At 1:30 p.m. promptly, the Rebbe arrived for the Shabbos farbrengen. The following are some points the Rebbe made:

The Torah says (Shemos 14:10) that upon reaching the Yam Suf (Red Sea), “Vayitzaku” (and they [the Jewish people] cried out).

In clarifying the Hebrew word “and they cried out,” Rashi writes, “They practiced the profession of their forefathers (of praying).” Rashi then quotes three verses that allude to the prayer of each of the ancestors; Avraham: “He came to the place where he had stood,” (Bereishis 19:27), Yitzchok: “He went to meditate in the field.” (Ibid 24:63), and Yaakov: “He encountered the place” (Ibid. 28:11).

In the three abovementioned cases, the Torah relates how our forefathers prayed, but each of those examples describes a prayer that was offered for no apparent reason. This illustrates how their prayer was indeed their profession, something they practiced routinely.

[The Rebbe now asked five questions on this Rashi:]

(1) Why does Rashi find it necessary to explain why the Jewish people cried and prayed? They were obviously in dire trouble – as the verse itself indicates – with the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind them!

(2) If Rashi felt the need to clarify the definition of vayitzaku, why did he not do so earlier when the Torah first uses this word in conjunction with the bitter enslavement in Egypt (Shemos 2:23) where the Torah states that the Jewish people “cried out?”

(3) How can we refer to prayer as a “profession”? Besides which, elsewhere the Torah explicitly relates that our forefathers “profession” was in fact shepherding!

(4) Why does Rashi select verses that only allude to our forefathers praying, when there is an explicit verse affirming intent and fervent prayer for each of the forefathers? For example, Avraham prayed and appealed to G‑d to save the city of Sodom (Bereishis 18:22-33). Yitzchok and his wife Rivkah prayed for children (Ibid. 25:11). And Yaakov prayed for protection to be saved before his rendezvous with his brother Esau (Ibid. 32:10-13).

(5) Why did the Jewish people need to pray at all then? G‑d had already promised to bring them to the land of Israel. If they did not have faith, what was the use of praying? If they had faith, they knew

G‑d was going to save them and bring them safely to Israel!

[The Rebbe explained:] When our Sages intone that the Patriarchs’ prayer was a “profession,” they are referring to instances when the prayer was not prompted by any particular event (even to save themselves), but because prayer was their constant practice, hence their “profession.”

Similarly, the Jewish people did not need to pray to G‑d then. They had absolute faith in His promise to bring them to the Promised Land and they were not fearful of anything. They prayed only because this was their natural occupation – the Jewish response to any situation. Rashi supports this explanation by intentionally quoting three verses where prayer was not required for a specific reason.

In the earlier verse, when the nation cried out in prayer to be rescued from the Egyptian slavery, we are well aware of their reason for crying out; they were being systematically and ruthlessly persecuted and oppressed and had not yet beheld the promise of exodus. Rashi has, therefore, no need to explain anything there.

We should derive the following important lessons:

When a Jew prays, studies Torah, and performs mitzvos, he should approach it as his normal “profession” and not for any other motive such as praying for something, etc.

Never be discouraged if you encounter fellow Jews who appear to have no connection with Torah, prayer or mitzvos, because, essentially and truly, Torah and mitzvos are the natural “profession” of every single Jew. It is our duty and privilege to reveal this fact to every Jewish person.

In another sicha the Rebbe disclosed that some “chassidim” had embroiled themselves in a campaign against a journalist from a Jewish newspaper who had criticized the Lubavitcher movement. These “chassidim” threatened the writer with dire consequences if he continued his vituperation against the Rebbe – they even threatened physical violence against him and his family. The Rebbe was terribly aggravated with them. The Rebbe did not require or need any assistance in this regard.

[In any case, I say that this is exactly what the writer wanted. He printed bold headlines in his paper attacking the Rebbe. Everyone rushed to buy his paper. Even our own Lubavitchers were anxious to find out what was being written about our Rebbe. Circulation of his newspaper was up and business was booming. What better way to sell trash than to headline his attack on the Rebbe and on Lubavitch? — ZJ]

The Rebbe showered blessings on all those working for the mitzvah campaigns. These yeshiva students promoted kosher tefillin and mezuzos. They need not take any notice of those who vindictively try to vilify Lubavitch and the Rebbe. We shall carry on our work with G‑d’s help.

The Rebbe added that he has broad shoulders and he takes full responsibility for everything that happens in Lubavitch.

