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As we enter the last holy days of this High Holiday season, "Shemini Atzeret" and "Simchat Torah," and as we are about to dance with our Torah and celebrate our relationship with its Giver (at limited in-person Synagogue services or at home with our families), let us set aside any ache we may be carrying, and fly into a transcendent trance of holiness and joy.

Rabbi Allouche

Friday evening, October 4, 1969. At a Simchat Torah celebration in a Brooklyn Synagogue, a young man was dancing with such vigor and passion that it seems as if he had transported himself to a heavenly world, surrounded by angels and their sublime music.  

A 14-year-old boy watching this surreal scene pointed his finger toward this young man, and proclaimed to his father: “This man must be the happiest man on earth.”

With tears in his eyes, the boy’s father shared with his son, that this young father, who seemed to be “the happiest man on earth” had just lost his 37-year old wife to leukemia just a few days ago. He was now left alone to raise his five children, who were with him at this Simchat Torah celebration.
“Then how could he be dancing with such joy?” the young boy asked his father.

“Because today is Simchat Torah, and it is a Mitzvah to dance and to be happy,” his father responded.

After the dancing was over, the widowed father dropped his five children at their grandmother’s home, and he proceeded to join the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was holding a “farbrengen,” a Chassidic gathering, with talks delivered by the Rebbe, and Chassidic melodies sung by the thousands of people who were there.

After one of the Rebbe’s talks, this widowed father erupted in an old, chassidic song. Its Russian words pierced the hearts of all who were there: “Mi vadiom nye patonyem, ee v’agniom nye s’gorim” (We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn.”) 

The Rebbe looked up and stared at this young widowed father, with a sharp and penetrating gaze. The Rebbe then jumped out of his chair and began dancing in his place, flying into a ‘trance’ with intense fervor, and with a blinding glow of holiness. Witnesses who were present recount, that in all of the Rebbe’s Simchat Torah gatherings, they never saw the Rebbe dance with such ecstasy. 

At that moment, all troubles seemed to have vanished. All challenges seemed to have disappeared. And all pain seemed to have melted away. “We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn.”

Fast-forward to 1989. An anonymous donor calls called a large Jewish Children’s Organization in Brooklyn, and he asks to sponsor a program for children on Simchat Torah. 

“If I may ask,” the responder of the call questioned, “what made you call us and offer us this generous gift?”

“It was a young widow who inspired me to do so,” the anonymous donor revealed. 

“When I was just 14 years old, I noticed a man in my Synagogue who was dancing with all his might on Simchat Torah, as if he had no worries at all. But then I learned that this man had just lost his young wife to cancer.  I was so moved by how he was able to put aside all of his pain and dedicate himself to this Mitzvah of being happy on Simchat Torah that I decided, that when I grow up, I will also share with children the happiness of Simchat Torah, as this widowed hero had shared it with me.”  

Friends, as we enter the last holy days of this High Holiday season, and as we are about to dance with our Torah and celebrate our relationship with its Giver (at limited in-person Synagogue services or at home with our families), let us set aside any ache we may be carrying, and fly into a transcendent trance of holiness and joy. 

Let us exclaim that, “we, in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn!” 

Let us overcome sadness with joy, despair with hope, darkness with light, and human pain with Divine gain.

The ripple-effect of our happiness will then, undoubtedly, create wonders in our world, and bring about G-d’s abundant blessings, and His ultimate redemption. May it happen speedily. Amen.  

My thanks to my dear friend, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and his son, Mendel, for sharing with me this story, which was first published here. Rabbi Simon’s wife, Tzivia, is the daughter of this widowed hero.