Is Mashke an Integral Part of the Chabad Derech?



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    Is Mashke an Integral Part of the Chabad Derech?

    I love the frum-community and they have been so welcoming to me and my family. There is one thing that really bothers me about our educational system and frum-lifestyle: There seems to be a total disregard to health concerns. There are lots of staying up late, drinking, smoking, and overweight issues. Why is there such a lack of focus on concern? in Part 2 of ‘Health and Chinuch’ mini-series, Rabbi Gerhon Avtzon Answers • Read More

    [Continuation from last week]

    Question: Dear Rabbi: I’m going to apologize in advance for my “venting”, but this is something that is really bothering me: I grew up in a non-religious home and community and fell in love with Yiddishkeit and changed my whole outlook on life. I love the frum-community and they have been so welcoming to me and my family. There is one thing that really bothers me about our educational system and frum-lifestyle: There seems to be a total disregard to health concerns. There are lots of staying up late, drinking, smoking, and overweight issues. Why is there such a lack of focus on concern?

    Answer: In our previous article, we brought a few letters of the Rebbe in which he emphasized the importance of not doing anything that will adversely affect the physical health of the person. I will now address the specifics of your question — “Staying up late, drinking, smoking, and overweight issues” — and we will begin with the seemingly prevalent custom of drinking alcoholic beverages by farbrengens or other times.

    What is the Purpose of Drinking Mashke?

    It is an undeniable fact that historically Chassidim would say a lot of L’chaim by Frabrengens. There are different reasons given:

    (1) Before shechita, water is given to the animal to smoothen the lung or to thin-out the skin. Similarly, the mashke works to soften the nefesh habahamis and make it more eidel and open to change during a farbrengen. 

    (2) Chazal say (Sanhedrin 103b) גדולה לגימה שמקרבת — drink brings people together. We are therefore prohibited from drinking the wine of a non-Jew because we are concerned that it will cause closeness and familiarity, potentially leading to Jews marrying non-Jews chas v’Shalom. This very power can be employed in the side of holiness —  when used in a proper setting, alcoholic beverages cause closeness amongst Yidden which is a great thing in and of itself, as well as a useful impetus for further good results, such as good resolutions that are reached in this setting of friendliness. 

    (3) Mashke is like the sota-water, cleansing the soul. 

    (4) It opens the Nefesh haElokis and brings joy to a person.

    Times Have Changed

    Yet, already in the times of the Frierdiker Rebbe and especially by our Rebbe things changed. In 5713, the Rebbe told Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov that he would like to limit the consumption of mashke among chassidim. Rabbi Shemtov gave this message over to Rabbi Peretz Mochkin, the famous mashpia of Montreal, who wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking for guidance and clarification.

    The Rebbe responded thus: “In my opinion, times have changed from previous generations. My reasoning is based on two main points: 

    (a) There has been an abundance of Chassidus (sichos and easily graspable ma’amarim) that have been published which enable the Chassid to have a positive effect on his audience without the need of excessive drinking. 

    (b) In recent times, there is a bigger emphasis on spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside world, and therefore the (Chabad image and results of) excessive drinking of mashkeh could hamper that mission. In the past, Chassidim mainly kept to their own “daled amos” but that is not the case now.

    We Are “After Mashke”

    The Rebbe added: “The [Previous] Rebbe famously said after the doctors told him to refrain from drinking mashke, “I am now as if I am after mashke” and this ability has been given to all Chassidim as well.” (Igros, Vol. 7 p. 58; #1927)

    In 5723, the Rebbe announced that he was instituting an official limit on the acceptable amount of mashke: going further, people (until 40, but requested that it should continue after as well) could drink no more than three (later extended to four) small “kelitchkehs” — small cups. The Rebbe emphasized that this included all situations and scenarios — farbrengen at all times of the year as well as weddings. Kiddush should be made only on wine, not mashke, (and when one realizes that mashke is truly disgusting, it will no longer be optimal for kiddush from a halachic perspective.)

    On 2 Sivan 5728, the Rebbe called the mazkirus and the directors of Tzach for a yechidus. The Rebbe said that he had heard that people had again begun to become lax on the limit of mashke. “Everyone has the choice to do as they wish, contrary to my request,” the Rebbe said. “But regarding tahalucha on Shavuos, which is my shlichus — I am asking you to relay the message that anyone who does not follow the takanos regarding mashke are not my shluchim.”

    The Rebbe went on to say that this did not apply to Mivtza Tefillin, which is a din in Shluchan Aruch, but to matters that were his shlichus: tahalucha on Shavuos, Merkos Shlichus in the summer, and tahalucha on Simchas Torah.

    “Farbreng on Sodawater”

    [It should also be noted, that a bochur once asked the Rebbe in Yechidus (Adar 5736) concerning farbrenging with students of a yeshivah high-schools with mashke. The Rebbe responded firmly that “Mashke is not needed and neither is wine. You can farbreng with soda water…”]

    From the above it is clear that the Rebbe certainly takes a strong stance against the excessive drinking of mashke. We will address the other health concerns in the coming article.

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    Is Mashke an Integral Part of the Chabad Derech?



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