Memory Lane: Simchas Beis Hasho’eiva in Bobov of Yore
One of the most famed highlights in the court of the Bobover Rebbe, zt”l, was the nightly Simchas Beis Hashoei’vah on the evenings of Chol Hamo’ed Sukkos. The splendor was only compounded by the tends of violins playing right behind the Rebbe as he ascended to upper worlds with his deveikus.
Reb Shulim Kessler, the renowned Bobover badchan, and a Talmid Chacham of note, has been playing in Bobov for close to fifty years—and taking in the glow of this annual event since childhood, in the very early Crown Heights days.
“He explains that this custom has its roots back in the days of the Bobover Rebbe, the Kedushas Tzion, zt”l, Hy”d, in the town of Bobov. Prior to the violins, they would actually bring in a gramophone and play Yossele Rosenblatt’s songs (he had many encounters with Bobov, as his shver was a Bobover).
And then the violins were introduced in Bobov. The unforgettable Reb Shaul Huterer of Belgium, a venerated Bobover chassid who is remembered as having been instrumental in the rebuilding of Bobov, and Reb Moshe Wachsman, the shver of the current Rebbe. Along with the other menagnim, ehrliche chassidishe bachurim, they upheld this minhag.
Then came the great fire that annihilated that vibrant Jewish life—consuming with it the Rebbe, zt”l, Hy”d, and the majority of his chassidim. But Hashem spared his son, Reb Shlomo who went on to rebuild this empire of Torah and chassidus.
Relates Reb Shulim: “When I was a child, and we came from the Lower East Side to Crown Heights on Sukkos evening—it must have been the year 5718—there were no violins yet, and the Rebbe asked me to sing Halelukah. A couple of years later, Reb Shaul Huterer came to spend Yom Tov in Bobov, and the Rebbe asked him to once again take up the minhag that they both remembered so well. He was joined by Reb Moshe Wachsman. The next year I joined them… and the rest is history.”
“You know, the power of a niggun is truly great… and you could see the dveikus as the Rebbe would hum along… and tap lightly on the table with his eyes tightly shut.
Speaking of the Rebbe and violin playing… “I recall now that it was in the year that the Rebbe arrived in America, and he visited one of the camps in upstate New York where a master violinist played one of the Bobover niggunim, and the Rebbe—who had witnessed such destruction, and had lost so much—was taken back to Bobov through that niggun, and he broke down in heaving sobs.
Indeed, there was one occasion when the Rebbe spoke about this minhag, and noted the importance of the violin—to the exclusion of other instruments—as being a spiritual one. And then the Rebbe recalled by name those bachurim who used to play in Bobov—so many of whom were brutally murdered, Hy”d...
Many of the Rabbanim and Rebbes in Boro Park of yesteryear would come especially to witness this exalted event each year.
Reb Shulim notes how the spiritual tool of neginah must be conducted. “The Rebbe would say, v’hayah kenagen hamenagen… when the singer would sing, he would be blessed with the ruach Hashem. A nagen is a violin. It is a simple wooden box with strings. If the player will be like the vessel which he holds—unpretentious and without any hubris—then the spirit of Hashem can come to him through song.
Indeed, when used properly, as it has been in this holy court over so many decades—spanning continents and surviving a churban—it can be powerful indeed. And perhaps this is one more gift that Hashem has bequeathed this generation; a spiritual treasure that the Nazis, ym”sh, could not rob of their forefathers who were left with rebuilding a shattered world.
The melody will go on. And on this Yom Tov spirits will be raised and hearts will be awakened, as they have been in Boro Park for so many decades.