I have probably spent about 35 years of Simchas Torahs in 770. Every year is an experience for itself, but let me share the story of Simchas Torah 5777.
I am not one that has a קאך in learning, and especially not Gemarah or Zohar, but my experience this Simchas Torah put what I have left of my small brain to work. It reminded me of something I overheard during a class years ago, when I was awakened by my magid shiur for disturbing the class for sleeping too loud.
[Please don’t get discouraged that I am quoting a Gemara, it’s only a couple of lines, it’s in English, and it’s a story. Go on…]
The Gemara (Chagiga 14b, Zohar I, 26b) tells the following episode regarding four Sages:
ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס
Four [Sages] entered the Pardes: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them: “When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, ‘Water! Water!’ for it is said, ‘He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes'(Psalms 101:7).” Ben Azzai gazed [at the Divine Presence – Rashi] and died. Regarding him the verse states, “Precious in the eyes of G‑d is the death of His pious ones” (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed [he lost his sanity — Rashi]. Regarding him the verse states, “Did you find honey? Eat only much as you need, lest you be overfilled and vomit it up” (Proverbs 25:16). Acher cut down the plantings [he became a heretic]. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
Why was I reminded of this Gemarah? And yet on Simchas Torah when we dance with a CLOSED Sefer torah and not with an open one?
Here is the story:
I had danced Hakofes in my Shul, Itchkes Shtiebel in Crown Heights. As always, it was very lively and warm and we danced with the kids and the Torah, said L’chaim, and then started our march up to 770 at about 11:30 p.m. When we arrived, we did a little more L’chaims and a lot more dancing.
Someone had asked me to go with him to kiss the Rebbe’s Sefer Torah. At first I was hesitant because I had already done so on Shemini Atzeres, but then my Chassidishe insticts told me to go again, and I must say it was an experience of a lifetime.
Standing on line in front of me was a group of guys with Shliach Rabbi Mendy Wolf whom had come from Manhattan with his Chevra to show them what true simcha is and to have them kiss the Rebbe’s Torah.
I started conversations with the two Jews in front of me who seemed totally unaffiliated, or maybe they started the conversation with me – it’s hard to remember. (After all it was Simchas Torah 12am). Somehow the conversation led to me asking the guys what brought them to 770 at midnight? Have you not more excitement in NYC?
One of the guys told me the following: This is not our first time in 770; this is not our first time coming to kiss the Rebbe’s Torah. We did it last year, too. We actually met each other here in 770 for the first time last year and here we are again doing the same thing.
He said that he was walking in the city last year when he suddenly noticed a group of guys singing and dancing. It caught his attention and as they got closer he realized that these are chassidic guys. One of the people asked him if he was Jewish and he said he was. Before he had a chance to think, he had two guys grab him, one on each side, locking him in under his arms. Another guy put his black hat on his head and, boom, he became a chassidic dancer. He said the spirit was lively, full of warmth, happiness, and the joy had no boundaries.
He loved it at first but after three blocks of dancing he ran out of steam and he also wanted to go home which was the other direction, but….
“Where do you think you’re going?” They asked.
“Oh, I’d like to go home. It was wonderful dancing with you but…”
“What, but? Your Jewish, right?”
“So, you’re coming with us!”
“The Rebbe’s Shul!”
“What’s that? What’s Rebbe? What will I do there?”
“Come! You’ll kiss the Torah!”
“What’s a Torah?”
Somehow, these crazy, happy, joyful guys kept the conversation going until I found myself on the Williamsburg bridge… and then on Bedford Avenue… and then on Eastern Parkway… and then in 770. We talked and sang on the way and they taught me a bit about the Rebbe and that I need to become a better Jew because Moshiach is coming real soon.
When I came to 770 and did a bit of dancing (Wow! I have never seen anything like this in my life), they took me to kiss the Rebbe’s Torah. And once I did that, once I kissed that Torah, once I touched the infinity, I got hooked like a magnet, I got stuck, I felt connected. I said to myself that I will never miss this opportunity again.
That’s why I am here again this year, and I will, G-d willing, come each year in the years to come.
I keep thinking about it: he kissed the Rebbe’s Torah and he will never miss it again. Wow! Wow, that’s a Rebbe’s power.
Anyway, I asked him how I can be in contact with him and have him over for a Shabbos, so he pulled out his wallet and from among the dollar bills he pulled out his business card.
Four Tzadikim entered the Pardes but not everyone came out בשלום… but two הלואי א בינוני entered 770 and יצאו בשלום…
You can be a Jew who has a wallet and a business card on Shabbas and Yom tov, but when you gaze at the Rebbe’s Shul, at the Rebbe’s place, at the Rebbe’s bima, at the Rebbe’s Sefer Torah, at the Rebbe’s chassidim – yes, some of us lose our sanity like Ben Zoma (למעליותא), but all of us become like Rabbi Akiva who entered in peace and left in peace and come back the next year in peace.
This fire burns within us for the rest of our lives, some of us merit to see it and feel it and some will merit to see and feel it soon.
We can’t know the power of Tahalucha, we can’t know the power of a Neshama, and we will never know the power of our Rebbe who is מקבץ נדחי ישראל from all four corners of the world, one soul at a time.
After they told me their story, I told them the story of the Rebbe’s Sefer Torah and how it came to the Rebbe. When it came their turn and I saw the way they kissed the Rebbe’s Torah, I thought, “הלואי אויף מיר!” It was with the same love and joy that I imagine the baal shem tov had when he kissed the children when he took them to Cheder.
Rebbe, it’s time you take us all to Cheder, to the big Cheder where we will learn תורתו של משיח – take all of us – The big chassidim, the small chassidim, the frum chassidim, and the not-yet frum chassidim, וראו כל בשר יחדיו.