Encyclopedia Chabad
By Rabbi Chaim Miller


Farbrengen (Chassidic gathering)

Part 2 of 2 (click here for Part 1)

e) Connection to Moshiach

A 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)

f) Mashkeh (spirits)

i) Reason for drinking mashkeh

"The 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?

The 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 wine.

"We 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)

"Drinking mashkeh for its own sake is completely forbidden. But in order to assist in Divine service, it is permissible." (Seifer HaMaamarim 5687, p. 243)

A 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)

ii) Reduction of consumption of mashkeh among Chassidim in this generation

As 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 be stopped.

In 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.’"

Rather, 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.

On Shabbos Parshas Shmini 5723, the Rebbe enacted a formal prohibition against Chassidim drinking mashkeh excessively. The following is an excerpt (free translation):

"The 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 mashkeh.

"... 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.)."

The 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.

Since 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.]

In one instance, the Rebbe warned:

"One 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 5744, 3:2122)

Once, 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!"

iii) Children

Children should say l’chayim, but on soda or other soft drinks. (See Sichos Kodesh 5739 3:44)

iv) Connection between mashkeh and Moshiach

n 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)

n 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.

n 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)

g) Farbrengens of the Rebbe shlita

i) Brief description

"Throughout 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 Chassidic joy.

"At 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 man.

"The 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.

"In 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 media distribution."

(Excerpted 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)

ii) Published transcripts

The 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.

From 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).

Since 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 publishing house.

From 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.

Beginning 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.

The 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.

From 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.

The 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 Sichos)

See entries: Niggun, Sichos, Maamarim, Likkutei Sichos







"The idea of drinking mashkeh is totally out of the question. How could Chassidim drink mashkeh?"






The Alter Rebbe once described the days of Moshiach as yom she’kulo mashkeh, the time that will be entirely filled with mashkeh.


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