“All my limbs shall say, ‘Hashem, Who is like You?’ ” (Psalm 35:10)
“They will praise His Name with dance” (Psalm 149:3).
From the perspective of Jewish tradition, prayer can express the yearning of the entire human being – the soul and the body – for our Creator. An example of this idea is found in the following prayer from the Book of Psalms:
“My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You” (Psalm 63:2).
Through sacred dancing, our bodies and souls join together in expressing our yearning for Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. Our dancing is infused with hope, for our tradition teaches that all human beings can directly connect to Hashem without an intermediary, as it is written:
“Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely” (Psalm 145:18).
In my own life, I have been inspired by the sacred dancing of our people as expressed within diverse Jewish communities, such as Lithuanian Yeshiva, Chassidic, Sephardic, and Yemenite communities. The common denominator of these diverse expressions of sacred dancing is the yearning for Hashem. This yearning is expressed on the faces of the dancers and with the “dancing” movements of their hands; moreover, it is expressed in the lively dances, as well as in the slower, meditative dances.
The yearning of our people for Hashem includes a yearning for the promised Divine redemption when we will all be reunited with our Beloved and with each other. This is why many of the sacred songs that we dance to have words which express our longing for the redemption of Zion, which includes the ingathering of our exiles, the rebuilding of the unifying Temple, and the spiritual enlightenment of all the peoples. One of the songs that we dance to which reminds us of this future redemption has the following Divine promise:
“For My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
An early example of sacred dance within our Sacred Scriptures is found in the story of the splitting of the sea, when Hashem saved us from our pursuing oppressors. Moshe led our people in singing a joyous prayer of thanksgiving:
“Then Moshe and the Children of Israel sang this song to Hashem” (Exodus 15:1).
Miriam and the women, however, not only sang the prayer; they “danced” the prayer:
“Miriam the Prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances.” (Exodus 15:20)
Another example of sacred dance is when King David danced before the ark carrying the Torah – the Divine Teaching:
“David then went up and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with joy... David danced with all his strength before Hashem” (II Samuel 6:12,14).
Within the secular American culture of my youth, dancing was usually viewed as a way of stimulating and expressing attraction for the opposite sex. As I deepened my connection to Jewish tradition during my teenage years, I also deepened my appreciation of the sacred dance traditions of our people which stimulate and express our holistic yearning for the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. The spiritual nature of this dancing brought me joy and shalom, for my entire being – body and soul – became united through the dance.
Given the sexual focus of the dancing in much of American society, I began to appreciate how our tradition both protects and enhances the spiritual nature of our sacred dancing through having men dance with men and women dance with women. The most common example of this spiritual approach can be found at Jewish weddings which are in the elevating spirit of our tradition. During the celebration, men dance around the chasan (groom) and women dance around the kallah (bride). Individuals from each circle then take turns doing their own personal dance before the chasan or the kallah. At the height of the celebration, there is a custom in some communities for the chasan and the kallah to be lifted on chairs and to be brought together while they are both high above the crowd!
The communal and spiritual nature of the dancing increases the joy; thus, as we dance at the wedding, we sing the following words:
“There will again be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of jubilation and the voice of joy, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”
Mazel Tov! And Much Shalom!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings, Comments:
1. As the people of the sacred dance, we look forward to the fulfillment of our Beloved’s promise, where He refers to our people as the “Maiden of Israel”:
“And I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended lovingkindness to you. I shall yet rebuild you and you shall be rebuilt, O Maiden of Israel; you will yet adorn yourself with drums and go forth in the round-dance of the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:2,3)
2. The Hebrew word for round-dance is machol. In a literal sense, machol refers to a circle that encloses an open space (see Mishnah Kelaim 4:1). The Talmud describes a mystical machol of the righteous, who will form a circle around Hashem in the World to Come (Taanis 31a).
In “The Book of Jeremiah” – a translation and commentary by Rabbi Joseph Breuer – machol is translated as “round-dance.” This noted work is published by Feldheim, and a pocket-size edition was also published: www.feldheim.com