By Rabbi Chaim Miller
2 of 2 (click here for Part 1)
Connection to Moshiach
farbrengen never ends. There is merely an interruption
between one farbrengen and the next, which is part of the
general interruption preceding the main farbrengen, when all
Jews will gather together with the coming of Moshiach. (Sichos
Kodesh 5738, 1:284; See also below f. iv)
Reason for drinking mashkeh
idea of drinking mashkeh per se is totally out of the
question. How could Chassidim drink mashkeh? Chassidus is an
intellectual movement; even one’s emotions are trained to be the
product of intellect. Then how did it evolve that Chassidim drink mashkeh?
primary focus of Chassidus is restraint from physical matters...and
especially mashkeh. The Kabbala warns that one has to
practice an additional degree of self-restraint with wine...and one
of the preparations that a person undergoes before learning Kabbala
is practicing self-restraint with wine. In fact, there were times
when people used to make Kiddush on bread to avoid drinking
drink mashkeh [not for its own sake, but] to serve a deeper
purpose – to ‘soak the skin.’ This is comparable to giving an
animal water to drink before it is slaughtered in order to make it
easier to strip its skin off afterwards. Chassidim drink mashkeh
to ‘soften the skin,’ so that the mashkeh will penetrate
the ‘skin’ which conceals the truth." (Likkutei Dibburim,
English edition, Vol. 5, p. 51ff)
mashkeh for its own sake is completely forbidden. But in
order to assist in Divine service, it is permissible." (Seifer
HaMaamarim 5687, p. 243)
further explanation is that an animal is given water to drink before
it is slaughtered to eliminate adhesions of the lung (sirkos ha’rei’a).
Spiritually speaking, these adhesions allude to the yetzer ha’ra,
which attempts to "seize-up" the healthy fluctuations of
holiness, which are characterized by breathing. Drinking mashkeh,
therefore, is a physical antidote against the yetzer ha’ra.
(See Hisvaaduyos 5742, 3:1,336)
Reduction of consumption of mashkeh among Chassidim in this
early as 5713 (1953) the Rebbe MH"M campaigned about reducing
the amount of mashkeh consumed at farbrengens. In a
letter (Igros Kodesh 7:58), the Rebbe explained that while in
former years Chassidim would drink large amounts of mashkeh,
this practice should be abolished for two reasons: a) Since so many
simple maamarim and sichos are now available, it is
possible to farbreng and inspire others without the need for mashkeh.
b) Our generation is one where the work of spreading Chassidus to
the farthest parts has become a priority, much more than in previous
times. The consumption of large amounts of mashkeh by
Chassidim is likely to hinder this work greatly and, therefore, must
that letter the Rebbe also cited an interesting reason why Chassidim
should reduce their intake of mashkeh. He explained that
later in life the Rebbe Rayatz reduced his intake of mashkeh.
Superficially, it would appear that he did so due to deteriorating
health, on the advice of doctors. But, writes the Rebbe MH"M,
"obviously this is a superficial explanation that would only be
acceptable to superficial people, and not to Lubavitcher Chassidim
who know that ‘Chassidus demands inwardness.’"
explains the Rebbe, this is a case where the "body" (i.e.,
Chassidim) must follow the "head" (i.e., the Rebbe) and
reduce their intake of mashkeh. In fact, the Rebbe Rayatz
would often declare that "Now I am as if I have taken a bit of mashkeh."
This is a lesson to us all that it is possible to achieve the
effects of mashkeh without indulgence.
Shabbos Parshas Shmini 5723, the Rebbe enacted a formal prohibition
against Chassidim drinking mashkeh excessively. The following
is an excerpt (free translation):
sicha of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, is well known, in which
he says that mashkeh is a disgusting substance... Based on
the saying of our Sages that "Until forty, eating is
beneficial," and only after that age, "drinking is
beneficial," I will direct everything that is said now
primarily to those still under forty (especially yeshiva
students who are still prior to marriage, since for yeshiva
students there are other reasons why they should avoid drinking mashkeh).
However, even those over forty should drink only a minimal amount of
At a wedding or a Chassidic farbrengen one may take no more
than three cups of mashkeh...and only small cups so that all
three together do not exceed a scant reviis (approximately
3.3 fl. oz.)."
Rebbe explained that this should not be detrimental to the spirit of
a Chassidic farbrengen, as it is known that Chassidim would farbreng
a whole winter night without drinking at all, and they would pour
their full glasses of mashkeh back into the bottle after the farbrengen.
