New York – Thousands upon thousands of pages have already been filled with writings about the saintly tzaddik, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, zy”a, whose yahrtzeit is on 21 Adar, yet mere pen and paper cannot do proper justice to the sublime holiness that characterized this human angel. In the following lines we do not attempt to add to the descriptions of this saintly personality, but rather to turn the spotlight on a phenomenon that is mystically accredited to the Rebbe Elimelech.
Throughout the ages, various original dances have been woven into the rich tapestry of Jewish tradition. There is the Techiyas Hameisim dance, the Sheidim (Devil) dance, the Brogez (Angry) dance, and others. One popular dance that has been widely incorporated in Chassidic circles and has become a classic at many weddings is known as Rebbe Elimelech’s dance.
Aside from the lofty significance attributed to the dance itself, the tune that it goes with also has deep-seated roots in tradition. The marching tune, which starts off slow and increases in tempo as the song progresses, is sung by some to the words of “Eliyahu Hanavi” on Motzoei Shabbos. In the dance, which is also called the Under-Over dance, partners weave through “bridges” formed by clasped hands, alternately going under a “bridge” and then allowing a different pair of partners to go under their “bridge.” As the tempo of the song quickens, so does the dance, which adds a unique touch of merriment to the simchah.
The Source of the Dance
I spent many hours searching for the reason this dance is called Rebbe Elimelech’s dance, trying to discover what connection the dance has with the holy Rebbe. I have not been able to draw a definite conclusion. I have even spoken to one prominent individual, a descendant of Rebbe Elimelech, who told me that he had attempted to solve this riddle many years ago, but was unsuccessful. Perhaps as a result of sharing the riddle with our readers, we will ultimately be enlightened.
Some say that Rebbe Elimelech used to dance this dance with his brother, Rebbe Zushe, but there is no reliable source for this.
Rebbe Elimelech’s Dance In Bobov
When I spoke to Harav Dovid Meisels, shlita, of Seagate, he told me that a recent publication quoted the Bobover Rebbe, Harav Shlomo, zy”a, as saying, “Not in Ropshitz, nor in Sanz or in Bobov, did they dance Rebbe Elimelech’s dance. But I saw my father, the Kedushas Tzion, dancing this sort of dance.”
The Bobover Rav said in the name of Reb Itzikel, the son of Reb Mottel Neiman, Hy”d, from the city of Bobov, that the meaning of the dance lies in the fact that the dancers must bend in order to go under the “bridge.” This is done at weddings in order to teach the chassan and kallah that they must bend and compromise with each other. On a similar note, the Veitzener Rav used to say that before saying Oseh Shalom, we take three steps back to teach us that if we want peace, sometimes we need to concede and take three steps back.
The Kedushas Tzion once explained that the dance alludes to the ups and downs that we encounter in our lives. Every person experiences good times and bad times, and the dance is meant to teach us to pick ourselves up immediately after a low point and not, chas v’shalom, to get mired in depression.
At the weddings of his children and grandchildren, the Bobover Rebbe, Harav Shlomo, used to dance this dance with his close acquaintances, including his brother, the Pakshavitzer Rebbe, and his brother-in-law, the Veitzener Rav, zt”l.
Harav Dovid Meisels, a grandson of the Veitzener Rav, related, “My grandfather, the Veitzener Rav, zt”l, was a brother-in-law of the Bobover Rav; both were sons-in-law of the Limonver Rav, zt”l, before the war. Both of them lost their first wives during the war, and when they came to America, the two made a pact that when, with Hashem’s help, they rebuilt their families, they would maintain close ties. Indeed, the two always accompanied each other’s children under the chuppah, and at each wedding they danced Rebbe Elimelech’s dance with extraordinary jubilance, as if to show the world that they were taking revenge on Hitler, yemach shemo.”
Lest anyone deduce that dancing was a central prerequisite that gained one entry into the holy Rebbe Elimelech’s elite chaburah, let us cite the Freimaner Rav, zt”l, who writes in his sefer Marpeh Lenefesh that in order to become part of this select chaburah, one had to be tested on the entire Shas. After joining the chaburah, one worked to downplay his proficiency so as not to derive any pleasure from kavod haTorah.
The Tzieshnov Rebbe, zy”a, once said, “If they deal out slaps in Gehinnom and someone says that he danced among Jews, the spanking is diminished.”
If anyone is aware of a reliable source for why the dance is called by the Rebbe Elimelech’s name, please contact Hamodia Magazine and we will share it with our readers in a future issue.