| LifeTakes |

The Hakafos King

I hadn’t hit shul for Simchas Torah in who knows how long. I figured let’s go in and see where they’re up to

I didn’t really do hakafos.

As an older teen, Simchas Torah was about socializing. New clothing, chitchatting with friends, forming tight little circles of chairs in the corners of the women’s section, while in the front, dozens of children vied for space against the mechitzah.

There was a smattering of older women there, too, but mostly it was mothers with kids and more kids. We’d find a space and take a cursory look at the dancing down below, but mostly, throughout the distribution of candy and cheap toys, the rainfall of gumballs and lollipops onto the boys below, the swelling of song from the men, we teens jabbered on.

The years passed, and I still didn’t do hakafos. When I got married, the first couple years we spent Succos abroad, and when we were in town for Yom Tov, I didn’t go to shul on Simchas Torah. It took some time for the kids to come and weren’t hakafos about bringing your kids?

I visited friends on Simchas Torah nights. We’d take long, leisurely walks across town. The weather was just right, a nice nip in the air, and we’d meander the streets, catching up. Around us, people hurried to their respective shuls. They’d open the door and notes of song would flow out. But we weren’t going anywhere, traipsing and wandering, this bench and the other.

Until one time we were. We’d just walked by the street of my family’s shul and I thought a bit guiltily that I hadn’t hit shul for Simchas Torah in who knows how long. I figured let’s go in and see where they’re up to.

I squeezed into a space at the mechitzah and looked down at the men’s section. Hakafos were in full swing. The shul was alive, the thrum and pulse of tens of heels, men swaying, leaping, shtreimels flying.

I couldn’t remember the shul ever being this energized, the hakafos being so leibedig, but then again, I hadn’t come in a while. What did I know?

I noticed one guy in particular dancing up a storm. He seemed to be leading the crowd, taking hold of one man and another and another and soon the circle was flying. He was swirling around the shul, spirited, mesmerizing. It took me a moment to realize it was none other than my husband.

I blinked, followed him from my perch upstairs. I watched as he took an older man’s hand and brought him into the circle and the two of them stamped away in the middle. He led the children in dance, coordinating it so that they could all take part. Like a man on a mission, he danced the night away.

He danced with the downtrodden, with the quiet, with those who refused outright and then somehow relented, with friends and family and any which person. And with the Torah of course.

“He’s done it before,” a relative, an ardent hakafos-watcher, said. “They call him the hakafos king.”

Really? Where was I? Why hadn’t I known?

When I asked him about it, my husband half-laughed and brushed it off. It kind of became his thing, he said, Simchas Torah, the hakafos, the culmination of Yom Tov, when he tried to make it happen for himself and for others. Hashem wants us, hetold me. He wants us to lift our feet in dance so that we’re that bit closer.

He was doing that, dancing like that, while I was keeping away from shul? It  gave me pause.


These days I make sure to go to shul on Simchas Torah. I watch as the hakafos king dances with everyone, with the guy in the wheelchair, with the kids in shul — and with his daughter.

Simchas Torah’s been transformed for me. Where once I thought that I didn’t belong, that it wasn’t for me, now I can’t help but see it as he does — the last gem in a string of Yamim Tovim, the apex of zeman simchaseinu, a final chance to come closer to Hashem through joy.

For years I’d looked the other way, unwittingly spurning the chance. Now I look down through latticed wood and I feel it — the swirling dance, the wholehearted singing, the elation like a living thing pulsing above the circle — and I wonder at how I could’ve once thought to miss it.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 813)

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