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!"

Adar 5772 - March 2012

Rabbi Cohen

Rabbi Binyomin Cohen is Rosh Yeshivah (dean) at the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand. At a recent Farbrengen at the Rabbinical College, in honour of his birthday, Rabbi Cohen shared the following words of inspiration: 

I recently heard a story about the well-known Mashpia (Chassidic mentor), Reb Mendel Futerfas. I cannot vouch for the details of the story, as I did not hear it first-hand, but there is certainly a lesson to be had:

The hour was already late, but the Chassidim showed no signs of fatigue as they gathered around Reb Mendel Futerfas, who was reminiscing about a treacherous journey that he once took on his way to assist an underground Yeshivah in the city of Kharkov.

"I gripped the bars attached to the exterior of the railway car, struggling with all my strength against the wind, as the train made its way down the steep slope. Most of the travellers were safely and comfortably ensconced in the warm train compartments, but I travelled outdoors, on a small bridge connecting two of the train coaches. The bitter cold bit into me as the wind fiercely whistled its way past me. But I had little choice. Anti-Semitic drunks were a common feature of the Russian railway scene, and throwing Jews off fast-moving trains was a favourite pastime of theirs. With my conspicuous beard and Peyos (sideburns), I would have made an easy target for them. My only option was to try and keep a low profile, huddling between the railway cars, as the train steadily journeyed towards the city of Kharkov.”

“Suddenly, as the train rounded a curve, I noticed another traveller up ahead. He was an obviously religious Jew, and he was travelling between the railway cars, like me. There were just three or four coaches separating us, and I was glad to rid myself of my loneliness and spend the rest of the journey with him. I started making my way forward, and soon enough found myself face to face with one of the foremost Roshei-Yeshivah of the time. As we began conversing, it emerged that he was travelling on a similar mission; he was also looking to establish an underground Yeshivah in Kharkov”.

At this point of the narrative, Reb Mendel interjected, “"You see, Kinderlach (children), the Mesiras-Nefesh (self-sacrifice) of the Rosh Yeshivah!”

Reb Mendel paused, his eyes spanning the crowd. He waited expectantly, as if anticipating a question. It wasn’t long in coming. “But,” exclaimed one of the audience, “If the Rosh Yeshivah exhibited Mesiras Nefesh by making this journey, then surely, so did you.”

“No!” responded Reb Mendel with twinkling eyes, “My journey was not an act of self-sacrifice. For, as you know, I am a Chossid. And a Chossid’s raison d'être is to advance the cause of Yiddishkeit! The self of a Chossid exists solely for Torah and Mitzvos. For me, travelling in dangerous conditions to establish a Yeshivah was no self-sacrifice; it was the very purpose for which I exist! Dos bin Ich! (This is who I am!)”

Fast forward several decades. By now, Reb Mendel had finally escaped Soviet Russia, after having served some seventeen years in Siberian prison camps, for the “crime” of spreading Jewish observance. Reb Mendel lived in London for some time, where I came to know him.

We were once learning together, when in walked a Bochur who excitedly launched into the details of his most recent Peulah (activity), which required him to walk from North London to the East End of London. The walk was about an hour each way, and the Bochur was very proud of the personal effort he expended for the sake of Jewish outreach.

Reb Mendel, not wishing to discourage the Bochur, listened in respectful silence. However, after the Bochur left the room, he turned to me and quietly said, “When we were in Russia, we spent three hours every Shabbos morning walking to the Mikvah, and another three hours returning. We reviewed Chassidic discourses the entire way, and spent the next couple of hours Davening. And we didn’t think much of our efforts. After all, this is who we are; it is for this purpose that we exist!” 

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