincha would be announced.
Although many years earlier the Rebbe had farbrenged frequently, the gatherings eventually dwindled to either a Shabbos before the New Moon (Shabbos Mevarchim) or a special Shabbos on the Jewish or Chabad calendar. That particular year, 5735, the Rebbe had farbrenged more often than usual, which was why the Chassidim assumed a farbrengen would take place—especially since this Shabbos was 9 Kislev, both the birthday and yahrzeit of the Mitteler (Second) Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the following Sunday marked the commemoration of his release from prison.
The attendant, too, was certain. He began making his usual announcements—mitzvah tanks that would go out Sunday to Manhattan—expecting the Rebbe to walk away from his place, the signal to announce that day’s farbrengen at 1:30. But instead the Rebbe remained in his place.
The attendant, still certain of a farbrengen, continued making announcements. He urged people to participate in all the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns, mentioning those the Rebbe had initiated over the years. But after he had drawn out saying anything he could, he saw the Rebbe still standing there.
The hint was clear: the Rebbe was not going to farbreng. The attendant gave one final look, then announced, “Mincha at four.” The Chassidim groaned in disappointment. Quietly the Rebbe left and went up to his room, followed by his secretary Rabbi Mordechai Hodakov.
Groups of students gathered around, trying to find the reason why they didn’t merit a farbrengen on that special Shabbos. Perhaps the Rebbe wanted to announce a new mitzvah, which he would save for the farbrengen that would surely take place the next day and could be broadcast the world over.
At the same time the Chassidim were leaving 770, the morning service ended in the Franklin shul on the edge of Crown Heights. As Kiddush was being prepared, a young and somewhat different-looking boy sat excitedly at the head of the table. It was his bar mitzvah, the day he was “now a man” and would be religiously responsible. Around him adults chatted about the farbrengen that day for 9 Kislev, urging everyone to finish before 1:00 so they could walk over to 770.
As guests hurried past the boy and wished him mazel tov, the boy nodded and smiled back, yet sighed, resigned to a short ceremony. This significant event in his life would be finished in less than an hour.
Just then a neighbor who prayed at 770 walked in. “Sorry, folks, no farbrengen today.”
The Franklin congregants were both shocked and disappointed. Nevertheless, now free of any rush, they raised their glasses in toast to the boy, and the Kiddush turned into a mini-farbrengen that lasted almost until mincha.The bar mitzvah boy was delighted.
Sunday, 10 Kislev
As usual, the Rebbe went the Ohel that morning. The Chassidim eagerly awaited his return. Naturally the Rebbe would go to his office for the afternoon prayer, then speak to Rabbi Chodakov about a farbrengen.
To their dismay, the Rebbe returned in the late afternoon and went straight to the afternoon service. He left his office afterward without a word to Rabbi Chadakov.
It was clear: no farbrengen that day, either.
Rabbi Nachman Yosef Twersky, a young student at the time, just knew there had to be a reason behind all this. He managed to contact someone “in the know,” who related the most wondrous story.
It began a few months earlier. The mother of a boy in a Chabad school in New York sent the Rebbe a letter complaining about her son who, because of his unusual appearance, was being teased mercilessly by his classmates.
The Rebbe advised the woman to speak to the principal, who would certainly intervene. A few weeks later, the woman wrote back. Apparently the principal did little and the teasing continued.
The Rebbe called for Rabbi Chadokov. He asked his secretary to contact the school and ask, on the Rebbe’s behalf, why this painful situation had not been corrected.
“What are they waiting for?” the Rebbe demanded. “That I myself visit the school and handle this?”
Rabbi Chodakov phoned the school. After hearing the Rebbe’s instructions, the principal immediately took action, and the bullying stopped.
That Shabbos, 9 Kislev, after the Rebbe finished mincha and went to his room, he again summoned Rabbi Chodakov and explained that the boy’s bar mitzvah was taking place that Shabbos afternoon.
“The boy must not feel cheated that his farbrengen ended earlier than usual because of mine,” the Rebbe insisted. It was for this reason that the Rebbe chose not to farbreng.
The next day, continued the Rebbe, would be the boy’s bar mitzvah celebration. Had the Rebbe conducted his usual farbrengen, the hasty departure of so many guests would ruin the boy’s celebration.
So on 10 Kislev 5735, there was no farbrengen either.
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