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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!"

Adar 5773 - March 2012

Rabbi Mutty Fogelman is the Executive Director of the Chabad Terror Victims Project which aids and assists victims of terror and war in Israel. At a recent Farbrengen at Yeshivah Gedolah, Rabbi Fogelman shared an incident involving his father, which took place in the “early years” of the Rebbe’s leadership.

In 1945, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe appointed Rabbi Hershel Fogelman to head Chabad’s Hebrew Day School in Worcester, Massachusetts. At the time, Worcester boasted a large Jewish community, and the Hebrew Day School quickly became an integral part of the Jewish community.

Several years later (in 1952 or 1953), a number of prominent Jewish community figures challenged Chabad’s presence in Worcester, and Rabbi Fogelman turned to the Rebbe for advice on how to cope with the adversity. He presented the problem to the Rebbe at a Yechidus (private audience), and the Rebbe responded with a story.

“Reb Yonasan Eybeshitz (1690-1764), renowned for his brilliance and wit, became a close friend and confidant of the king. As has happened repeatedly throughout Jewish history, this close friendship was a thorn in the eyes of the other ministers, who could not stand the presence of a Jew in the king’s court. They began scheming for ways to discredit Reb Yonasan, without being overtly anti-Semitic. 

“In those times, a favourite sport of the aristocracy was the cockfight (a blood sport between roosters who fight to the death in a ring called a cockpit). In the weeks and months prior, each minister would select a rooster of the fiercest breed, and provide it the best of care, whilst at the same time conditioning it for increased stamina and strength. Wagers were made on the outcome of the match, and the owner of the last rooster left standing was the declared winner.

“The ministers decided to complain to the king that Reb Yonasan was aloof and haughty; far from the kind of team-player that makes a good minister in the court of the king. Their “proof” was the fact that Reb Yonasan did not participate in their regular cockfights. (Cockfights and similar such sports are frowned upon by Jewish Law). The king acquiesced to their demands, and instructed Reb Yonasan to participate in the next ministerial cockfight.

“All of the ministers eagerly began prepping and fattening up their roosters. The day of the cockfight arrived soon enough, with a lot of angry long-clawed combatants placed in the ring. Reb Yonasan arrived with a thin and scrawny chicken, and gently placed it in the ring. The chicken took one look at the other ferocious roosters in the ring, and made a quick dash for cover. The other roosters began ripping each other apart, and they fell one by one. At the end, Reb Yonasan’s chicken hesitantly peered out of its hiding place and gingerly stepped out. The ministers had no choice but to declare Reb Yonasan the winner – his chicken was the last one left standing.

The Rebbe’s message was clear. Community politics must be avoided at all costs, even when antagonists overstep their bounds. Instead, one must focus one’s energies on the good that needs to be achieved, and any adversity will eventually die out.

Rabbi Fogelman returned home and heeded the Rebbe’s advice. He completely disengaged himself from the controversy swirling in Worcester, thereby retaining his integrity and credibility. 

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