Beginning in 1951, just a few months after he accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Rebbe would Farbreng for his Chasidim on the second night of Pesach after finishing his Seder, usually until around 4:00am. Rabbi Michoel Seligson was privileged to be present at many of these unique Farbrengens, and shares his fascinating recollections with our readers.
“And it was in middle of the night..” – Impressions of the Second-Night-of-Pesach Farbrengen with the Rebbe
by Rabbi Michoel Seligson
Over the course of more than forty years, we merited many Farbrengens from the Rebbe. Some of them took place during Yomim Tovim and were filled with feelings of celebration; others commemorated Chassidishe Yomim Tovim, such as Yud-Tes-Kislev, Yud Shvat, or Yud Aleph Nissan, and overflowed with lessons and directives for the entire year.
There were many Farbrengens over the course of a Yom Tov. For example, at the end of the second day of Succos the Rebbe would wash his hands for the Farbrengen, speak Sichos relevant to the Yom Tov, and at the conclusion, distribute “Kos shel Brocho” from his wine and recite Birchas Hamozon and Havdala. Two more Farbrengens took place during the last days of Yom Tov. The final Farbrengen concluded with a three-and-half-hour “Kos shel brocho” following a six-hour Farbrengen.
It was similar on Pesach. In 1951, the Rebbe began the custom of farbrenging after the seder on the second night of Pesach and did so for the next twenty years until 1970. The Rebbe would have the sedorim and Yom Tov meals in the Previous Rebbe’s apartment on the second floor of 770. On the tenth of Teves, 1971 the Previous Rebbe’s Rebbetzin, Nechama Dina was nifter and the Rebbe had all the Yom Tov meals at his own home. After the seder, the Rebbe went to the shul, and sat in his customary place for Farbrengens.
On different occasions, the Rebbe explained the significance of the Farbrengen on the second night of Pesach.
The Rebbe quoted the Previous Rebbe in the Hayom Yom, “At the first seder my father would be brief, in order to eat the afikoman before midnight. On the second night, he would expound at length; he began the seder before 9 p.m. and ended at about 3 or 4 in the morning, dwelling on the explanations of the Haggada.
In 1951, after the Rebbe concluded the second seder he said, “My father-in-law, the Rebbe said that the niggun “E-li Ato” is a segula pnimi, a special potential, for the revelation of Eliyohu. Therefore, the song should be sung now with joy and dancing.” Chassidim began dancing with great enthusiasm.
The Rebbe then escorted his mother, the Rebbetzin Chana to her home. When he returned, he encouraged the dancing and then joined in for a period of time. The crowd continued dancing after the Rebbe left.
The Rebbe entered the “zal” of the upstairs shul after a short interval. He was holding his Haggada, which was published in 1946 and included his commentaries.
The Rebbe sat down and said, “My father-in-law, the Rebbe said that his father would begin the second seder at 8:00 PM and continue until after midnight.
Since a person has an obligation to quote his Rebbe; therefore, all students, mekushorim, and people connected to the Rebbe need to conduct themselves in the same manner as the Rebbe. In this case, it relates to the second seder which should begin at 8:00 P.M. and end after midnight. Since this was the custom of my father-in-law, the Rebbe and the Rebbe Rashab, it seems that this was also the custom of the previous Rebbei’m.”
The Rebbe began speaking Sichos, expounding insights on the Haggada. This was the topic upon which the Rebbe would hold forth through the night over the course of the next twenty years. Today, almost all of the Rebbe’s explanations and insights on the Haggada are based on those Farbrengens.
At the conclusion of the Farbrengen, the Rebbe announced “L’shana Haboa Byerusholayim”.
The Rebbe’s fiftieth birthday was in 1952 on Yud Alef Nissan. That Pesach the Rebbe Farbrenged after the seder on both nights.
The next year in 1953, bochurim and anash expected a Farbrengen on the first night of Pesach as well. The Rebbe told Reb Berel Junik, who merited to serve the Rebbe and his household for forty years, that this was a night for the revelation of Moshiach and therefore, he would participate in the dancing instead of a Farbrengen.
On the second night of Pesach, the Rebbe Farbrenged from 12:00 A.M. until 2:00 A.M. People dozed off during the course of the Farbrengen. The Rebbe commented, “Since my father-in-law the Rebbe sat [Farbrenged], I also need to sit [Farbreng]. Don’t blame me for keeping you awake. If it disturbs anyone, on Erev Yom Kippur one asks pardon for acts done innocently or intentionally. Chassidim with their unity will lead to Moshiach”.
During the Farbrengen on the second night of Pesach in 1955, the Rebbe asked if anyone knew the niggun “Vhi sheomdo”. Many of Anash suggested different niggunim for this verse. The Rebbe said that none of these was the niggun he was referring to and began singing the niggun. That is when Chassidim learned the niggun “Vhi sheomdo” that is sung today. It is one of the ten niggunim that the Rebbe taught over a span of ten years.
In 1966, during the second night of Pesach Farbrengen, the Rebbe introduced a new format to explain the Haggada. He asked a list of questions on selected verses of the Hagadda and with one explanation answered them all.
Farbrengens would begin at 1:30 A.M with a request from the Rebbe to sing a niggun. The Rebbe cited the writings of the Arizal that one needs to say the Haggada loudly, with joy and therefore, the niggun should be loud and joyously sung.
On other occasions, the Rebbe would encourage Reb Yaakov Katz, the chazan at the seder, to begin a niggun in a joyous manner, on the words “Memitzrayim Gealtonu”.
Reb Yankel Katz of Chicago had the merit to participate in the Previous Rebbe’s seder in 1930 during the Previous Rebbe’s yearlong visit to the United States. When the Rebbe settled in the U.S. in 1940, Reb Yankel Katz was invited to participate in the sedorim and did so for the next ten years until the histalkus of the Previous Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe appointed Reb Yankel to be the chazan, and told him to recite the Hagadda loudly.
The Rebbe continued this tradition and for the next twenty years, from 1951 until 1970, Reb Yankel would fly to New York for Pesach and participate in the Rebbe’s sedorim.
The Rebbe would also deliver a Chassidic discourse during the course of the Farbrengen, which opened with the words of a Haggada verse.
The Farbrengens were very unusual. A small crowd was present since it was one-thirty in the morning, after the seder and four cups of wine. There were no L’chaims, as no further food or drink was permitted after the afikomon. The Rebbe would speak with closed eyes, avoiding the sight of people sleeping. In addition to the local crowd, there was a contingent of yungeleit and bochurim who walked in from Boro Park to participate.
The Farbrengen would end at approximately 4:00 AM, and the Rebbe would be escorted home by a group of Chassidim who would sing a Pesach niggun as they accompanied him. The echoes of the niggun would ring across the empty expanse of Eastern Parkway as they left 770.
One of the Pesach nights in 1969, the Rebbe was escorted home by two bochurim who had been chosen for this honor. Before entering his house, the Rebbe turned around and began singing the niggun “Memitzrayim Gealtonu”. For five minutes the Rebbe stood there and encouraged the bochurim to sing along.
Recalling these unique Farbrengens (on the second night of Pesach), one feels privileged to have been present when the Rebbe sat with Chassidim and chose to fulfill the mitzva with them of “Discussing through the night the exodus from Egypt”. The words of the Zohar express perfectly what it was like for all those who were there, “Ano umalko blchodohi”, me and the king alone.
May we merit experiencing this in a physical sense, with the Rebbe this upcoming Pesach in 5777.