When in Doubt, Dance!
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for God has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver God has hurled into the sea. [Exodus 15:20-21]
And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. This he took from them and cast in a mold, made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, ‘this is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’…Early next day, the people offered up burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat down to eat and drink, and then rose to dance. [Exodus 32: 3-6]
…David went and brought up the Ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, amid rejoicing…David whirled with all his might before the LORD…Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD with shouts and with blasts of the shofar. As the Ark of the LORD entered the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD…[2 Samuel 6:12-16]
Halleluyah! Sing a new song to Adonai; where the faithful gather, let God be praised.
Let the people of Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion delight in their Sovereign.
Let them dance in praise of God, let them celebrate with drum and harp.
For Adonai cherishes God’s people and crowns the humble with triumph. [Psalm 149:1-3]
Halleluyah! Praise God in God’s sanctuary; praise God in God’s awesome heaven.
Praise God for God’s mighty deeds, for God’s infinite greatness.
Praise God with trumpet calls, with harp and lyre.
Praise God with drum and dance, with flute and strings.
Praise God with clashing cymbals; with resounding cymbals sing praises.
Let every breath of life praise God. Halleluyah! [Psalm 150]
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: there were no happier days for Israel than the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement. On those days the daughters of Jerusalem used to go out in white garments. These were all borrowed so that none would be ashamed who did not own them. Therefore all the garments needed washing before use. The daughters of Jerusalem went out to dance in the vineyards. What did they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and see what maiden to choose for yourself. Don’t set your eye on beauty but on family background, for ‘grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that fears the Lord shall be praised.’ In addition, it is written: ‘Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.’ [Proverbs 30:30-31] It is also said: ‘Go forth, you daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown with which his mother has crowned him in that day of his espousals and in the day of the gladness of his heart!’ [Song of Songs 3:11] ‘In the day of his espousals,’ this is the giving of the Torah. ‘And in the day of the gladness of his heart,’ this is the building of the Temple. May it be built speedily, and in our days! Amen. [Mishnah Taanit 4:8]
Rabbi Helbo said in the name of Ulla of Bir’ia who said in the name of Rabbi Elazar: in the future the Holy One of Blessing will arrange a dance of the righteous in the Garden of Eden. God will sit in the center and each of the righteous will point toward God as it is said: ‘And it shall be said on that day – behold, this is our God for whom we waited, the God might save us; this is the Lord for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.’ [Isaiah 25:9] [Taanit 31a]
In the future the Holy One of Blessing will be at the head of every dance troupe, for the righteous ones in the future. [Talmud Yerushalmi, Megillah, 2:4]
People point to this statement and say that it is against all reason to suppose that there could be young maidens and men dancing in a holy place like the world to come, detached as it is from corporeality. One must, however, understand that these words come to reveal a great blessing reserved for the righteous in the Garden of Eden, hinted at with words of deep wisdom.
The dance is especially suitable for young maidens, as it is written: ‘Then shall the maiden rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together.’ [Jeremiah 31:13] The dance is joy expressed through action, not joy remaining in the heart. Women, especially young women, are less intellectual than men, and intellectual thought, which stands diametrically opposed to joy, holds back the full expression of active joy. One day, joy will find full expression in the Garden of Eden; joy itself is the dance of the righteous.
This will be the joy in God, as it is written: ‘Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous.’ [Psalm 97:12] Therefore it is said that God will sit in their midst and each will point a finger toward God. This means that the righteous have no other joy except in God. God is the perfection of themselves. So far, this is a simple explanation of the words of the Sages.
One must understand what is really meant by the dance. Joy is a spiritual category, it is the expression of wholeness in man which belongs only to the soul but not to the material body. The body has only potential power, but no independence. Without this there is no wholeness. The body is kept down by the weight of nature; it is oppressed. Thus when a man dances he experiences a greater joy, because he feels the wholeness of the soul as power. Therefore it is said that God arranges a dance of the righteous in the Garden of Eden, because all that is depressing and material is taken from them and only the soul has power. When it is said that God is in their midst, it means that they are freed from the material, which formed a barrier between them and God.
The dance spoken of is not any kind, but a round dance, in a circle. Every circle has a center, equidistant from any point of the circumference. Therefore it says that God sits in the center of the righteous, as all points of the circumference are joined to the center by the radii turned towards it and attracted by it. And just as the center is apart from the circumference, so the Holy One remains apart, although in their midst.
The dance has to be a round one, so that no one can say that every righteous person adheres to God in his own manner. As the dance proceeds round and round, every righteous one is joined to God not from one place only, but from all places. Pointing a finger at God means that one points out something that is separate from the rest. The righteous learn to know wherein lies God’s Oneness and God’s distinction from all else that exists. Pointing recognizes this truth.
One can only write little about such weighty matters. The wise one will add to it out of his own wisdom and knowledge. May God forgive us and make us the last participants in this holy dance. [Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalal, Be’er Ha’golah, chapter 4]
There was a musician who performed on a very fine instrument with great sweetness and pleasantness, and all who heard it could not restrain themselves and danced with great abandon. The closer one stood to the music the greater the pleasure and the more enthusiastic the dancing. Amidst the tumult came a deaf person who could not hear any sound of the pleasant instrument. Seeing the people dance mightily, he thought them mad, and wondered, ‘what can joy accomplish?’ Truly, were he wise and understood that all this was due to the great pleasure and loveliness of the instrument’s sound, he too would have begun to dance then and there.
Now the meaning is clear, and one may apply it to the verse, ‘and all the people saw the sounds.’ They saw that the Holy One appeared before all in the unity of the Divine Light, which they all together perceived. When they saw the great joy – for ‘the angels of the hosts were dancing about’ [Psalms 68:13] – they understood that it was because of the sweetness and loveliness of the light of the Holy Torah, and strained forward to hear its sound. For though they were still deaf, and did not ‘hear’ the sounds, their minds and eyes were illumined when they saw the great happiness and joy. They then understood that this was due to the sounds; that is, to the loveliness and pleasantness of the sound of the Torah. Thus: even though they did not perceive the loveliness of the Torah, they understood from the joy that this was due to the great loveliness of the Torah – and so they pressed forward to hear the sound itself, in the hope that they might even perceive and understand the loveliness of the light of the Torah. The enlightened will understand. [R. Moshe Hayyim Ephraim of Sudlikov (1737-1800) Degel Mahaneh Ephraim]
Concerning joy, consider this parable: sometimes when people are rejoicing and dancing, they grab a person from outside – one who is sad and depressed – and press him against his will into the circle of dancers, and force him to rejoice with them. So it is with joy: for when a person is happy, his depression and sufferings stand off to the side. But the higher level is to strive and pursue that very depression, and bring it into joy…For there are types of sorrow and woe that reflect the Other Side, and do not want to be bearers of holiness; hence they flee from joy, and one must force them into holiness – namely, joy – against their will. [Nahman of Bratslav, Likkutei Mohoran 2:23]