ALTHOUGH SUKKOT IS FILLED WITH MANY MITZVOT, OR BIBLICAL COMMANDMENTS, THERE IS AN ASPECT OF THE HOLIDAY THAT ALTHOUGH ONLY A CUSTOM, CAN REDIRECT A PERSON FOR THE GOOD, BOTH IN THE YEAR AHEAD, AS WELL AS FOR ONE’S LIFETIME.
By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus
There is a Chassidic custom to “Farbreng in a Sukkah.” Farbreng is a Yiddish word, short for Farbrengen, which means a gathering, to get together with friends, family, mentors and guests, in the spirit of the Chassidim of years ago, and celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, with a L’Chaim, Chassidic songs and stories, and perhaps a new path in one’s service to Hashem, that brings a new dimension of life and light in one’s personal growth in Torah and Yiddishkeit.
Although Farbrengens are held throughout the year, there is something special we remember from our youth, and from stories passed down from one generation to the next, that makes a Farbrengen in the Sukkah uniquely uplifting and inspiring.
On Sukkot, a Farbrengen takes on a whole new meaning and dimension.
There is a well known saying that in general, a Chassidic Farbrengen can accomplish even more than the angel Michoel can accomplish. The power of Jews getting together, in a spirit of true Ahavat Yisrael and brotherhood, toasting one another with blessings for everything good in one’s physical and material wellbeing, and connecting the blessings to food and drink, indeed impacts positively all participants with tangible blessings, beyond anything one can expect from the loftiest angels. Although holy and pure, the angel lacks the “tangible part of G-d” found in every Jew. The angel also lacks the ability of drawing down the blessings in the most physical channels, something earmarked and reserved for the Jewish people, most specifically at a Chassidic Farbrengen.
The above holds true all year long. But on Sukkot, a Farbrengen takes on a whole new meaning and dimension. First of all, in a Sukkah we are in the company of the Ushpizin, the traditional holy guests, beginning with our forefathers who join us each night in the Sukkah. In later years, it was revealed that accompanying the “traditional” Ushpizin are the “Chassidic Ushpizin”, the holy Chassidic Masters, beginning with the Baal Shem Tov, who join us each night (and day) in the Sukkah. A Farbrengen in such esteemed company surely elevates one’s heart, mind, and character to lofty heights unparalleled to anything one experiences throughout the year, and add to this experience the knowledge. I witnessed this as a child, how elderly Chassidim would Farbreng straight through the night until it was time to fulfill the Mitzvah of the Lulav and Etrog. Hours on end they would rouse the souls of those who were present, to refine their conduct, climb the ladder of Divine Service; and being that it was Sukkot, vivified the meaning of Zman Simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing, by showing the younger generation what true joy—Simcha—is all about.
Many years ago, my father of blessed memory, told me about a Farbrengen he participated in with the Rebbe, in the early 1950’s, that really brings to life the far reaching and everlasting impact of a Farbrengen in a Sukkah.
It was raining cats and dogs that Sukkot day in Brooklyn. The Chassidim gathered in the large Sukkah of “770” [Chabad headquarters], wearing their coats to protect themselves somewhat from the rain. At 1:30 PM, prompt as always, the Rebbe entered the Sukkah to Farbreng. As soon as the Rebbe approached his seat, he flung off his coat, and draped it on the side of his chair. You see, in a Sukkah one does everything one does in one’s house. One does not sit in one’s house with a coat. Neither would the Rebbe sit in a Sukkah with a coat. The Farbrengen lasted for a couple of hours, as did the rain, pouring rain!
At one point the Rebbe spoke about a man who comes home from a hard day’s work. He takes off his shoes, puts on his slippers and relaxes on his recliner with a hot tea and the afternoon newspaper. Rain keeps pouring on the Rebbe and on all the Chassidim. The Rebbe seems oblivious to the rain. It’s a Farbrengen, in a Sukkah no less. The Rebbe continues, “Doesn’t this man, who worked so hard all day, deserve to stretch out in comfort with his slippers, his tea, his afternoon paper and his comfortable chair? Is there any reason why he shouldn’t enjoy these quiet moments before his wife serves him supper?” The rain continues. The Rebbe continues, again oblivious to the rain, “If there is a young boy or girl on this man’s block who does not yet know how to say the Bracha Shehakol Nihiyo Bidvoro (that everything comes into being by G-d’s word) on a candy, then this man has no right to relax. He must, before putting on his slippers, etc., seek out the boy or the girl and teach them how to make the blessing Shehakol on a candy.” The Rebbe quotes one or two passages from the Tanach to back up his appeal. At this point, even the Chassidim are oblivious to the rain. All they can think about is this incredible Farbrengen in the Sukkah they are experiencing. It’s a Farbrengen that impacts all who were gathered in the Sukkah that day, positively and profoundly for the rest of their lives. L’Chaim! a