Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Simchat Torah is almost here but this year the holiday will be completely different. Chana Schneerson, the mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, described a Simchat Torah celebration with her husband Levi Yitzchak that can be a source of inspiration for us today. The communist regime had opposed her husband’s activities in promoting Torah learning and practice and arrested him in 1939. For one year he was interrogated and tortured in Stalin’s prisons until he was finally exiled to a distant village in Kazakhstan. This is what Chana Schneerson wrote about Simchat Torah in that remote location:
“The day of Simchat Torah had arrived. A Sefer Torah was not yet in our possession. My husband and I were all alone in our room. The moment for hakafot arrived when, in the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are carried around the platform where the Torah is read. For a soul of little worth such as myself, it is difficult to describe the splendor on the face of my husband when he began to declare in a loud voice: ‘You have been shown to know that the Lord, He is God; there is none else beside Him.’ He chanted the words of the verse in the same way that he was accustomed to chanting them in our city’s synagogue in the presence of hundreds of Jews. It’s not only that Jews were dancing each year in our city but that even the stones would dance from the abundance of joy. It was this joy with which my husband girded himself here too. He chanted each verse and after every hakafah he sang and danced — all by himself, of course. Between our table and bed there was a small area where he danced around and around: ‘Pure and upright One, deliver us, benevolent and bestower of goodness answer us on the day we call.’ Upon hearing these words the feelings of his heart and his desire for pure joy were felt within myself. ‘Knower of thoughts, deliver us. Garbed in righteousness, answer us on the day we call.’ I sat in a corner on a wooden bench and contemplated the greatness and awesome power of this man’s love for Torah, who danced all seven hakafot. The next morning my husband chanted ‘Rejoice and exult on Simchat Torah’ with the same vitality he displayed the night before.”
On that Simchat Torah Chana and Levi Yitzchak Schneerson were ostensibly alone. Without a Sefer Torah. Without a congregation. Almost without food. But they were not alone. Torah was with them, and so was joy.