On the second day of Shavuos, Shabbos, Sivan 7 (May 19), we davened mincha at 7:00 p.m. and immediately afterwards we washed and made hamotzie (for the Yom Tov farbrengen). The problem was to find sufficient bread so that one did not make a brocha levatolah (blessing in vain). Furthermore, as we had to bentch on this later on, one had to eat a minimum shiur (amount).

Normally, this is not a problem at all. I generally bring along a couple of loaves, plenty of cake and a great deal of fruit. But this year it was Shabbos, and what little I had prepared beforehand was very soon swallowed up by the very many who pleaded and begged for a “crust of bread.”

At the farbrengen I like to sit in front, facing the Rebbe (who doesn’t?). Since the Rebbe’s table on the dais has now been widened, it was impossible to see the Rebbe from my usual seat (as I have previously mentioned.) So, after ten years, I decided to seek for myself another and better place.

I did find what I thought was a very ideal place – center block – and four seats from the front. The only trouble was that (a) someone was already sitting there and (b) this someone refused to move. I pleaded with him, begged and cajoled him to “please move just one seat nearer to the front.” He remained adamant.

Of course, it was just too bad for him that of all the hundreds of people sitting at the tables, I had to just pick on him. It was not his fault, he seemed a nice chappie and I did apologize for what subsequently happened.

I became angry when he clasped his hands around the table leg and he told me that he always sat in this place - all the year round - and he would not budge even for someone who had traveled thousands of miles to be present at this one farbrengen. I had no alternative but to accept his challenge.

I heaved and lunged. I used my feet, my elbows and fly shoulders and within seconds I had sent my newly found friend and neighbor sprawling along the bench. I had gained my objective. My only casualty was a jacket button. But then, looking around 770, one can hardly see one jacket or kapota that has not suffered some casualty or some rip or tear in the continual vying for the limited good spots. I can appreciate why I never see any new kapotas at a 770 farbrengen!

My new friend remarked that I must be a kohen as I had such a temper (I am not). He then told me the joke, “Why is a kohen always vexed? He washes, makes a brocha and bentches, but gets nothing to eat.” He was very pleased that I laughed at this old joke and we became firm friends.

Actually, more “firm” than I had anticipated. Because, having sat down, I could not move. It seemed that in the event I had not made such a good choice of seat.

The yeshiva boys who arrange the seating accommodation stand during the farbrengen. The two benches in between the tables are pressed so tightly together that they cannot be moved even a fraction of an inch.

So here I was, with my left leg jammed against the table leg and my right leg jammed against my neighbor’s knee. My back and backside were stuck against my other neighbor. Both of these men had the habit of shaking their knee, like a car with the engine running. No sooner had I managed to stop the front engine when the rear engine started. My teeth were chattering, my head was shaking, my legs were stiff with cramp and my voice was hoarse. For the maamar, it was almost impossible to rise, and stand up. I just leaned on the table like a drunken man. It was lucky for me that the Rebbe keeps his eyes closed during the maamar! Afterwards, the Rebbe asked me why I don’t sing and jump up and down (as I normally do when the Rebbe is “conducting” with gusto.) How I would have loved to oblige, in more ways than one. I think someone should tell the yeshiva boys to leave a little more room in between the tables. I am amazed that no legs or limbs are broken in the crush. Thank G‑d, our Lubavitch chassidim are tough.

At one point in the middle of the farbrengen, I chanced a glance at the next table, and I received a bit of a shock. I saw about twelve young girls with long hair and wearing light-colored striped pajama suits. They were also joining in the singing and saying l’chaim to the Rebbe, while the Rebbe was encouraging them with warm friendly smiles

I then realized that of course they were young men! They actually stayed on right to the end of the farbrengen.

The farbrengen had commenced at 8:00 p.m. At 9:10 the Rebbe started the maamar and finished it in twelve minutes! I could not believe it had ended, although I did eagerly flop back into my seat.

I was wondering if such a short maamar was also a new innovation? I need not have worried, because about four hours later, at 1:20 a.m., the Rebbe delivered a second maamar, again preceded by the special niggun. This maamar lasted thirty minutes.

The Rebbe then called me up to the platform and handed me a bottle of vodka “to distribute amongst all those who had marched to Borough Park the previous day.” Bernard Perrin’s turn was next, Lou Teifenbrun was also given a Bottle. Well done, England.

Another interesting episode occurred when the Rebbe announced that he wished to say l’chaim to the person who had served the longest in a Russian prison. The Rebbe then held an auction, five years, ten years and the winner was he who had served for eleven years in a Russian jail.

A consolation prize went to the gentleman who had been sentenced to twenty-five years hard labor for teaching and studying Tanya with others; but after serving for only five years, he was released. He had lived in daily fear and dread of being arrested again, until he was fortunate to leave Russia for Israel.

Some of the things the Rebbe said during this farbrengen:

Three of our great Jewish leaders had major events of their lives occur on Shavuos. Additionally, they all share a common connection with each other. The three leaders are our teacher Moshe, King David and the Baal Shem Tov.

Shavuos is the time of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah), which is referred to as Toras Moshe (Moshe’s Torah).

G‑d chose Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt after observing how caring he was in looking after the sheep of Yisro, his father-in-law. Not only caring for the sheep, but even the smallest and tender of the lambs. Going as far as carrying one tired sheep on his shoulder! This in spite of the fact that Moshe was already about forty years old and a very wise and great personality.

King David was born and passed away on Shavuos. King David’s father could definitely have given him a more important job than tending to his sheep. And yet, David, too, while he was a shepherd, was sensitive to even the weakest animals, tending them with loving care and devotion.

The Baal Shem Tov passed away on Shavuos. He spent his first thirty-six years as a hidden tzadik; but even then, he could have occupied his energies with very lofty endeavors if he wanted. Yet we find the Baal Shem Tov, in those early years, as a teacher’s assistant, tending and caring for little children, praying with them and teaching them the brochos. The Jewish people, and especially the children, are often referred to as G‑d’s sheep.

These three, our greatest leaders and shepherds, realized that their first consideration was to teach and care for the “little ones” before anyone else. And when G‑d saw this consideration and sensitivity, he declared, “You will tend my sheep,” the Jewish people.

We find with the Baal Show Tov, that he had less time or inclination for talmidei chachomim - the so-called intellectuals - children came first.

If one wishes to raise a structure one had to lift it from the bottom. It is no use raising it from the middle. That way there is no foundation and no future.

At 2:30 in the morning, the Rebbe led bentching and, although it was five hours since Yom Tov and Shabbos had ended, we still said retzei and yaaleh veyovo.

We then davened maariv, with most people standing on tables, benches, and toes (of others). It was not even possible for everyone to turn towards mizrach (east).