Water Bottles decorated for Yud-Tes Kislev at Shabbos House, as per the Zalman Levine empty vodka bottles story.

Water Bottles decorated for Yud-Tes Kislev at Shabbos House, as per the Zalman Levine empty vodka bottles story.

Disclaimer: The water bottles were just that, water bottles. This was an educational gimmick and is not in any way an endorsement of alcoholic beverages or of the specific brands with logos pictured above.

There was something a little different with the water bottles at Shabbos House this week (19th of Kislev, Nov 22nd 2013) as you can see in the picture above. It certainly got everyone’s attention and people were quite curious to hear the explanation below:

Yud-Tes (19th of) Kislev is an important Chassidic holiday. It celebrates the release of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, also known as the Alter Rebbe, from Czarist prison in 1789. More than personal freedom, this date represents the vindication and validation of Chassidism in its early years after the imprisonment which was seen as a referendum on the movement. To this day, all over the world, Chabad (and sometimes other Chassidic communities as well) gather on this day for a communal farbrengen (spirited inspiring Chassidic get-together).

Albany is no different. Every year there’s a farbrengen for Yud-Tes Kislev in the community. In my youth there was an elder of the community named Reb Zalman Levine. While he himself was not a Chabad Chassid, his father (known as “the Malach”) had deep roots in Chabad, and in fact named his son Schneur Zalman after the Alter Rebbe. Each year on Yud-Tes Kislev R’ Zalman Levine would tell this story from his father:

Once in some small town in Russia (I hear Craig M. grinning from Israel…) there was a year of drought, famine, whatever – there was no vodka. Not a drop. For Russians this is a huge issue, but especially as Yud-Tes Kislev approached. What is one to do on Yud-Tes Kislev with not a drop of vodka? How can one properly farbreng on this very auspicious day without a drop to drink? They were at a loss. So they decided to take the old empty vodka bottles (evidently college students are not the only ones to save such things) fill them with water and drink Lchaim that way. Indeed that is what they did, and lo and behold! Quite a few of the participants actually got drunk (or high)!

Our water bottles tonight reflect this story. Originally I thought of asking around for empty vodka bottles and filling them with water, but Raizy thought that was too risque. Applying vodka brand logos to our Saratoga water bottles was a better option for the same effect.

This story has an important message for us, whether we do drink actual vodka or not: Yes, alcohol does have certain chemical properties and enables us to shed inhibition etc. But true uplift is not from the contents of the bottle, it comes from what’s inside our hearts. The people we are sitting with, the thoughts we share, the songs we sing, the mood vibe and atmosphere also have the ability to help us get beyond ourselves, to open up to one another, to be inspired and introspective,  to feel the transformative uplift of a true farbrengen.

L’chaim! Happy Yud-Tes Kislev! And as is the traditional Chassidic wish for this day: “May you be inscribed for a good year in the study of Chassidus and the ways of Chassidus!” Guys, drink the water in moderation, with inspiration and uplift, love and yearning in your hearts.