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Are you a “Farginner”?

Are you a “Farginner”?

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A man once asked the Rebbe for a blessing for healthy children—but then forgot to notify the Rebbe when indeed his children were born.

The Rebbe said to him, "When you suffered, I suffered with you. Why don't you allow me rejoice with you as well?"


There is a Yiddish word which, to the best of my knowledge, has no precise English translation. The word is fargin. It translates loosely as "rejoicing in another's joy." A practitioner of farginning is a farginner.

For whatever reason, people generally find it easier to commiserate with others when they suffer loss, than to rejoice with them in their good fortune. (Might that explain the absence of this word in the English lexicon?)

That means that most people would rather visit a mourning friend, than attend a function honoring him.

In fact, rather than feel happy for others, when faced with their successes it is natural to feel envious and even resentful.1

Farginning is a unique talent – yes, a talent or a gift – which demonstrates a profound and abundant spirit of goodness.

Aaron

Aaron was about to be sidelined by his younger brotherIt is fascinating to note that of all the worthy qualities that Aaron possessed, and there were many, the Torah chose to introduce him as a farginner.

It was at the end of a week-long negotiation session2 between G‑d and Moses. G‑d was urging Moses to accept the leadership position He was offering. Moses didn't want to hear of it.

"Moses' reluctance was because he did not want to assume 'superiority' over Aaron his brother, for Aaron was both older than Moses and a prophet."3

Indeed, in the words of Moses, "Until I took his place, Aaron served as the Israelite prophet for eighty years!"4

Moses' reservations were quite justified.

Just imagine being a leader of an entire people, in addition to being G‑d's communicator, for nearly a century, then having to step down abruptly—to be replaced by your younger brother, no less!

Anyone else would have been doubly devastated, barely coming to terms with the change and replacement, let alone rejoicing in it.

Not Aaron.

Said G‑d to Moses: "Behold, Aaron is going out to greet you and he will see you and he will rejoice in his heart…"5 "It is not as you think, Moses, that he will resent you because you are ascending to greatness…"6

The later narrative demonstrated the truth of these words, completing the lovely portrait of Aaron drawn by G‑d: "Aaron went [to the wilderness] and encountered Moses at the mountain of G‑d, and he kissed him."7

The Torah doesn't usually record family affections and sentiments. But this was no average show of love.

This telltale kiss of brothers took its historic place alongside others of its kind, like Esau's reconciliatory kiss of Jacob8 and later on Joseph's kisses of forgiveness to his brothers.9 Each of them was so meaningful.

In Aaron's scenario it was one step beyond; remember the context: Aaron was about to be sidelined by his younger brother, to live out the rest of his life in Moses' shadow, relegated to second place.

This was the kiss of a farginner.

This exquisite act does not go unnoticed by the Midrash, which comments: "It was due to Aaron's heartfelt rejoicing that he merited to wear the sacred choshen, the high priest's breastplate, which is placed over the heart."10

Good News

A young man's audience with the Rebbe was nearing its end, when the Rebbe concluded: "May G‑d bless you with good news to share the next time you visit. That would make me so happy. For I derive deep pleasure, and my spirit is lifted, when I hear that you or others are doing well and have been blessed with success…"

To another, the Rebbe wrote:

"…On so many occasions I have asked that people write to me about the good news in their lives. In this way they would be fulfilling the mitzvah of 'Love your fellow like yourself' for that would be the greatest act of kindness they could do for me…"

Not to be cynical, but the opposite is true concerning many people. In their case, the mitzvah of "love your fellow" is best fulfilled by not sharing with them the good fortune of others...

A Mighty Heart

Much more than "just" farginning, the following stories demonstrate that the Rebbe's physical health and wellbeing was connected to, and even depended on, the joy of others.

The Rebbe's physical health and wellbeing was connected to, and even depended on, the joy of othersIn 1968, a chassid suffered a heart attack. He received a blessing from the Rebbe and recovered. After his recovery he went into yechidut, a private audience, with the Rebbe. He was still weak and meant to ask the Rebbe for a blessing for good health. His thoughts were confused and instead he asked "that the Rebbe should be healthy." The Rebbe answered, "if I will hear good news about your health, I will be healthy."

How true these words would prove just ten years later.

The following is excerpted from a diary written in 1977:

It was during the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the synagogue where the Rebbe prays was jammed packed. Thousands of chassidim from every corner of the world there to celebrate the holiday with the Rebbe. All eyes focused on the Rebbe as the hakafot ceremony began. The Rebbe held the Torah scroll aloft, his face radiating the sheer joy of the holiday as he danced with his brother in-law, the "Rashag," on the dais in the synagogue's center.

