My Wondrous Simchat Torah in Belz

My Wondrous Simchat Torah in Belz

I don’t like big crowds, being squished, having to push my way through the masses to get where I (and everybody else) are trying to go.
But once a year, for at least a decade, I’ve braved the crowds at the Belzer Rebbe’s Simchat Torah hakafot.
Most years I arrive half an hour or so before the hakafot start, so I get a place right by the mechitza, giving me the opportunity, at least for a few seconds, to see the Rebbe circling the bimah holding the sefer Torah.
The Belzer Rebbe is elderly and not in the best health. Watching him making the great (superhuman?) effort to circle the bimah, witnessing his self-sacrifice and devotion for the Torah and the Jewish people, fills me year after year with awe.
But this year, I arrived later than usual. The hakafot hadn’t started yet, but there were already hundreds of women standing by the mechitza. There was no way I was going to get through them to see the Rebbe this year. Not gonna happen.
So, disappointed, but happy to be there nonetheless, I sat towards the back of the women’s section. And then I heard the banging, signaling thousands of Chassidim to begin singing their hakafot nigunim, and I closed my eyes and prayed.
And then, who came up to say hello? My teacher, Shaindy!
It turned out I had sat down 2 rows in front of her, and somehow hadn’t noticed she was right there.
Shaindy was surprised to see me in the Belz shul, and I told her that I come every year. Seeing the Rebbe is the highlight of my Simchat Torah. But this year, I told her, I guess hearing the nigunim would have to suffice, gesturing towards the huge crowds by the mechitza.
“Listen,” Shaindy said, “Now there’s a lot of people. But in a few hakafot, it will thin out, and then we can try. No guarantees, but maybe we can get through to see the Rebbe.”
So Shaindy and I prayed a lot and schmoozed a little and then, after the 3rd hakafa, Shaindy said, “Now! Let’s go! I don’t have any protektsia here to get us through, but we can push. No proteksia, only pushing!”
And then she showed me how to push my way, bit by bit, through the crowd. Making our way, inch by inch, towards the mechitza. And then the 4th hakafa ended, and the group of women standing by the mechitza left, and Shaindy said, “Now’s our chance, push!”
And then we were there! Almost at the mechitza. And Shaindy showed me how I could stand on the edge of a chair to get the perfect view of the Rebbe circling round and round. Every so slowly.
And I prayed and prayed! Please, Hashem, bless my children, my husband, me, all of the Jewish people that this year all of us should taste, should savor the sweetness of Your holy Torah. Please bless us that we should be dedicated to the Torah, with mesirut nefesh for the Torah like the Rebbe who walks, step by step with such difficulty, around the bimah.
I asked Shaindy a few times if she wanted to switch with me, so she would have a chance to see the Rebbe too. But she refused. I was blown away by her generosity, her kindness to me.
And then the hakafah ended.
After thinking I wouldn’t see the Rebbe at all, I ended up seeing him for at least 5 minutes, more clearly and far longer than any other year before.
And then it was the hardest part of all. Pushing my way back out. To let other women in to see the Rebbe.
I was being squeezed by women from all sides- by the women pushing their way in and by the women pushing their way out. It was a strange sensation I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. At first, it felt scary, maybe I would never get out? Maybe I would get crushed? Suffocated?
But then, as I was pushed out by the women, it became a wonderful feeling. Maybe, I thought, that’s what it feels like to be born?

4 comments

  1. In 770 it’s called the washing machine but rebirth is a great ànalogy too!

  2. loved this! you are one terrific person!

  3. I loved this article. I laughed at the last line! I find it special that you can appreciate the unique character of watching a tzaddik dance with the Torah. May all your tefillos be answered.

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