My father, Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, shared this memory of his youth in Montreal.
Reb Peretz Mochkin was the Mashpiya, the Chassidic mentor of the Chabad community of Montreal. He was a beloved, wise Chassid, steeped both in the richest Chassidic traditions as well as a warm understanding of others. My father has very fond memories of him, but this story is about one particular farbrengen, a specific message, on a Passover of my father’s youth. He was younger than the yeshiva students but that didn’t keep him from the farbrengens, which he attended along with his father, himself a celebrated unique Chassid, Reb Moshe Rubin and his childhood friends, Gerlitsky and Nelkin.
That Pesach Reb Peretz farbrengened about a Chassidic melody found in the Passover prayers for dew (Tefilas Tal). We ask G-d: “B’Mashmaneinu Al Yehi Razon” which can translate to something like: in our fat let there be no scrawny; in our fullness, in our richness, let there be no scarcity or poverty. This prayer is generally understood to be a prayer for sustenance, for livelihood, for physical needs, for standard of living.
But that’s not what it meant to Reb Peretz! He described beautifully to the Yeshiva boys how their years in Yeshiva are the “fat” of their lives. These are their richest spiritual years, before the responsibilities of adulting and pressures of family and working life kick in. He shared with them how this Passover prayer, this Chassidic melody, beseeches G-d that we should always merit to savor the richness of spirituality, even in the pressures and challenges of our working years, the Yeshiva riches should continue to sustain and enrich us, always meaningfully rich and not weak or scrawny. He spoke about building in added riches during these yeshiva years to have it for the years to come, as Joseph advised Pharaoh to build up a reservoir from the years of plenty for the years of need. From the fat cows to the skinny cows.
In those years the Lubavitch Yeshiva of Montreal was down on Park Avenue, in the old Jewish neighborhood. On Shabbat and holidays, the synagogue and communal activity would be on the first floor, and the second floor classrooms wouldn’t be in use, they were dark without electricity, but daylight would come through the windows. In good ol’ Chabad tradition, quite a few of the older Yeshiva students would spend hours in prayer on Shabbat, taking the time to personally reflect, dig deeper and reach higher. Some of them would leave the downstairs synagogue after the communal prayer and continue their own prayers upstairs, in the privacy of those semi-dark classrooms. My Zeide Moshe, my father’s father would spend a long time in prayer (on a regular basis, a trademark of his) so my father had time on his hands, and sometimes roamed the building.
Passover is in the Spring. Months later, in Elul-time, in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah in the Fall, my father was peeking into the empty upstairs classrooms to get a glimpse of the private devotions of the elder Yeshiva students. Something hit him… in a few of the classrooms he heard the same melody being hummed. It was that same Passover melody that Reb Peretz fabrengened about a half-year earlier, that each of these boys, each in their own space, hummed into and within their prayers. It remained on their minds and in their hearts. They internalized it, and made it their own.
You can hear the tune of the Chassidic melody here, it is called “Tal Yasis” or “Bimashmaneinu”here with the words and vocals https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/140709/jewish/Tal-Yaasis.htm or here as an instrumental: https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/861993/jewish/9-Tal-Yasis.htm
Such can be the power and lasting personal impact of a truly meaningful farbrengen.