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A Farbrengen is a Chassidic gathering in which the participants inspire each other to lead an exemplary Jewish life. In the spirit of true Ahavas Yisroel (love for one’s fellow Jew), the participants encourage each other to study Torah diligently, to fulfil Mitzvos in the best possible manner, to improve one’s character-traits, and to spread Judaism to others. These messages are all shared through a unique blend of Torah explanations, stories and Chassidic melodies; at times poignant and at times exuberant. No wonder that "What a Hasidic farbrengen can achieve, even the angel Michoel cannot achieve!"

Iyar 5771 - May 2011

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Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael is a well-known teacher and author, most famous for his monumental Hebrew translation and commentary on the Talmud. At a recent Farbrengen in Melbourne, attended by many Yeshivah Gedolah students, Rabbi Steinsaltz shared the following:

Serfdom was very much the lot of the European Jew during the late middle ages and the early modern era. Many a Jew found himself at the mercies of his local Poretz (lord of the manor), and in turn, many a Poretz took pride in the resourcefulness of his local Jew, whom he tended to call Mosh’ke.

A certain Poretz once demanded that “his” Mosh’ke appear before him. Mosh’ke duly arrived, and the local Poretz related that he had gotten into a dispute with the neighbouring Poretz regarding whose Mosh’ke was more talented. In the heat of the moment, the local Poretz bet that his Mosh’ke was capable of teaching a bear how to daven (pray). The local Poretz informed Mosh’ke that he therefore had only four months to obtain a bear and teach it to daven, and if not, he would pay the price for causing the local Poretz to lose his bet.

Poor Mosh’ke knew better than to argue. He valued his life too much. So he set out for the forest, in order to find a “suitable candidate”. After several days, Mosh’ke came across a bear cub, hungry as can be, with no mother in sight. Mosh’ke immediately put out some honey, and watched from the side as the young bear cub lapped it up. He repeated the process for several days, until the bear was tame enough to allow Mosh’ke to handle it. Before long, Mosh’ke brought the cub home, and locked it in a cage. He gradually coached the bear to stand on its hind legs and shockel (sway in a prayerful way). He then trained it to hold a Siddur (prayer book) and turn the pages from right to left, whilst shockeling. To complete the look, he taught the bear to grunt and growl rhythmically, in sync with the shockeling and page turning.

Soon enough, the four months was over. Mosh’ke appeared before the local Poretz and proudly announced that he had completed his mission successfully. The local Poretz immediately sent word, but the neighbouring Poretz did not want to believe that the bear had actually been taught to daven. Mosh’ke was instructed to bring the bear to the neighbouring Poretz, in order to show him firsthand.

Mosh’ke dutifully arrived with the bear, and when he gave the sign, the bear began to shockel and growl, whilst looking at the pages and turning them. The neighbouring Poretz scoffed at the spectacle and protested, “You haven’t taught him to pray like you do in your synagogue! You have merely taught him to sway and growl and to turn some pages! Does the bear really know and care about what it is saying?”

By now, Mosh’ke was more than exasperated. He turned to the Poretz and exclaimed, “Your Excellency, with all due respect, but what do you actually think WE do when we go to the synagogue to pray?”

The lesson: Jewish observance requires a lot of action and deeds. But we must ask ourselves whether we are just going through the motions, or we actually mean what we do. Are we really praying, or are we just swaying and growling and turning some pages?

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