5723 the Rebbe repeated his limit on mashkeh on numerous
occasions at farbrengens, virtually every year or two. [In
many texts the limit reads three or four small cups totaling no more
than a reviis.]
one instance, the Rebbe warned:
must have no more than four cups; not big cups, but of a normal
size, as is well known. Unfortunately there are yeshiva
students who think that since they because they are shpitz Chabad
(of pure Chassidic lineage) they have the right to do the opposite
of this directive! They take advantage of the fact that they learn
in a Lubavitch yeshiva, and do something that is the very
opposite of what the Rebbe has demanded. How do they expect that
this will enhance their understanding of Chassidus, etc., when they
know that this is a flagrant contradiction to what the Rebbe wants?
Rather then helping their Divine service, the effects are to the
contrary. This practice does not lead to the desired effects of mashkeh,
in which one overcomes the crass qualities of the body, but to the
contrary, it strengthens the coarse physicality of the body." (Hisvaduyos
someone witnessed another indulge in mashkeh and felt unable
to stop the individual. So he wrote to the Rebbe to inform him of
the situation. The Rebbe replied publicly (ibid.) that "if he
was unable to do anything at the time, then G-d would not have put
him in that position. But since by Divine providence he witnessed
it, it is a sign that his job is to guide that student on the right
path. Merely sending a letter is not enough!"
should say l’chayim, but on soda or other soft drinks. (See
Sichos Kodesh 5739 3:44)
Connection between mashkeh and Moshiach
The reduction in drinking mashkeh is connected with the
current period being the very end, and hence the spiritually darkest
part of the exile. In such a time, excessive mashkeh is
likely to promote, rather than subdue, a person’s physical drive.
(Igros Kodesh 16:82)
On a regular basis, the Rebbe MH"M had distributed bottles of mashkeh
to various individuals and groups as a form of personal
participation in their farbrengen.
The Alter Rebbe once described the days of Moshiach as yom she’kulo
mashkeh ("the time that will be entirely filled with mashkeh").
This expression was publicized only in the times of the Rebbe
Maharash and has been cited extensively by the Rebbe MH"M at farbrengens.
(See Hemshech 5637, ch. 46; Likkutei Sichos 26:391)
Farbrengens of the Rebbe shlita
the years of his leadership, the Rebbe’s primary medium of
teaching has been the farbrengen, the Chassidic gathering,
lasting as long as seven hours, in which he delivers his talks and
discourses to thousands of Chassidim and other participants from all
walks of life. The farbrengen consists of sichos*
(talks), each lasting an hour or more, interposed by several minutes
of song, dance, and l’chaim. A farbrengen with the
Rebbe is an experience that defies description: only one who has
participated in a farbrengen can envision the hours and hours
of flowing wisdom bracketed by soul-transporting wellings of
a typical farbrengen, the Rebbe might begin with a discussion
on the nature of the day in context of the several cycles of the
Jewish calendar (the day of the week, the weekly Torah reading, the
day of the month, an approaching or receding festival), weaving a
tapestry of significance out of the various currents of time that
have converged to form the unique time-junction occupied by the day
of the farbrengen. In his next talk, the Rebbe might follow
with a profound commentary on a discourse of Chassidic teaching
penned by one of his predecessors. In subsequent sichos he
might examine a debate in the Talmud, exploring it first with ‘conventional’
tools of talmudic logic and moving on to uncover its inner Chassidic
dimension, and then do the same with a section of Rashi’s
commentary on the Bible, a saying of the Ethics, a halachic
nuance in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and a mystifying
allegory in the Zohar. The farbrengen might also
include an analysis of some historical event, a quirk of human
nature, a scientific discovery and a recent news story. But no
matter the topic of his talk, the Rebbe always returns to his
trademark "bottom line": how is all this to be concretely
applied to our daily lives? And no farbrengen ends without
the Rebbe issuing directives to his Chassidim, directives regarding
our personal development and our responsibilities toward our fellow
Rebbe conducts farbrengens several times a month: on Shabbos
afternoon, at the conclusion of the festivals, on special dates of
the Jewish and Chassidic calendar. After each farbrengen, a
select group of Chassidim, known as chozrim
("reviewers"), review and transcribe the Rebbe’s talks.
