Rav Kook Torah

Simchat Torah: The Merit of A Dance

Dancing in the street with Sefer Torah (PikiWiki)

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who served as Chief Rabbi of Yamit and founded the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, related this story from 1973, when he was a student at Mercaz HaRav and was called up to fight in the Yom Kippur War.

During the Yom Kippur War, the army called up reserve soldiers to defend the country against the surprise Arab attack. Heavy fighting continued in the Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert for several weeks, through the holiday of Succoth.

Immediately following Succoth is a holiday of exuberant joy — Simhat Torah, when it is customary to celebrate the completion of reading the Torah with singing and dancing. During the war, however, many felt that it was improper to rejoice while the soldiers were fighting on the battlefield. Some of the yeshiva students also felt that public displays of joy were inappropriate.

But Rav Tzvi Yehudah was adamant: “We will teach the people to rejoice!”

The rabbi, accompanied by a small band of students, danced on Simhat Torah morning in the streets of Jerusalem, as they made their way to the home of the Chief Rabbi. A few of the synagogue members also joined the yeshiva students, including my father.

When they reached King George Street, a passerby began to shout at them. “How dare you dance?” The man pointed an accusatory finger at the group. “The whole country is fighting for its life in this war, and you dance? Have you no shame?!”

Rav Tzvi Yehudah stopped and turned to him. “Why are you upset? Look at this Jew who is dancing with me” — and here he indicated my father. “His four sons are all currently fighting at various fronts. And yet he dances and rejoices in the simchah of the Torah. You should also come and dance with us!”

At the very time that my father was dancing with Rav Tzvi Yehudah in Jerusalem, I was stationed on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights with my brother Rabbi Yaakov Ariel [now Chief Rabbi of the city of Ramat Gan]. We were in grave danger, sprawled out on the ground while enemy shells whistled above us, exploding to our right and to our left.

Who knows? Perhaps it was the merit of that holy dance in honor of the Torah that saved our lives....

(Stories from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Mashmia Yeshuah by Simcha Raz and Hilah Volbershtin, p. 504)