It was Simchas Torah night. The Chassidish shul was packed with followers, admirers or just spectators who came to see the burning devotion of this Chassidic group on the day when Torah was celebrated. It was sure to be an interesting night, for, with each round of Hakafos, a new song usually was sung by the Rebbe and his followers. Circuits and circuits of dancers would take Torah scrolls into arms and whirl about, feet uplifted, hearts even higher, in celebration of the Torah’s learning cycle.As the men waited, all eyes turned to the door that led to the Rebbe’s inner chambers. They awaited the Rebbe to begin the services, but no Rebbe emerged. It was as if he forgot that tonight was the night to dance and sing. The Shamash knocked hesitantly on the door. “Rebbe, it’s the time for Hakafos,” he said. He could hear a conversation going in the room, but he had admitted no one to the room. He, therefore, concluded that the Rebbe must be learning with himself.
He suspected As the men waited, all eyes turned to the door that led to the Rebbe’s inner chambers. They awaited the Rebbe to begin the services, but no Rebbe emerged. It was as if he forgot that tonight was the night to dance and sing. The Shamash knocked hesitantly on the door. “Rebbe, it’s the time for Hakafos,” he said. He could hear a conversation going in the room, but he had admitted no one to the room. He, therefore, concluded that the Rebbe must be learning with himself. He suspected that engrossed in learning, the Rebbe had simply forgotten to come out.
But that was not the case. The Rebbe’s clear voice said, “I’m not ready yet for Hakafos.”
The crowd waited patiently for fifteen minutes, then began to fidget. Now, the Gabbai went to the door. “Ahem, Rebbe,” he said to the closed door, “the people are waiting for Hakafos.”
The Rebbe’s voice rang out, “I’m not yet ready for Hakafos.”
Another fifteen minutes. Another messenger. Still the closed door, the sounds of the Rebbe in conversation with someone, and the answer to the knocks, “I’m not yet ready for Hakafos.”
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the door opened. There was a hush in the crowded Bais Medrash as the Rebbe entered in full regalia, shtraimel crowning his rapt face. The crowd began to hum the opening bars of what they thought would be the first Hakafa tune, but the Rebbe signaled for them to start. “This year,” he said, “we will sing a new niggun.” The Rebbe began singing. It was truly a new tune, one his Chassidim had never heard. The Rebbe sang it again and again, until the tune finally caught, traveling from one Chassid to another until the whole room burst into the song of the new melody. It was a catchy, fun tune, one that allowed dancing and singing to its easy-to-follow tempo.Was that what the Rebbe was doing behind closed doors, wondered the Chassidim. Composing a new niggun for the first Hakafa?
Was that what the Rebbe was doing behind closed doors, wondered the Chassidim. Composing a new niggun for the first Hakafa?
Intermission started between Hakafa 1 and Hakafa 2. The crowd waited for the Rebbe to signal what tune should be the theme for the second dance. Imagine the surprise of the crowd when the Rebbe began singing the same tune. Shrugging their shoulders at the unusual selection, once again the Chassidim took up the melody, singing and dancing like never before. Their surprise only grew as the night wore on. It was as if all the Simchas Torah hallowed tunes were to be not used this night. Just one melody got sung by the Rebbe, the song of the night was the new song. Seven circuits of Hakafos, seven rounds of dancing, and only one strange, new tune.
Dancing over, the Chassidim went home for the night. The Rebbe left the shul, a peaceful expression on his face.
It was the next day when someone had the courage to ask the Rebbe, “Hayetachayn – how was it possible, that only one melody was used for last night’s dancing?!”
“Let me tell you the tale of the tune,” explained the Rebbe, “and you will understand the importance of what we did last night. Last night, I heard a groan from a dark corner. I called out, ‘Who is there? How can I help you?’ for the groan was one of such pain it touched my heart. ‘Oy, Rebbe, help me,’ said the voice, but I could see no one.”
The Rebbe continued the story. “I asked, I questioned and I was answered. The voice was not that of a living man. It was the cry out from a soul, a holy Neshama that had been in the body of a musician. That musician had lived a life far from holiness. He played for evil parties and composed music for frivolous intents. When the musician died, and his pure soul departed from defiled body, the soul was left with no place to go. Heaven was no place for such a soul. Even hell didn’t want it. And so, for years on end, the poor soul had no rest. It wafted about, with no cease. This was the groans I heard. This was the cry for help, the cry from a wandering soul,” explained the Rebbe. “And I decided to see if I could help it. I asked, ‘is there no good you’ve ever done?’”
“I asked about charity, but no the musician hadn’t shared anything. I asked about Torah learning, but the musician had learned nothing. It seemed like there was no merit I could unearth for this poor soul. And then somehow we find a certain shaky merit – a time when the musician had used a melody to gladden the heart of a bride and groom. It was a tenuous merit, for he hadn’t meant G-d and Mitzvos. But I decided to work with that small merit and create a bigger one. I told the soul, ‘teach me the melody.’”
Yes, the melody that had been used time and time again the night before was the musician’s own composition. Used in a holy dance, used to celebrate Torah learning, used by thousands of Chassidim in holiness, the tune blazed a way for the poor wandering soul to be admitted into the world of rewarded souls.
Chassidim still hums and sing that tune, hundreds of years later. It might not have started off as the most generous tune when composed, but put into the throats and souls of thousands of Chassidim, it has become generous in accruing benefit to its original composer.
Not just a tale about Simchas Torah, tunes and the saving of wandering souls, Friends of Belz. A story that tells us of our own potential, for every soul has its own song to put forth into the world. May your life be filled with the right notes to sing your own song, out loud and proud.