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Simchat Torah: The Dancing Souls

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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Saved By The Dance

It was a cold autumn day; the skies covered with the perpetual cloud of ash that hovered daily over Auschwitz. A group of fifty young Yeshiva students were herded into the gas chambers, ostensibly for a cold shower. This was well enough into the history of Auschwitz that the cold truth of the cold showers was well known to the young men. They all knew that the nozzles would soon open and bathe them in a cascade of noxious fumes that would choke off their air supply and drain them of life.

The Nazi guards, gleefully awaiting the usual onset of panic, complete with frantic banging on the doors, desperate efforts to reach the sealed windows and futile clawing against bare walls, were surprised by this unique group.

Just before the showers released their poison a young man addressed his friends. “Brothers,” he cried, “today is Simchat Torah, when the Jewish world rejoices having concluded their annual reading of the Torah. During our short lives we have tried to uphold the Torah to the best of our ability and now we have one last chance to do so. Before we die let us celebrate Simchat Torah one last time. We have nothing; no clothes to cover us or Torah with which to rejoice. But we have G-d who is surely here among us today. So let us dance with G-d Himself before we return our souls to Him.”

With this he placed his hand on his fellow’s shoulder and fifty young men broke out in joyous dance; the song of “Vetaher Libeinu leavdecha Be’emet” (purify our hearts to serve you with sincerity), on their lips.

The bewildered Nazis stood just beyond the gas chamber and could not understand the meaning of the incongruous celebration. The beastly commandant, who was accustomed to humiliated, broken Jews, could not countenance this spectacle of Jewish pride and flew into a rage. Bursting into the chamber he grabbed the first boy and demanded to know the reason for the dance. Calmly the boy replied, “We are celebrating our imminent departure from a world ruled by beasts such as you.”

The commandant decided to put an immediate end to the festivities with a cruel announcement. “You think you will escape your tortuous existence in the peaceful gas chamber, but I will grant you a truly painful departure. I will spare you today, but tomorrow I will torture every bone in your bodies; I will slice your flesh till you expire.”

The commandant ordered the boys released from the gas chambers and housed in a barrack overnight. Despite their fate the boys celebrated Simchat Torah all night with joyous song and dance. They sanctified G-d’s name by dedicating their last night to expressing gratitude for the privilege of their Jewishness and for the precious gift of the Torah.

Later that night the boys were miraculously selected for transport to another camp by a high ranking Nazi official who was not aware of their “crimes.” This selection saved their lives and Auschwitz survivors testified that the entire group survived the holocaust.1

Engaging The Essence

This story illustrates the intrinsic bond between G-d and Jew that Simchat Torah ushers forth. All year long our relationship with the Torah is experiential; it is an academic pursuit, a guide for ethical living or, on the highest level, a medium that confers sanctity on an otherwise mundane existence.

Footnotes

  • 1. Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, “Small Miracles of the Holocaust”, Lyons Press, March 2008, p. 179-181. Also related by Rabbi Meisels, a survivor who witnessed this event in person, author of Sefer Mekadshei Hashem.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Simchat Torah
An extremely joyous one-day autumn festival following the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel it is the eighth day of Sukkot, outside of Israel it is celebrated the next day, the day after Shmini Atzeret. Every Sabbath we read a portion of the Torah. On this holiday we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle.
Yeshiva
(Pl.: Yeshivot) Religious school which teaches Jewish studies. Most Yeshivot offer secular studies too.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.