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Spiked Chassidism

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The Russian winter may be long and cold, but every Saturday night the central Beit Midrash (study hall and synagogue) in the town of Dokshits was a warm and merry place.  A samovar of panes (a hot drink made with boiling water, vodka and sugar) was set up and everyone warmed their bones. The renowned chassid Reb Areh of Dokshits would then give a class in chassidic teaching.

Once a year, Reb Areh would travel to Lubavitch to the Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch. On the Saturday nights following his return, the weekly chassidus ‘n panes ritual would swing into high gear: an extra-large batch of panes was concocted and Reb Areh, fresh from a month of spiritual refueling in Lubavitch, would review the discourses he had heard from the Rebbe during his stay.

Once, when Reb Areh was in Lubavitch, Rabbi Shmuel said to him: “I hear that in Dokshits they study chassidus with panes. Tell me, what connection is there between the teachings of chassidism and a samovar of panes…?!”

So when Reb Areh came home, he put a stop to the refreshment stand: henceforth, the after-Shabbos session would be a chassidus only affair. But on the following week, the crowd of participants was perceptibly smaller and it continued to dwindle throughout the winter. So when Reb Areh was back in Lubavitch and the Rebbe asked, “What’s doing in Dokshits?” he was forced to report that the chassidus class now attracted a fraction of the crowed it had pulled back in its “drink and learn” days.

“Nu,” said the Rebbe, “so bring back the panes. Abi men zol lernen—What’s important is that they learn…”

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

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