How To Drink Like A Chassid Nowadays
By Rabbi Noam Wagner, rosh yeshiva in Venice, Italy

Question: Everyone knows the g’zera the Rebbe decreed about drinking mashke. The Rebbe limited saying l’chaim to four small cups which together do not even total up to a reviis. Nevertheless, sometimes we farbreng in a sincere and pnimiyusdike way, full of simcha and life, and we feel that we simply must take another small cup in order to be further inspired. Being warmed up can bring someone to accept upon himself good resolutions to increase his connection to the Rebbe and to dedicate himself more to the inyanim of the Rebbe, etc.

Perhaps we could be so bold as to suggest that the additional cups are in the category of "pikuach nefesh." Do we have to be particular about the g’zera in this instance? Can’t we apply the rule here that pikuach nefesh pushes off the entire Torah?

The Source of the G’zera

In the same way we approach every mivtza of the Torah and every Rabbinical injunction, so must we approach every teaching and takana of the Rebbe MH"M. Namely, we must fulfill them first with "naaseh," we will do, and only then with "nishma," we will understand. Even if we will never understand why we were so commanded, we will continue to fulfill these directives out of kabbalas ol and with simcha.

If there is any confusion in the matter, the source of this confusion is undoubtedly our limited intellect, which offers reasons to distinguish between one situation and another, giving rise to misguided conceptions of the holy teachings of the Rebbe.

The limitation placed on drinking mashke has been characterized by the Rebbe specifically as a g’zera (on Shabbos Parshas Chukas 5751): "Chuka chakakti, g’zera gazarti." A decree is in essence beyond the realm of reason. Who are we to interject our intellect in an area that is not within our ability to fathom?

The Rebbe also said that "this is the touchstone of hiskashrus," and, "Whoever thinks that we did not mean him, he should know that we specifically mean him."

The Reason for the G’zera

Although the Rebbe defined this issue as a g’zera, the Rebbe did not leave it solely in these terms. Everyone who studies the words of the Rebbe detects a detailed and deliberate teaching on this topic. The Rebbe does not cover up the way the earlier generations drank mashke. Rather, the Rebbe speaks about it and objects to this behavior in our generation. For example, there is the famous letter on this topic from Igros Kodesh (Vol. 7, page 58 – free translation):

"In my opinion, the current situation differs from the situation of previous generations, when it was a widespread custom to drink mashke in abundance, in two ways:

a) The ability is now given to Anash, through the availability of numerous basic maamarim and sichos which the listeners can understand, for their conduct to be inspired without the need for much mashke; just a little will suffice.

b) Since in most recent times we are all required to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outward, there is the possibility that an overabundance of mashke could greatly interfere…

My first statement is supported by something I once heard from the Rebbe, my father-in-law, in Riga, who said, "Ich bin itzter (and the meaning of ‘itzter’[now] was not for that time only, but for those years since then, when they began to minimize the consumption of mashke) vi noch a bisele mashke." (I am now as though after a little mashke.) The Chassidim are drawn after the Rebbe, my father-in-law, and his intention in saying that he is now as though after a little mashke is to instruct all the Chassidim and give them the ability to be in that condition."

The Solution for Best Adapting to the G’zera

The best solution to coping with the feeling that one must have more mashke at a farbrengen in order to be inspired is given by the Rebbe himself. The Rebbe certainly knows that at times a Chassid feels he needs a little more mashke to be further inspired (for certainly the g’zera is not only to prevent indulgence and clowning around, r’l?), and in the above letter (and in other places) the Rebbe makes it clear: Today we don’t need what the earlier generations needed. We were given maamarim and sichos which provide the strength to act, and through them one can attain sufficient inspiration. In addition, in our time all Chassidim are in a state of being "as though after a little mashke." In simple words: Review another sicha, another thought from the Rebbe in the farbrengen, and you will become more warmed up.

The Rebbe once replied to one of the Tmimim in yechidus who asked for special permission to drink more than the limit, as "it would help me in the ruchniyusdike avoda": "Why do this in a gashmiyusdik and crude way? You can do this by learning a lot of Chassidus!"

When we are acquainted with the words of the Rebbe on this matter, it should not occur to us to categorize drinking more than the permissible amount of mashke as pikuach nefesh. If there are any circumstances here of pikuach nefesh, it’s exactly the opposite – pikuach nefesh to avoid drinking more than the limit. Drinking endangers one’s connection to the Rebbe. How ludicrous is the thought that disobeying the teachings of the Rebbe will connect a Chassid more to the Rebbe…

Out of ahavas Yisroel it is fitting to put the transgressor of the takana, r’l, in his place. We have to explain to him in words that come from the heart that the way to be connected to the Rebbe is by observing the takanos of the Rebbe. Certainly the words will enter his heart and do their job.

** *

Rabbi Aharon Eliezer Tzeitlin adds: The significance attributed by the Rebbe to the observance of the takana of mashke is proven by the following story – in which I was directly involved.

When I was learning in yesihiva in Montreal, a few Tmimim, including myself, made a farbrengen (in the winter of 5733 [1973]) and drank 4 big cups of mashke – not within the Rebbe’s limit. When the mashpia, R’ Yitzchak Meir Gurary, found out about it, he called me over and asked, "How could it be that you transgressed the g’zera like that? Didn’t the Rebbe say that whoever transgresses the g’zera cannot go on shlichus?" The words entered my heart because our whole ambition was to merit to be a shliach of the Rebbe, and here I was endangering my shlichus myself. Therefore, immediately at the first opportunity I wrote to the Rebbe and requested a tikkun. I went to 770 close to Yud Shvat, and when I came to the secretariat, Rabbi Binyomin Klein gave me an answer from the Rebbe about the note I had written: "He should learn 3-4 maamarim of my father-in-law by heart; at the very least, the contents. Askir al ha’tzion."

I immediately asked (through the secretary) if I am ready to go on the shlichus of the Rebbe to Australia. [At that time, the Rebbe chose the ones who went and asked them for their consent.] As you know, the answer was in the affirmative.

It seems to me that perhaps all of this (asking for a tikkun, etc.) restored my z’chus at the last minute to go on shlichus.


The Rebbe also said that "this is the touchstone of hiskashrus," and, "Whoever thinks that we did not mean him, he should know that we specifically mean him."


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