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All through the Russian winter, the beit midrash (study hall and synagogue) in the town of Dokshitz was a warm and merry place—most visibly so on Saturday nights. On those occasions, a samovar of pannes—a hot drink made with boiling water, vodka and sugar—was set up, and everyone warmed their bones. Following this, the renowned chassidic scholar Rabbi Aharon of Dokshitz, affectionally known as “Reb Areh,” would teach a class in Chassidus, the philosphical-mystical teachings of the chassidic masters.

Once a year, Reb Areh would travel to Lubavitch to the rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (1834–1882). On the Saturday nights following his return, the weekly Chassidus/pannes ritual would swing into high gear: an extra-large batch of pannes was concocted, and Reb Areh, fresh from a month of spiritual refueling in Lubavitch, would review the teachings which he had heard from the rebbe during his stay.

Once, when Reb Areh was in Lubavitch, the rebbe said to him: “I hear that in Dokshitz they study Chassidus with pannes. Tell me, what connection is there between the teachings of Chassidism and a samovar of panes . . . ?!”

So, when Reb Areh came home, he informed his fellow Dokshitzers that henceforth the after-Shabbat session would be a Chassidus-only affair.

On the following week, the crowd of participants was perceptibly smaller, and it continued to dwindle throughout the winter. When Reb Areh was back in Lubavitch a year later, and the rebbe asked, “What’s doing in Dokshitz?” he was forced to report that the Chassidus class now attracted a fraction of the crowed it had pulled back in its “drink and learn” days.

Nu,” said the rebbe, “so bring back the pannes. As long as they study Chassidus . . .”

Told by the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Once Upon A Chassid (Kehot, 1994).
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