The following Shabbos, Av 2 (July 15), is the yahrtzeit of my mother. I had mentioned this to the Rebbe at the yechidus and the Rebbe remarked “Now we have a chazan for Shabbos.” [This is in reference to the custom that one leads the service on the day of the yahrtzeit.] I did accept this invitation and was the chazan at all the tefilos.

After shacharis it was announced that the Rebbe was to hold a farbrengen today. This was very unexpected. Even the pundits had not predicted a farbrengen on this date. We were delighted.

But what a farbrengen it was! Even though we were now just days away from Tisha B'av, the Rebbe was very happy today, full of enthusiasm and fire.

At the end of the first sicha the Rebbe said:

We are now [in a sad period in the Jewish calendar known as the “three weeks” and called] “between the straits.” Within this sad period itself we have entered into an even more sad time, [known as] the “nine days.” But even in such a time, we have to remember that the Torah and mitzvos must always be fulfilled with joy. In fact, during this time period, we need to increase in our spiritual energy and warmth in fulfilling Torah and mitzvos and these can only be fulfilled through joy!

In the next sicha the Rebbe spoke about the parsha, which discusses the journeys the Jewish people traveled upon leaving Egypt. The Rebbe emphasized that a Jew must continually move forward to further levels, never being satisfied with yesterday's accomplishments. The Rebbe ended this sicha too with references to joy by stating:

In these days - “between the straits” - there must be an increase of energy and light, which is specifically accomplished through Torah study. This light will illuminate the days of the “straits” and usher in the era when “these days will be transformed to happiness, joy and holidays,” [Zechariah 8:19] with the coming of Moshiach.

The next sicha pertained particularly to me, as this sicha was about yahrtzeits and birthdays celebrated after one passes away. (I was commemorating my mother's yahrtzeit on this day - as mentioned - and the previous Rebbe's 81st birthday was just three weeks ago.)

During a later sicha, the Rebbe referenced his early morning welcome talk to our group, expounding further upon the traditional greeting of Sholom Aleichem. The Rebbe now stressed how one must greet another with simcha.

After this sicha, the Rebbe seemed to be in a very happy mood and he told some of us to drink mashke. He then said to me:

Either drink mashke or say birchas kohanim, the reason we don't say birchas kohanim during Mincha is because of shikrus (intoxication). [Ed. note: birchas kohanim is not recited during the repetition of the Mincha amidah, since someone may have had a drink in the afternoon, rendering him unfit to recite the priestly benediction.]

The Rebbe then sang a joyous niggun, further emphasizing how we have to be happy and drink mashke.

At about 3:30, the Rebbe announced that halacha stated that nothing can be done on Shabbos in preparation for after Shabbos, therefore, “everything that was prepared for the Shabbos farbrengen, the cake and the drink, should now be all consumed; nothing should remain.”

There was great activity and excitement filled the air. Even though the Rebbe had made kiddush at the beginning of the farbrengen, he did not touch another drop after that and the Rebbe now gave away his wine and cake to be also consumed.

I had just shtelled (presented) three bottles of vodka on the occasion of my mother's yahrtzeit; besides which, there were still gallons of wine and Benedictine lying around unopened and the Rebbe kept indicating that everything should be finished quickly.

Nu, ahz der Rebbe heist... (when the Rebbe instructs...). Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, who did not usually drink very much, immediately drank a tumbler of wine, a tumbler of Vodka and a tumbler of wine again, in that order! Half an hour after the farbrengen we lifted him unto a bench and he slept on happily for hours and hours. (He came into our apartment early the next morning and wanted to make Havdalah. I myself helped clear the house of drink by consuming more and more. I was later told that when I was leading Mincha as chazan - following the farbrengen - I did so in the joyous Simchas Torah style, with the Rebbe deriving obvious pleasure and satisfaction!)

Meanwhile, at the farbrengen, the Rebbe seemed to be gloriously inspired. The climax came when the Rebbe began to sing “Uforatzto” and at the same time standing up and dancing in his place, with his arms and hands working like pistons, faster and faster, singing in an extremely quick tempo. I felt myself yanked onto the bench and, looking around, I saw that practically every person was standing on the benches, dancing, and jumping up and down to the Rebbe's “conducting,” and singing - screaming - together with the Rebbe. It was terrific and went on for about fifteen minutes.

No words can do justice or describe that scene. This must have been one of the most exciting and lively farbrengens.

The Rebbe then concluded with a sicha during which he closed his eyes tightly and gave us all very wonderful brochos. Afterwards, to the tune of Ki V'simcha, the farbrengen was over.

It was a vividly and impressive few hours with the Rebbe and definitely very memorable. Being that it was so unexpected, there were only about 350 people present, as those that were in summer camps or on holiday did not come to Crown Heights for Shabbos. They therefore missed this very thrilling and joyful farbrengen.