This is an especially demanding task, since most of the farbrengens
take place on Shabbos or a festival when Torah law prohibits the use
of electronic recording devices; this means that the chozrim
must literally memorize the entire farbrengen.
recent years, the dissemination of the Rebbe’s talks has been much
enhanced by the communications technology explosion... Within
twenty-four hours of the farbrengen, a transcript is
prepared, faxed to dozens of cities, re-faxed and reproduced in
thousands of copies, and read by tens of thousands across the globe.
Meanwhile, the senior chozrim are preparing a comprehensive
treatment of the farbrengen for submission to the Rebbe, who
devotes many hours to editing them. Within a week, an official
edited and annotated version is ready for publication and electronic
from the introduction to Beyond the Letter of the Law, by Yanki
Tauber. Published by Vaad Hanachos HaTmimim 1995; for a more lengthy
description see Despite all Odds by Edward Hoffman, published by
Simon Shuster, ch. 1)
vast majority of the Rebbe’s farbrengens have been
published as unedited transcripts by a host of different individuals
and organizations. 50 volumes of Sichos Kodesh span virtually
all the farbrengens of the years 5710-5741 (1950-1981),
written in Yiddish. The volumes contain mimeographs of the
transcripts that were released at the time, after each farbrengen,
which were collected together and published between the years
5745-7. In this series, many transcripts were published for the
first time from handwritten manuscripts that were typed-up by yeshiva
students. The series does not bear the name of a publisher. The
series is currently being re-typeset and republished with
annotations by the Project Sichos Kodesh of the Chabad World Center
to Greet Moshiach.
5742 (1982) similar transcripts also appeared in Hebrew translation,
which were collected into published volumes, complete with indices
(from 5743 onwards) by the Vaad Hanachos b’Lashon HaKodesh ("Lahak").
The series was published under the name Seifer Hisvaaduyos,
and totals over forty volumes (approximately four per year).
only a fraction of the above transcripts were edited by the Rebbe
himself, they were not released bearing the Kehos emblem, which
signifies that a book was produced from an official Lubavitch
5747 (1987) onwards the Rebbe was editing a compacted transcript
containing the key parts of the farbrengen, with annotations,
on a weekly basis. (Many such transcripts appeared also the year
before and periodically in previous years.) These edited farbrengens
were published in the series Seifer HaSichos, (12 volumes) by
the Vaad l’Hafotzas Sichos (publishers of the better known Likkutei
Sichos) bearing the Kehos stamp. These compacted transcripts
were also included in the Hisvaaduyos series of those years,
together with parts of the farbrengens that were omitted from
the edited transcript. The periodic, edited transcripts from earlier
years were included in the series of Likkutei Sichos as
supplements at the end of each volume.
in the late 1970’s a compacted, simplified version of the each farbrengen
was prepared on a regular basis in English by Sichos in English.
This continued until the farbrengens were suspended due to
the Rebbe’s ill health in the year 5752. These transcripts were
collected and published periodically in a total of 51 volumes.
maamarim (formal Chassidic discourses) which were said at the
farbrengens are published in a variety of places. Initially
they were released as unedited transcripts after each farbrengen.
Most of these transcripts were gathered in a series entitled Seifer
HaMaamarim (9 volumes), published by Vaad Kisvei Kodesh, without
the Kehos stamp. During the ‘80’s, the maamarim were also
published by Vaad Hanachos HaTmimim and Lahak.
5747 onwards the Rebbe suspended the delivery of maamarim,
and from this time onwards transcripts of maamarim of earlier
years were prepared for publication, edited by the Rebbe and
released on festivals and dates on the Chassidic calendar. These
transcripts were published by Vaad l’Hafotzas HaSichos in the
series Seifer HaMaamarim Meluket (6. volumes – the first
volume consisting of occasional transcripts edited prior to 5747).
They bear the Kehos stamp.
series of Likkutei Sichos (39 volumes), published by Vaad l’Hafotsas
Sichos, is a collection of scholarly essays that were published on a
weekly basis for over twenty years. These essays were constructed
from sichos said at earlier farbrengens, often many years
previously. At the time of publication many annotations were added,
the text was re-written, and on many occasions much additional
material was provided by the Rebbe in written form to the
publishers. Thus, this series represents a highly professional
articulation of the Rebbe’s Torah thought in a more developed
format than what was said at the farbrengens. (See entry: Likkutei
entries: Niggun, Sichos, Maamarim, Likkutei Sichos