The first hakafah came to an end. The Rebbe walked, slowly, back to his place at the south-eastern wall. The second and third hakafot were completed with the Rebbe looking tired, clapping his hands only a few times.

For the fourth hakafah, the Rebbe turned to face the crowd. The singing stopped; silence engulfed the synagogue. The Rebbe's face was white as chalk. But the hakafah began, with the Rebbe straining to bring his hands together to clap. He asked for a chair and sat down.

A shudder rippled though the room. Hakafot is the liveliest time of the year. The Rebbe never sits during hakafot. The Rebbe leaned forward in his chair and closed his eyes.

There was shouting. "Water! Air! Back off!" Above the screams, the shattering of glass was heard. Every window in sight becomes an escape route. Chassidim streamed through them into the adjoining courtyard. Within minutes, the synagogue was empty. Of the thousands singing and dancing a moment ago, less than a hundred remained inside.

Doctors rushed to the front. The Rebbe smiled and said that everything is fine. He is only tired; no one should be concerned... At that stage, who knew that the Rebbe had just suffered a serious heart-attack...?

Within a short period of time – with the help of a Jewish hospital in Brooklyn – the Rebbe's room became an intensive care unit.

Five o'clock the following morning, the ECG registered a second, more serious heart attack.

"Crying is against my wishes. If you will increase in your joy I will become healthier!"That afternoon, the Rebbe announced that those who wished to aid his recovery should rejoice. And when Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky, a chassidic elder, entered the Rebbe's room and tearfully wished the Rebbe a speedy recovery, the Rebbe chided him, "Crying is against my wishes. If you will increase in your joy I will become healthier!"

The Rebbe then gave him two bottles of vodka and instructed him, "Distribute these during the pre-hakafot farbrengen (chassidic gathering). I am sure they will organize such a farbrengen, and I am sure it will not lack words of Torah, encouragement and joy. They should then conduct a joyous hakafot, without detracting from the holiday joy."

On the eve of Simchat Torah, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Leib Groner, one of his personal aides, what was happening downstairs (in the main synagogue). Rabbi Groner replied that the farbrengen had been scheduled for 9:00 p.m. "With a shturem (a 'bang')?" the Rebbe wanted to know, "Tell them I said it should be conducted with a great shturem!"

The hakafot that night were so lively, that the singing and dancing were heard upstairs in the Rebbe's room. The Rebbe was asked if the singing downstairs disturbed him.

The Rebbe had just suffered two heart attacks, one worse than the next.

He was nearing eighty.

He replied, "It sounds like music to my ears..."

How much better our world would be if we all danced to the Rebbe's tune.

Footnotes
1.

It is therefore "considered 'shades of slander' [a more nuanced form of slander] to speak excessively favorably about a colleague in the presence of others, for this might prompt them to speak disparagingly about him…" (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:4; see also Talmud, Baba Batra, 164b and commentaries ad loc).

2.

See Rashi on Exodus 4:10.

3.

Ibid.

4.

Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 3:16.

6.

Rashi ad loc.

7.

Ibid., 4:27.
Indeed, immediately following Aaron's genuine show of affection, the following verse states that "Moses related to Aaron all the words of G‑d that He had dispatched him…" Moses felt comfortable speaking with Aaron at length ("all the words") about his new role and how it had come about, for he sensed that Aaron bore no ill-will on account of his new designation.

9.

Genesis, 45:15.
The first person Joseph turned to was Benjamin, his full brother, whom he loved more than the rest (especially as he had nothing to do with his misfortunes). About their reunion the verse states, "He fell upon his brother's neck and he wept," without mentioning that they kissed. Only in the next verse, which tells of Joseph's reunion with the rest of his brothers, who caused him so much agony, does it say, "He kissed all his brothers"! Could it be that he loved them more? Of course not, it's just that when it came to them, the kiss recorded wasn't just part of a reunion but was an act of forgiveness. It's for its instructional value that it is mentioned.

10.

Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 3:17. See also Talmud, Shabbat, 139a.
The choshen also doubled as an oracle, G‑d's way of teaching that His name and inspiration, which operated through the choshen placed on the heart, can be best accessed through acts of the heart.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—Chabad.org, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
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Anonymous orlando, l October 7, 2013

I wish to be a farginner! What a blessed wonderful man this Rebbe Mendel, of righteous memory! I can almost hear the laughter jumping from this powerful story, spiriting me from a moment before of sadness-- into joy, thank you so much for sharing this wisdom of farginning. Reply

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