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Home » Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah: The Dancing Souls

Submitted by on October 8, 2009 – 2:53 amNo Comment | 4,290 views

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.

On Simchat Torah our relationship with the Torah flows from our essential bond with G-d. Our minds do not study it and our hearts do not embrace it. Our eyes do not read it and our hands do not practice it. Of all our limbs, it is our feet that perform the Simchat Torah ritual! We hold the Torah tightly and dancedancing souls - innerstream with it; the higher we jump, the more spring in our step, the more zeal in our dance and the more energy in our celebration, the more we fulfill the Simchat Torah requirement.

For one day we surrender control of our relationship with G-d and allow it to flow from within. On this day we don’t calibrate our bond with G-d on the basis of study and observance; on this day we stand back and allow the soul to take over. The soul is intrinsically bound with G-d and this bond holds true within us at all times. Our lifestyle does not give expression to this truth embedded deeply within us, but on Simchat Torah we surrender our ego till it no longer obstructs the essential truth of our souls.

The dance floor is the ultimate equalizer. The Lay person and the scholar dance together, the Orthodox and unobservant are on equal footing; the Torah belongs to us all and we all belong to it. Equally! At this rarified level there are no qualifiers. Every Jew, by virtue of his / her very existence, is G-d’s prince; on the highest level we all belong to G-d.

This bond with G-d is the gateway through which we stride on Simchat Torah; the day we conclude the annual Torah reading and immediately begin again. The immediate turn around illustrates that we don’t read the Torah for the purpose of mastering its ideas for in that case we would take some time to reflect on them. Rather we read the Torah to be mastered by its ideas; to embrace their Divine origin and allow their sanctity to permeate our souls. (2) It is fitting to express this message on Simchat Torah, the day that bespeaks our unchanging, unyielding bond with G-d.

Heaven on Earth

By dancing on this day the Yeshiva students in Auschwitz illustrated their intrinsic bond with G-d. Before returning their soul on high they took the last opportunity to demonstrate their purpose of life in this world. It was not to accumulate riches or gain fame. It was to give voice in this world to their constant relationship with G-d. By dancing their way to heaven these students gave expression to the purest purpose of life and helped us appreciate the profundity of this day.

The question we must ask ourselves as we dance this night away is this: If the torah is worth dying for is it not worth living for? The students thought they were dancing their way to heaven, but their dancing in fact landed them back on earth. As we dance with the Torah on this special night let us recognize that we dance on earth, but our dancing in fact leads us to heaven.


  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.
  2. The story is told of a student who told his teacher that he had completed the entire Torah. In typical Jewish fashion the teacher replied with a question. “What did the Torah teach you?” We don’t study Torah to master its teachings, but to acknowledge its mastery over us. We accomplish this by recognizing that the Torah is a Divine book and that by studying it we bond with G-d.

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