When you think of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson—father of the Rebbe, of righteous memory—what comes to mind?

Historians may recall his years of rabbinic leadership in Yekatrinoslav-Dnipropetrovsk, beginning in the Czarist era and bravely continuing in the face of intense Communist oppression. Others may best appreciate the profound Kabbalistic insights preserved in the lengthy letters he wrote to his son, and in the notes transcribed in the margins of the few precious books he had during his painful years of exile.

But all chassidim, young and old, and of every inclination, are swept up in the euphoric, dramatic, joyous uplift of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s lively chassidic dance tune, Nigun Hakafot.

It is told that this nigun is an old Chabad melody, dating back to the Simchat Torah hakafot (dancing) of the Alter Rebbe. But everyone refers to this nigun as “Reb Leivik’s Nigun” or “the Rebbe’s Father’s Nigun.” For many, this melody is how we best remember Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

There’s something different about this nigun, especially the way we heard the Rebbe sing it, which is most likely the way he heard it from his father. Most chassidic melodies start low and work their way up, the higher notes reserved for later in the melody. This reflects the question and answer of a nigun, as it mirrors and guides life’s struggles, and the gradual buildup of fortitude and inner strength to overcome challenges and obstacles, to arrive at higher and deeper levels of spiritual consciousness. A nigun works its way inward and upward, level by level, seeking and finding, then seeking anew.

Not Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s melody. This nigun surges from the start. Watch how the Rebbe leads this song at the farbrengens (chassidic gatherings). True, the second stanza reaches even higher, especially when the Rebbe emphasized and encouraged it, but like the opening stanza, it starts on a high note. You have to gird yourself to take that leap, to jump above the fray, with vibrant and spirited chords of certainty and triumph.

The Rebbe led this song at hakafot celebrations and farbrengens, continuing his father’s legacy. His singing emphasized the dramatic uplift, peaking at the very start of the melody. The Rebbe referred to this song as der emeser ra’ash—the truly dynamic uproar.

To understand and appreciate this nigun, consider the image of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak singing this song on a Simchat Torah night in his place of exile. Rebbetzin Chana, his devoted wife, describes that night in her memoirs:

We didn’t yet have a Torah in our possession. Our guest who ate his Yom Tov meals with us found work as a night watchman, and had to spend his nights in the fields guarding produce, so now he could come only during the day. Thus, only I was present with my husband in our room that night.

The time of hakafot arrived. My husband recited the customary verses using the same tune he used back at home when he celebrated hakafot in shul [synagogue] together with many hundreds of Jews.

Here, too, he enveloped himself with such joy. He recited every verse, and after every circuit he sang and danced, alone, to the melody known in our hometown as “the rabbi’s melody.” He circled around in the narrow space in our room between his bed and the table . . .

Remember the context. This righteous man, a scholar and mystic, a teacher and communal leader, was exiled from home and community to a remote and distant village, with no one aside from his wife with whom to celebrate the holiday. Food was scarce, his health was failing, life there was extremely primitive. They were alone and isolated. But it was Simchat Torah, a time when one must dance with the Torah. He didn’t have a scroll, so he danced with one of the few Jewish books he had. He sang this song in that desolate place, the same way he had sung it back home in the synagogue.

The reality is that we all have times when we’re down, when things fall apart, when life feels glum and the future feels bleak. We may feel isolated and alone; we may be missing resources and necessities. Everyone has their own challenges and difficulties. But like Reb Levi Yitzchak, we can still muster the strength to sing the type of song that is full of joy and hope, that starts right from the top, that allows no room for sadness, hopelessness, or even a gradual climb. We can have courage, we can be bold, we can soar way up to the heights with strength.

There’s a vast repertoire of chassidic melodies that represent the spectrum of human emotion, various occasions of life and our personal spiritual journeys. Yet from time to time we must make room in our complex, confused and struggling hearts for Reb Levi Yitzchak’s melody, which soars from the outset, without even a need to climb.