This farbrengen blossomed into a most wonderful and freilicher (joyous) affair. The Rebbe called upon Rabbi Dubov to come forward and requested him to sing a niggun. His voice was not as strong as in the past and it quavered a little, but he did very well.

The Rebbe then handed me a bottle of vodka (first pouring out a little into a paper cup so that I could say l’chaim to him). I was to take this bottle home to Manchester to distribute at a farbrengen there. Hershel Gorman (London) received a bottle “for your hard work for the new Tanya.” Bentzion Hackner (London) was given one for distribution at an upcoming Lubavitch Women’s function in London. Bobby Vogel (London) received a bottle for the Hampstead community, in London. Menachem Mendel Katsch (London) received a bottle (I did not discover the reason), and Shmuel Arkush received a bottle for his upcoming wedding.

What constitutes a freilicher farbrengen? As far as we – the chassidim – are concerned, when the Rebbe shows us that he is happy, then we are happy. When the Rebbe wants us to sing, then we all sing. When the Rebbe waves his arms in quick tempo, then we all sing in quick tempo, and when the Rebbe stands up and flings his arms about, as he did at the Yud Shevat farbrengen, urging us on, then we all jump up singing lustily and yelling the niggun in time to the Rebbe’s beat, with everybody bobbing up and down. The entire hall has the appearance of a storm-tossed sea, the faces of the yeshiva students resembling huge white-crested waves rolling furiously down and up in time to the ever increasing tempo of the niggun. When the Rebbe signifies that he now wished to address us, we flop back onto our seats, exhilarated and completely exhausted. We then listen to another sicha from the Rebbe.

How do we reach such a high state of ecstasy? It does not happen very often. My own view is as follows: The Rebbe speaks on a vital subject concerning klal Yisroel and on which he has very strong feelings – for instance, “Mihu Yehudi” or the press articles mentioned previously. This upsets the Rebbe very much and when he has concluded this talk it leaves him (and us) very disheartened, aggravated and disturbed. The Rebbe then considers that it is, after all, yom tov or Shabbos and that in any case, the Psalmist says, always “serve G‑d with simcha” (joy). Furthermore, it states in Tanya that one should shake off and banish all sadness and depression.

Since I always sit facing the Rebbe at the farbrengen, I am almost able to discern his extraordinary efforts – in these types of circumstances – to overcome his frustration and aggravation. I can see the deep concern on the Rebbe’s face and the beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. At the same time, his nodding head begins conducting the niggun, faster, faster and still faster until the Rebbe reaches that high degree of ecstasy and completely breaks through this barrier of dejection.

I am convinced that the Rebbe has to concentrate great physical efforts and power to force himself out of these unhappy situations. This is a positive example for us of how to always serve G‑d with simcha.

At the end of the farbrengen the Rebbe handed the cake – which he normally leaves on the table (and what a smash and grab there is for it) – to be distributed to the women and girls upstairs in the women’s shul. The Rebbe thinks about everyone!

(At a farbrengen a few months later, the Rebbe sent Rabbi Wineberg to the women’s section to give each woman and girl who was lighting Shabbos candles three one-dollar bills, one for themselves, one for charity and one toward the candle-lighting campaign.)

The farbrengen ended at 5:25 p.m., twenty-five minutes before the end of Shabbos and maariv. Meanwhile, we had not yet davened mincha! (Our Shabbos lunch and cholent were going to have to wait!)

Years ago, the Shabbos farbrengen took place very shortly after the morning service. Some complained that they had no time to make kiddush with their families, let alone have their Shabbos meals together. Therefore, the Rebbe – as always considerate – decided to give sufficient time before the farbrengen so everyone had the opportunity to go home quickly and look after their families. Now a farbrengen on Shabbos commences at 1:30, this arrangement may leave as much as an hour and a half from the conclusion of the morning service until the beginning of the farbrengen.

Yet, in spite of the fact that the Rebbe has purposely and deliberately left sufficient time to eat the Shabbos meal beforehand, we still get the perennial arguments whether one should eat before or after the farbrengen. For example, “The Rebbe does not eat before; therefore I should not.” Or, “If we eat we may fall asleep during the farbrengen, which would not be good for us, nor polite to the Rebbe,” and so forth.

On this Shabbos it was conclusively proven that one should eat before the farbrengen. Those who had not done so earlier missed out on this Shabbos mitzvah (for this week). Someone told me that – since his meal took place after Shabbos had already concluded – it was the first time ever that he had partaken of his Shabbos meal while listening to music and answering the telephone!